Federal fisheries management officials recently certified the Mississippi Department of Marine Resources’ red snapper reporting program, and the positive reviews didn’t stop there.

Wednesday, the Coastal Conservation Association of Mississippi announced that the Tails n’ Scales Program was “truly an accomplishment we can all be proud of,” in a widely circulated letter written by CCA MS chairman F. J. Eicke.

“CCA, both national and state, has supported state management of the red snapper fishery and Tails n’ Scales is the data collecting system that is at the core of state management. We expect a mid-season accounting from MDMR that will determine the length of the state season based on data from Tails n’ Scales.”

Eicke’s letter followed MDMR’s announcement Wednesday that NOAA had certified the survey design for Tales n’ Scales, an important step in the state’s gaining management control of the red snapper since it now qualifies the agency to receive federal funding to help the program.

Tails n’ Scales compiles data through surveys of private recreational and charter for-hire boats fishing for red snapper. By certifying the designs of the agency’s Tails n’ Scales survey, data collected will now be accepted by NOAA Fisheries for use with federal Marine Recreational Information Program (MRIP) monitoring of red snapper and help contribute data associated with annual catch limits. Tails n’ Scales will be included in the suite of implemented MRIP surveys for the Gulf of Mexico.

“The State of Mississippi has the most accurate state monitoring program for red snapper,” said Joe Jewell, director of the MDMR Marine Fisheries Office. “We are the only state that can currently provide real-time harvest and fishery data.

“The unique feature of our program, which sets Mississippi apart from other red snapper monitoring programs, is that recreational fishermen are required to participate in this program and acquire an authorization code prior to starting a fishing trip.”

MDMR, along with the Gulf States Marine Fisheries Commission, NOAA Fisheries and outside expert consultants have been working together to develop, test, review and refine the Tails n’ Scales survey designs since 2015. These survey designs, used with both recreational and charter fishermen, include an electronic reporting system and a dockside access point intercept survey.

“Dockside Tails n’ Scales surveys are used to validate the trip information that anglers are reporting,” said Carly Somerset, program coordinator at MDMR. “Besides collecting trip information, such as number of fish and the authorization code, biologists also collect biological data, such as weight, length and sex of the fish. This information is vital to the success of the program and we appreciate the willingness of red snapper anglers who cooperate with our surveys.”

Access to federal funding will support ongoing improvements and implementation of Tails n’ Scales.

“Tails n’ Scales is a great example of collaboration that will advance the collection of high-quality recreational fishing data, which is a top priority for our agency,” said Dave Van Voorhees, Fisheries Statistics Division Chief with NOAA Fisheries Office of Science and Technology. “Working with our partners to develop and certify new survey methods demonstrates NOAA’s commitment to meeting the unique data needs of the Gulf of Mexico red snapper fishery.” 

Mississippi’s snapper season opened in May and will continue through Labor Day or until the MDMR, through Tails n’ Scales determines the state’s quota of recreational snapper has been caught. There is a chance that the agency could impose a break in the season in July if it appears the quota could be reached before Labor Day, insuring that snapper season would continue through the holiday.