The debate between state and federal officials over the health of the red snapper population has continued with the recent announcement of the upcoming harvests. Disagreements over the number of fish caught last year have led to two different seasons.
The Marine Resources Division of the Alabama Department of Conservation and Natural Resources will open state waters (out to nine miles) from Friday, May 27, on Memorial Day weekend through Sunday, July 31. The daily bag limit will be two red snapper per person, with the minimum size 16 inches total length.
Private recreational anglers who want to go into the deeper federal waters will have a much shorter window. This region will be open for red snapper June 1-9. The same daily bag and length limits will be observed. The federal season for charter boats is June 1 through July 16.
“The federal red snapper season this year will be the shortest ever for private vessels,” said Chris Blankenship, director of the Marine Resources Division. “MRD biologists have assessed the resource in our waters, and we feel that there are enough red snapper in Alabama waters to open an additional season to give our citizens the ability to catch more red snapper this year.”
Blankenship said his department funded research was conducted by Dr. Sean Powers’ team at the University of South Alabama. The study estimates there are approximately 20 million pounds of red snapper off the coast of Alabama. According to the Snapper Check program run by MRD, a little more than 1 million pounds was landed during the federal and state red snapper seasons.
“That leaves plenty of red snapper in the water to allow for additional sustainable harvest from Alabama waters,” Blankenship said.
The federal nine-day season was determined with data gathered from the Marine Recreational Information Program, surveys covering Louisiana and Texas. Alabama’s Snapper Check program is mandatory for anglers who return to a state port, while cameras at the docks also count the number of vessels launched.
The figures from the two surveys greatly differ. For the nine-day 2014 season, Snapper Check recorded 455,522 pounds while federal estimates had 1,227,469 pounds. For the 2015 season, Snapper Check estimated 1,045,043 pounds of red snapper, while the MRIP came up with 2,355,481 pounds.
Blankenship is working to get Snapper Check certified this year in order to use those figures to establish quotas in 2017. He is also seeking congressional help to give the states more control over red snapper stock assessment and management of the fishery out to 200 miles.
“A nine-day red snapper season for recreational fishermen is simply not acceptable,” U.S. Rep. Bradley Byrne told the MRD. “The derby-style season creates unsafe conditions by forcing fishermen to go out regardless of the conditions.
“There are plenty of red snapper in the Gulf, but the federal government continues to use outdated and ineffective methods to sample for the fish. A short season is bad for fishermen, but it also hurts our coastal communities.”
State officials are trying to keep a positive attitude regarding the controversy.
“The state red snapper season will be open during Memorial Day weekend and during the best months for family fishing in Alabama,” Conservation Commissioner N. Gunter Guy Jr. said. “The June and July season will include great family events such as the Flora-Bama Fishing Rodeo, the Fourth of July weekend, the Roy Martin Dauphin Island Young Anglers Tournament and the Alabama Deep Sea Fishing Rodeo.”
● The Dauphin Island Sea Lab is working with Auburn University, USA and the DCNR to host a “High Dollar Red Snapper” tagging program. Dr. Marcus Drymon from the Sea Lab said he and his team would tag 750 red snapper, with 250 of them double-tagged.
During the snapper season, anglers who catch these fish will be awarded $250 for turning in single-tagged fish and $500 for double-tagged fish. The reason for the program is to estimate recreational fishing mortality.
Anglers should snip off the tag at the skin and report the information. To claim the award, send an email to firstname.lastname@example.org, call 855-818-9983 or mail the tag to Auburn Department of Fisheries, Attn. Dana Sackett, 203 Swingle Hall, Auburn, AL 36849.
Straight as an arrow
Several local competitors came home with trophies from the National Archery in the Schools state championship in Montgomery. Of the 1,251 who competed, 49 youth archery teams qualified for the NASP national championships in Louisville, Kentucky, this weekend.
In the team competition, Alma Bryant of Irvington won the High School Division. Saraland was third in the Middle School Division. In the Elementary School Division, Dixon of Irvington was second and Gilliard of Mobile was third.
In the individual competition, Kelleigh Entrekin of Grand Bay Middle took top honors. Other high finishers were Miles Wilson of Alma Bryant (third-place high school boys) and Sade Hurd of Gilliard (third-place elementary girls).
USA soccer player honored
Nini Rabsatt-Smith, a USA senior, has been selected for the Under-23 Women’s National Soccer Team. She recently took part in the squad’s training camp in Charlottesville, Virginia.
“Even just getting invited to this training camp, it’s an honor, because I know not everyone gets the opportunity,” said Rabsatt-Smith, one of 26 named to the roster. “But if I were to make it, it would mean even more.
“Coach [Graham] Winkworth mentioned to me that not only am I representing myself, I’m representing the small colleges that sometimes get overlooked even when they have quality players. This could potentially put South Alabama on the map, even more so than we’ve already put ourselves on the map.”
The 2014 Sun Belt Conference Defensive Player of the Year, Rabsatt-Smith was twice a first-team all-SBC honoree and played in 85 career games. She helped USA to three straight league titles and NCAA tournament appearances.