Bonnet Carre’ Spillway Opening Creates Uncertainty for Mississippi Anglers

June 3, 2019 • Lindsey Lemmons

Large eddy at the opening of the Bonnet Carre Spillway

The Bonnet Carre’ Spillway is designed to release water from the Mississippi River during extreme flooding in order to relieve pressure on levies and protect New Orleans and populated areas 28 miles downriver. It has been opened just 13 times in its 90 year history; however, it has been opened 3 out of the last 4 years and for the first time ever it was opened in consecutive years when it opened on February 28, 2019.

The release of all of that freshwater into Lake Pontchartrain that then flows into Lake Borgne creates all sorts of issues for both Mississippi and Louisiana saltwater anglers. As the freshwater flows through Lake Pontchartrain, it pushes many saltwater species out of the lake and into waters to the south and east.  Nobody can say for certain whether those fish will push south into Chandeleur Sound or to the east into the Mississippi Sound, but during some years when the spillway has opened, it has resulted in large numbers of fish migrating into Mississippi waters and around the barrier islands. This has the potential to add up to a banner fishing year for many Mississippi anglers, but this year the Commission on Marine Resources (CMR) is taking steps to ensure that Mississippi anglers do not over harvest speckled trout as a result of these fish seeking saltier water and journeying into Mississippi.

On March 1, the CMR called a special meeting to discuss ways in which it might limit the harvest of speckled trout if the spillway opening appears to be creating a situation that could result in a large uptick in harvest. Speckled trout have been in a rebuilding phase in Mississippi and the CMR has already made changes to increase the size limit from 13” to 15” in order to help rebuild the stock.  Although the opening of the spillway could potentially cause an increase in the number of fish in Mississippi waters that is likely to be a short term impact. Nevertheless, the CMR would like to take steps to limit harvest and allow more of those fish to escape, continue to spawn and contribute to rebuilding the stock.

At the March 1st special meeting, a variety of short-term options were discussed to limit the harvest.  The preferred option presented by the Mississippi Department of Marine Resources (MDMR) would be to lower the bag limit for recreational harvest from 15 fish to 10 fish per person for up to 60 days and to place a daily catch limit on commercial harvest. It should be noted that commercial harvest is limited to a 50,000 lb. quota per year broken into two 25,000 lb. seasons so the daily limit on commercial harvest merely prevents the entire quota from being harvested in a very short period of time.

Unfortunately, the motion that passed out of the CMR was to give Director Joe Spraggins, the Director of the MDMR, the authority “to close it down, if he sees it getting out of hand.”  It is completely unclear what the standard is for “getting out of hand” and many recreational anglers went into an immediate tail spin when hearing that the CMR and DMR would even consider a complete shutdown of a fishery to address an event that was producing extra fish in Mississippi waters as opposed to a mortality event such as a hard freeze or a red tide.

MWF does not believe that a complete shutdown of any fishery is likely as a result of the opening of the Bonnet Carre’ spillway. Director Spraggins has been clear in his comments by specifically noting that he would not take such drastic steps without science to guide his decision.  There simply is not sufficient to guide such a science-based decision at this point. MWF applauds Director Spraggins for his commitment to making a transparent and science-based decision before moving ahead with any changes that would drastically alter the ability of recreational anglers to access the speckled trout fishery.

MWF does not support a shutdown of the speckled trout fishery, but the discussion surrounding that possibility creates a good opportunity for recreational anglers to reflect on the need for responsible harvest and strict adherence to creel and bag limits. Please take what you can eat and consider letting larger spawning fish return to the water to continue producing fish for seasons to come.  Get out and enjoy some great fishing on the water and leave some for your next trip.

MWF will continue to work with CMR commissioners and MDMR staff as the results of the spillway opening continue to unfold.  Stay tuned for more updates.

It’s Easy Being a Stream Steward

May 1, 2019 • Lindsey Lemmons

Want a simple and easy way to be a Stream Steward?

Soon the Mississippi Wildlife Federation’s Adopt-A-Stream (AAS) program and partners will begin installing signs along Mississippi streams that include QR codes for access to stream health surveys. The surveys will be available online and used to collect critical monitoring data about our Mississippi waterways. This data is used to focus resources on the areas of our streams that need the most help. The public can access the stream surveys online by using their phones to scan the QR codes found on the signs. The survey questions are simple, such as, “Do you see litter along the stream?” and can be completed in a couple of minutes. This is an easy and fun way to serve as a Stream Steward without fully adopting a stream. MWF is beginning the project this summer by first installing signs around the Ross Barnett Reservoir and along one of our coastal streams.

When you see one of these signs, please take the time to answer the questions. If you have any recommendations for sign locations, please contact us at MWF. We are also recruiting schools and scout group to assist with sign installation.

The AAS program increases awareness of the importance of keeping Mississippi streams clean. The program is through a partnership between the Mississippi Wildlife Federation and the Mississippi Department of Environmental Quality (MDEQ). Stream Stewards are individuals or groups that adopt a stream, providing water quality testing, clean-ups, and other activities that help protect and restore Mississippi’s waters.

State Management Approved for Recreational Red Snapper Fishery

May 1, 2019 • Lindsey Lemmons

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:

Alabama Florida Louisiana Mississippi Texas
26.298% 44.822% 19.120% 3.550% 6.210%

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.

Join MWF Connections
Donate to the MWF
[add_eventon number_of_months='2' show_upcoming='1'] Hunters Harvest Sponsor: WalmartSite Partner: Academy