The National Marine Fisheries Service [NMFS] has officially accepted Alabama’s plan to manage its own seasons for recreational red snapper fishing — paving the way for 47-day seasons in the next two years.

As Lagniappe has previously reported, the plan manages the season lengths in state and federal waters off the Alabama coast is part of a two-year pilot program approved by the Gulf of Mexico Fishery Management Council in February.

For the first time in years, Gulf states will be able to manage recreational snapper fishing off their respective coasts through individual Exempted Fishing Permits (EFPs) submitted to NMFS.

The decision comes after years of shorter and shorter snapper seasons that frustrated anglers and commercial fisherman alike until a consortium of Gulf leaders negotiated a compromise through U.S. Commerce Secretary Wilbur Ross that extended the 2017 season.

Gov. Kay Ivey announced Friday that Alabama’s plan, which will create a 47-day season, will be in place for the next two years. In 2018, it will run from June 1 to September 2 on Fridays, Saturdays, and Sundays and the entire week on the Fourth of July. It would run concurrently in state waters and in federal waters, which begin nine miles from the coast.

“I am very pleased that the U.S. Department of Commerce, through the National Marine Fisheries Service, has granted Alabama an Exempted Fishing Permit for the next two red snapper seasons,” Ivey said of the plan’s approval. “Following the directives from President Trump to cut down on federal regulations, this decision empowers Alabama to manage our resources instead of bureaucrats in Washington.”

Ivey also noted the EFP program was made possible by language Sen. Richard Shelby added to the FY2017 Commerce, Justice, and Science Appropriations bill. It directed the NMFS to develop the pilot program to allow states more control over reef fish management activities.

In a statement, Ivey said Alabama’s red snapper fishery is a big part of “the coastal culture and economy of” of the state and thanked Shelby and Rep. Bradley Byrne for their congressional efforts to give Alabama more autonomy in managing its coastal resources.

She also made a special note of the efforts Alabama is also indebted to Conservation and Natural Resources Commissioner Chris Blankenship made to push for alternatives to federal snapper seasons that had become shorter and shorter in recent years.

“The red snapper management granted by the EFP will allow Alabama to use the information from the Alabama Snapper Check Program, as well as the terabytes of fisheries data we have collected on the red snapper population in the Alabama Artificial Reef Zones, to show we can sustainably manage this fishery,” Blankenship said “I would like to thank Marine Resources Division Director Scott Bannon and Chief Biologist Kevin Anson for shepherding the permit request through the regulatory process.”

The federal charter season for red snapper is not included in Alabama’s new permit and is expected to be announced by NMFS sometime in April, though it is expected to be longer than the 2017 federal charter season, which stretched 49 days.

Ivey’s office said data collected through the Alabama Snapper Check Program the past four years was critical in securing the additional red snapper fishing days, and reminded fishermen they are still required to report their red snapper harvests through the program.

Only one report is required per vessel trip, and anglers can provide details via a smartphone app available under “Outdoor Alabama” in the iTunes or Google Play app stores; online at www.outdooralabama.com; or by paper forms available at select coastal public boat launches.