Many Gulf Coast anglers are seething after learning that NOAA, the federal agency that governs fishing in federal waters along U.S. Coasts, will clamp down hard on what has become a remarkable fishery for red snapper.
Snapper angling has been nothing short of sensational in recent years along the Mississippi and Alabama coasts. But things are going to change with NOAA stepping in and regulating the fishery with much tighter federal catch allocations for the species in these states.
NOAA’s final ruling on annual catch limits for red snapper will cut Mississippi’s red snapper allotment by 60 percent in 2023, compared to the previous year, according to information from U.S. Senator Roger Wicker, R-Miss.
“When I met with NOAA Administrator (Richard) Spinrad in September 2021, he told me their (red snapper) calibration system was broken and could not pass peer review,” Wicker reported in a statement from his office. “He made a commitment to me that day to fix it.
“NOAA’s final rule includes the exact calibration that Mr. Spinrad agreed was flawed. For a so-called science agency, this rule is an embarrassment and exemplifies how the bureaucracy of this Administration fails the American people, and in particular those of the state of Mississippi.”
Spinrad became federal Under Secretary of Commerce for NOAA in June, 2021. He is in charge of the agency and its over 12,000 federal employees.
According to Sen. Wicker’s office, “NOAA’s flawed rule is intended to prevent overfishing by modifying each state’s annual catch limits (ACLs) for red snapper. This new formula will require calibrating Mississippi’s high-quality ‘Tails n’ Scales’ data, which records accurate information for more than 95 percent of Mississippi’s annual recreational red snapper catch, to the low-quality ‘Federal Marine Recreational Information Program’ (MRIP) data.
“The new calibration required by the (NOAA) rule will reduce Mississippi’s red snapper quota by 60 percent in 2023, meaning private anglers could reach their yearly quota in as little as three weeks. The (federal) ruling is based on outdated data from 2017 and 2018, despite Congress appropriating $2 million to NOAA to investigate and improve calibration methods.”
Word of the tighter state snapper restrictions is spreading quickly throughout the Gulf Coast region. Alabama anglers already are enraged about their 51 percent NOAA reduction in snapper quota starting Jan. 1, 2023.
Mississippi anglers with an even larger cut of snapper allocation by NOAA of 60 percent are just as furious.
“Years ago we used to have to spend most of a day to catch a limit of Mississippi snapper,” says long-time Mississippi coastal angler Nick Strayham of Biloxi. “But in recent years the snapper have increased so much that in 20 snapper trips I made this last summer it never took an hour to limit out. The average Mississippi red snapper size also has increased substantially in recent years.
“Our (Mississippi) Tails n’ Scales app is one of the most accurate tools a fishery manager could ever ask for. Yet, our quotas are being cut by 60 percent, it makes no sense.
“It’s a sad time for Mississippi recreational snapper fishermen.”
Many charter captains depend on the robust and long Mississippi red snapper season for their business livelihoods. Capt. Josh Swinford runs the 36-foot Yellowfin charter boat “Strike Zone” out of St. Martin, Miss.
“NOAA is ignoring science, our state legislature, and the voice of Mississippi residents and anglers,” he says. “Rather than having a plate of delicious snapper, we are being served a heaping spoonful of injustice.
“Federal MRIP estimates say Mississippi has 1,500 boats per day fishing for red snapper. But the Mississippi Department of Marine Regulation shows the highest daily tally for state snapper anglers was only 268 boats.
“This an obvious admission of (NOAA) ignorance.”