State Management Approved for Recreational Red Snapper Fishery

May 1, 2019 • Elizabeth Barber

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.

GOMESA Projects Announced

April 1, 2019 • Elizabeth Barber

Gov. Phil Bryant announced six coastal projects in mid-March totaling more than $23 million that will be funded through the Gulf of Mexico Energy Security Act (GOMESA).

Crews offload shell and limestone (oyster cultch) that will form the basis for new oyster reefs in Alabama’s Mobile Bay.

In total, the State of Mississippi will receive over $27 million, including $2.3 million for Jackson County, $2.15 million for Harrison County, and $1.05 million for Hancock County. The passage in 2006 of GOMESA provides a portion of the royalties from offshore oil and gas exploration to help restore the coastal waters of Alabama, Louisiana, Mississippi, and Texas for hurricane protection. The balance of the funds are designated for specific projects on the coast that will be overseen by the Mississippi Department of Marine Resources (MDMR). The six projects outlined by Governor Bryant include:

  • ($4.95 million) To begin the replacement of seven stormwater outfall pipes along the sand beaches of Harrison County to reduce the overall number of stormwater outfalls.
  • ($760,000) Begin construction of MDMR’s Marine Fisheries Dry Laboratory, bringing enhanced water quality analysis directly to Mississippi’s coast.
  • ($1 million) Provide additional oyster cultch for repair of the diminishing oyster population. Areas to receive the cultch plant include the Western Mississippi Sound, Eastern Mississippi Sound and Biloxi Bay areas.
  • ($3 million) Add 60 million oysters to the Mississippi Sound, providing stock and increasing spat over time. These oysters will be placed across the Mississippi Sound to enhance future growth of oysters in different areas.
  • ($6,688,944) Funding for the tramway will compliment local and federal funds already dedicated to the project. The project will connect Jones Park to the Mississippi Aquarium Campus using emissions-free transit services and bringing new educational and recreational opportunities to the area.
  • ($7 million) Ocean Enterprise Project at the Port of Gulfport will bring together state, federal, and industry partners to solve challenging problems in the area of national and homeland defense, infrastructure security, environmental monitoring, disaster response, offshore aquaculture, and habitat characterization.

The Mississippi Wildlife Federation (MWF) continues to support the use of offshore oil and gas royalties through GOMESA for conservation efforts and hopes to see an increase in these funds in future years. The efforts of GOMESA provide an important and guaranteed stream of funding for conservation and restoration projects in coastal communities. MWF continues to work with state officials to advocate for projects that have clear ecological and environmental benefits, furthering the goals of coastal conservation, restoration, and hurricane protection outlined in GOMESA.

The Modern Fish Act Heads to the President’s Desk

January 4, 2019 • Elizabeth Barber

The Modernizing Recreational Fisheries Management Act of 2017 (Modern Fish Act), the first ever sportfishing focused legislation to pass through Congress, is headed to President Trump’s desk for his signature. The legislation makes critical updates to the oversight of federal fisheries and provides managers with new tools to manage these fisheries.

The passage of the legislation demonstrates the importance of recreational saltwater fishing to the nation. More than 11 million saltwater anglers contribute a $63 billion in annual economic impact and support 440,000 jobs. In addition, recreational anglers and boaters contribute $1.3 billion annually through excise taxes and licensing fees, most of which goes toward conservation, boating safety and infrastructure, and habitat restoration. Accordingly, healthy fisheries and access for recreational fishermen are vital.

The Modern Fish Act will provide more stability and better access for anglers by:

  • Providing authority and direction to NOAA Fisheries to apply additional management tools more appropriate for recreational fishing, many of which are successfully implemented by state fisheries agencies (e.g., extraction rates, fishing mortality targets, harvest control rules, or traditional or cultural practices of native communities);
  • Improving recreational harvest data collection by requiring federal managers to explore other data sources that have tremendous potential to improve the accuracy and timeliness of harvest estimates, such as state-driven programs and electronic reporting (e.g., through smartphone apps);
  • Requiring the Comptroller General of the United States to conduct a study on the process of mixed-use fishery allocation review by the South Atlantic and Gulf of Mexico Regional Fishery Management Councils and report findings to Congress within one year of enactment of the Modern Fish Act, and
  • Requiring the National Academies of Sciences to complete a study and provide recommendations within two years of the enactment of the Modern Fish Act on limited access privilege programs (catch shares) including an assessment of the social, economic, and ecological effects of the program, considering each sector of a mixed-use fishery and related businesses, coastal communities, and the environment and an assessment of any impacts to stakeholders in a mixed-use fishery caused by a limited access privilege program. This study excludes the Pacific and North Pacific Regional Fishery Management Councils.

MWF would like to thank Senator Wicker for his leadership in introducing the Modern Fish Act in July 2017 and continuing to fight for its passage and for recreational anglers.  We also appreciate the help of our Mississippi delegation to push this land mark legislation over the finish line to improve access and fisheries for recreational anglers.

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