Guy Harvey Magazine

WIN 2017

Guy Harvey Magazine is focused on fishing, boating, scuba diving, and marine conservation. Portfolios from the world's best fishing photographers, articles on gear, travel, tournaments, apparel, lifestyle, seafood recipes, sustainable fisheries.

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www.GuyHarveyMagazine.com | 33 BY BEN RAINES Mississippi, like the rest of the Gulf states, has gone rogue when it comes to red snapper. This summer, even after the truncated nine-day federal snapper season ended, Mississippi anglers were able to catch red snapper during a state season that ran from Memorial Day to Labor Day. Oddly, the state season came courtesy of a federal budget bill, the 2016 Consolidated Appropriations Act. An add-on provision awarded Mississippi, Alabama and Louisiana the right to manage red snapper in their respective state waters. The bill also extended state control in the three states out to nine miles, as Texas and Florida have always had, but only for snapper management, not other species, such as amberjack or grouper. "Our numbers show we harvested approximately 110,000 pounds. We estimate that is 16,708 fish," said Matt Hill, finfish director with the Mississippi Department of Marine Resources. Hill said his department will recommend another state season of the same duration for 2017. Meanwhile, the state is using a grant tied to BP oil spill funding to conduct a stock assessment of its offshore reefs. A key component to the Mississippi snapper season was a new program called "Tails and Scales." The goal was to keep close tabs on the number of anglers catching snapper and the number of fish they caught. Fishermen had to register online before they headed offshore, and then report back in after they docked. The program tallied how many fish were caught, how much they weighed and how many folks were fishing. "They had to report back in before they would be allowed to make another trip," Hill said. "It enabled us to know how many anglers we had and how many fish were being caught. We can do this on a daily basis and it is actually a real-time calculation." The state is trying to get the "Tails and Scales" program certified by federal officials to replace the nationwide telephone survey presently used to determine angler effort and help set the federal season length. Mississippi's program represents an actual census of every angler and every trip, versus the federal survey, which attempts to sample only a small fraction of fishermen and make extrapolations based on their answers. "The biggest difference is the data collection system," Hill said. "Their phone survey is an excellent survey for year-round fisheries, for fisheries that do not close. You can get an adequate number of intercepts for those fisheries to represent the whole. But when you start having compressed seasons, especially when you get down to a 9- or 10-day season, it is extremely difficult." Hill said the federal reliance on the old phone survey system, compounded by the switch to cell phones instead of landlines, means the federal data regarding angler effort and what people are actually catching, has a lot of holes in it. "You have so few data points there is a lot of uncertainty in that data," Hill said. "If we can get the data portion of it in a better place, I believe we will have even longer federal seasons." Ultimately, Hill said, the state wants to expand the number of reefs within the nine-mile area now considered state waters and develop a snapper population that can be managed with an eye toward longer seasons and sustainability.

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