Recreational red snapper catch to be restricted by new federal regulations

New red snapper federal regulations could dampen recreational fishing
Published: Jan. 25, 2023 at 10:11 PM CST
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BAY ST. LOUIS, WDAM -- New federal regulations from the National Oceanic Atmospheric Administration will slash the amount of red snapper that recreation anglers in Mississippi can reel in unless changes are made, according to state leaders.

While the quota cuts won’t impact the commercial side, the changes on the recreational side are still a concern for the many fishermen who travel to the gulf each year and anglers who live there.

“We have a group of family and friends that fish regularly together,” said Michael Pierce.

Pierce lives and plays around Bay St Louis.

The coastal city, like so many others along the Mississippi sound, is a haven for anglers across the state.

“It’s great for like the kids. Something they can enjoy, because it is so easy to go out, catch your snapper,” said Pierce.

Red snapper is one of the most sought-after fish in the south.

NOAA regulates fishing in federal waters. Five gulf states, including Mississippi, receive a federal allocation.

The group has many functions, but one is to make sure there are always plenty of other fish in the sea.

“A number of years ago we started working with each individual gulf state to pilot state management of recreational fishing,” said Andy Strelcheck, regional administrator for NOAA fisheries Southeast regional office in St. Petersburg, Fla.

In Mississippi, the Department of Marine Resources launched a program and app called Tails n’ Scales to help keep track of the number of fish that were caught by anglers.

JMDMR Executive Director Joe Spraggins, said the program is one of the most accurate tools available.

“In that app, it will ask if you if you caught any fish and if you did, how many and how many people fished with you,” said Spraggins.

Beginning in 2023, NOAA significantly reduced Mississippi’s catch quota from more than 120,000 pounds per year to about half of that.

Alabama is also taking a major hit.

NOAA blames discrepancies in state data and federal data.

“The quota for Mississippi is going to be adjusted downward and the reason for that is their state survey estimates considerably lower landings than how that quota was originally set and so we are just trying to align the quota in the comparable way,” said Strelcheck.

MDMR leaders say despite state numbers and explanations, they’re at the mercy of NOAA scientists and statisticians.

NOAA will continue to have meetings where leaders could vote to change the quotas, but if there’s a snag, Spraggins says theyll have to do something.

“If it doesn’t work and they don’t work with us, then I am going to try to get the state to give me the 600,000-750,000 a year to come out from under NOAA and I don’t have to fool with them anymore,” said Spraggins.

Sen. Roger Wicker is on the U.S. Senate Committee on Commerce, Science and Transportation. He’s been sounding the alarm about the new federal guidelines and says he’ll continue working towards a solution.

“Our complaint has been that the federal government has taken the wrong approach to collecting data and they’ve got bad information,” said Wicker.

Wicker and Spraggins hope that NOAA leaders will weigh everything and make a change. Strelcheck says those conversations continue.

“We are well aware it is controversial,” Strelcheck said. “It has also been a fairly deliberative and extensive process obviously to the point that we are at but we are also not at the point where we are going to stop working on this and we are going to continue to look for improvements to surveys so that we ensure that fish are being counted as accurately as possible.”

In the meantime, as snapper season approaches, anglers like Pierce hope there aren’t fewer trips this year because of reduced limits. Pierce worries about the impact that might have on coastal communities like his.

“Your marinas will be selling less fuel,” Pierce said. “They’re going to be selling less bait. Less tackle. There are places on the coast that people aren’t going to be coming down to stay in as much. This is something that a lot of people come to the area just to do that, and I think it is really going to put a hurt on that,”

Leaders with NOAA continue to have discussions about quotas, but there has been no final action.

Stay with WDAM for updates.

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