State Management Approved for Recreational Red Snapper Fishery
Mississippi’s Season Opens May 24th
In 2018, the Gulf of Mexico Fisheries Management Council (Gulf Council) granted all 5 Gulf states an Exempted Fishing Permit (EFP) for the 2018 and 2019 seasons, allowing the states to manage the red snapper fishery for recreational use, excluding federally permitted charter-for-hire vessels. Each state was given a specific quota of pounds and was allowed to choose the length of its season, method for monitoring the catch, and the ability to regulate recreational anglers. The EFP is essentially a dry run of state management for red snapper.
For 2019, the Mississippi Department of Marine Resources (MDMR) announced that the private recreational red snapper season will closely follow what was done in 2018, with the season opening on Friday May 24, 2019 and running through Monday, September 2, 2019. There will be a three-week closure during this time from July 8-29. The minimum size limit will remain at 16 inches with a bag limit of 2 fish per person. The captain of the vessel must register his trip through the Tails n’ Scales App prior to fishing and must close out the trip by providing information regarding the number of anglers and the number of fish caught before another trip can be scheduled. Mississippi has done an excellent job developing its new Tales n’ Scales App and has been a model for other states. If MDMR determines that the total pound quota is reached before September 2, the season will close early. Federal charter-for-hire vessels will remain under federal management and will have a set season from June 1 through August 1.
Gulf Council Makes State Management Permanent
Given the successful results of the EFP for red snapper in each state, the Gulf Council started the process to permanently delegate management authority of the private angling to the states through a regulatory amendment referred to as Reef Fish Amendment 50. The amount of fish allocated to each state was based on the specific amount of pounds requested for the EFP in 2018-19. Each state generally requested to harvest an amount in pounds close to its historical catch; however, a remaining 3.78% of the quota was not allocated in the EFP. This remaining quota was distributed between Florida and Alabama in the final allocation. Accordingly, the quota was allocated to each state going forward on a percentage basis as follows:
In addition, the Council will allow states to close areas of federal waters adjacent to the state by requesting that the National Marine Fisheries Service implement the closure. Starting in 2020, each state will decide its recreational season and will now have the authority to modify the bag limit, establish minimum size limits between 14-18 inches and provide for a maximum size.
State Management Going Forward
One unresolved issue that will face Mississippi is how it should deal with state charter-for-hire vessels. In 2015, the Gulf Council split the recreation share of the overall quota (49%) into two components for federally licensed charter-for-hire vessels and for private recreational anglers. The recreational quota that states will manage only covers the private recreational angling component. Some states such as Florida that have historically had a 9 nautical mile border and deep water within close proximity have had a state charter-for-hire fishery for red snapper vessels operating solely within state waters. However, Mississippi has never had a state charter-for-hire fishery so the MDMR opted to carve out 2,500 lbs. of the private recreational quota to allocate to those state charter-for-hire vessels that entered the fishery when Mississippi declared that it would extend its maritime border from 3 nautical miles to 9 nautical mile. These state vessel operators are reportedly seeking a larger share of the private recreational angling quota to be managed by the state. There is likely to be continued debate within Mississippi over how to address this issue because 42% of the recreational quota has already been assigned to charter-for-hire vessels which means that any further assignment of quota to state charter-for-hire vessels would come at the expense of private boat recreational anglers. The Mississippi Wildlife Federation will continue to follow this issue to ensure maximum access for our private recreational angling community. To follow direct actions on this issue, please subscribe to our Camp Coalition.