Thu 07/28/2022 – 15:44 | By: Margaret Ann Macloud
Researchers from the University of Southern Mississippi (USM) recently completed a large-scale collaborative project with the Mississippi Department of Marine Resources (MDMR) on reef fishes in Mississippi, to better understand changes in the red snapper populations in the Gulf of Mexico. The five-year project, funded by the National Fish and Wildlife Foundation’s Gulf Environmental Benefit Fund, studied reef fish on artificial reefs in waters off Mississippi and captured the dynamics of red snapper fishing. Information on catch rates, age and growth, reproduction, diet, trophic stage, habitat association and water parameters has been collected and can now be used to develop estimates of harvest and length of season. This information is essential for understanding annual changes in the fishery.
Monthly vertical longline sampling from 2016 to 2020 took place at artificial reef sites (fish sanctuaries and platforms at reef sites) in waters off the Mississippi to approximately 300 feet depth . Red snapper was caught in greater numbers on reef site platforms, and red snapper size was larger when larger hook sizes were used in deeper water. Most of the fish caught were between 2 and 3 years old, the oldest being 22 years old. Both male and female snappers have been found to grow rapidly until they are around 8–10 years old. Information on red snapper spawning frequency was also obtained, with frequent spawning events occurring during a spawning season of approximately 179 days. The red snapper’s diet consisted of larval mantis shrimp, swimmer crabs, and penaeid shrimp.
This project also included the development and management of the MDMR Tails n’ Scales (TNS) reporting system, required for use by all private and for-hire recreational fishing vessels to enable reporting of red snapper landings. in Mississippi. The TNS electronic reporting system is used in all harvest areas, including federal waters, Mississippi state waters, and adjacent state waters. For the TNS system, one fisherman per boat per trip is required to use the TNS system when targeting or harvesting red snapper. Report of compliance with the TNS program in the first five years was estimated at 93% for the private recreational sector. This type of oversight allowed Mississippi anglers maximum opportunity and flexibility to access the fishery. The study also shows that natural bottom habitats generally create greater opportunities for trip-harvested fish than artificial reefs. Anglers often inquire about the causes of changes in the red snapper fishery, and the data from this project provides technical information that impacts fishery management.
Jill Hendon, Director of the USM Center for Fisheries Research and Development and USM activity lead on this project, said, “This project was an excellent example of the comprehensive fisheries information that can be generated through research efforts. collaboration. Mississippi needed immediate data on the status of this fishery. We were able to design and implement a joint USM/MDMR program that produced critical data for the MDMR to give Mississippi anglers optimal and sustainable opportunities to fish these important resources.”
“MDMR is proud of the success of this collaborative project and is confident that the increased knowledge of the Mississippi red snapper stock along with the robust fishery dependent monitoring program will further enhance the agency’s ability to manage our red snapper fishery. in the most optimal way possible,” said Trevor Moncrief, director of the MDMR Fish Office. “We continue to strive to increase flexibility and maximize opportunities for our recreational anglers and appreciate their support and participation in the program as it has played the biggest role in the success of Tails n’ Scales.”
The USM thanks the investigators who made this project a success: Read Hendon, Jill Hendon, Paul Grammer, Jim Franks, Nancy Brown-Peterson, Kevin Dillon, Scott Milroy, Joe Griffitt, Robert Leaf, as well as the multitude of employees and students who participated in this great effort.