Determination was written all over Lauren Jordan’s face. Twice the 15-year-old from Mobile had reeled up big red snapper near the surface only to have the fish get away. Once her line tangled with another angler’s, allowing the big fish to escape, while the second fish just came unhooked for no explicable reason.
Instead of enlisting help, Jordan declared she would not be denied, vowing to boat a big snapper all by her lonesome.
As her grandfather, George Jordan of Daphne, maneuvered the boat over the artificial reef in 120 feet of water, Lauren lowered the snapper jig down to near the bottom and then set the hook on another big fish. The grimace on her face and the line peeling from the reel indicated this was indeed another huge red snapper.
After hanging on for dear life, Lauren finally started gaining line with each labored crank of the reel handle. A few minutes later, the energy-sapping fight was over with a 17-pound snapper in the boat, and Lauren jubilantly slapping high-fives.
With a seven-person limit of big red snapper in the cooler, the elder Jordan punched the return trip to Pelican Point into the GPS machine and pushed the throttles forward on the 32-foot Donzi.
“This is what I live for,” George said. “I love to see my grandkids and friends catch fish.”
That is why the recent announcement of a six-day extension to the red snapper season is so important to the elder Jordan, who runs an auto repair facility in Daphne with sons George Jr. and Michael. Weekends and holidays are the only times the Jordans can fish.
“Yes, it’s a big deal,” Jordan said of the extension of the season to July 16. “It adds another whole weekend to our season.”
Because the weather in the Gulf of Mexico had been so horrible until recently, anglers had been unable to participate in the snapper fishery.
Alabama Marine Resources Director Chris Blankenship said his division had been steadily gathering information on the fishing effort to aid in the National Marine Fisheries Service’s (NMFS) decision to extend the season.
“We had terrible weather on the upper Gulf Coast in June,” Blankenship said. “During the second weekend, we had something like 20 inches of rain, and the wind was blowing 25 to 30 knots. Then we had Tropical Storm Debby, and we lost several days from that. In between, it was just rough with wind blowing 25 knots most of the time. It really affected the number of days people could fish.
“We’ve been in conversations with NMFS, as with other states, to show that the quota would not be caught by July 10 because there were so many days people couldn’t fish. So the Marine Resources staff with Kevin Anson and other biologists took information that we collect and compiled it to provide to NMFS.”
Marine Resources polls the Alabama charter boat industry each week on its activity. Also, during visits to boat launches along the coast to conduct the Marine Recreational Fishing Survey, where biologists record the anglers’ creels, the number of boat trailers was recorded to determine the fishing effort.
“It was data that usually takes the National Marine Fisheries Service a month or more to use it,” said Blankenship. “We were able to take that data and compile it in a day. It showed that we had lost about 25 to 30 percent of the effort because of the days they couldn’t fish. The other states were doing the same thing.
“I appreciate the National Marine Fisheries Service for being flexible and working with the states to give us a few more days. I wish it had been more than six days, but six is better than none. I think NMFS was being very conservative with the extension.”
Dr. Bob Shipp, head of Marine Sciences at the University of South Alabama and a member of the Gulf of Mexico Fishery Management Council, agreed that the extension was limited to ensure the quota of just over 4 million pounds would not be exceeded, which would have consequences for next year’s quota.
“I’m very glad they’re extending it, but I think they could have extended it a little more,” Shipp said of NMFS. “I understand they want to be conservative to make sure they don’t go over quota. The first three weeks in June, the weather was horrible. Last Monday, Roy Crabtree (NMFS Southeast Regional Director) called and asked my thoughts. He talked to other people in the snapper fishery, and he thought he had enough effort data to extend the season.”
Shipp hopes there might be a bonus weekend in October if the catch numbers come in under quota.
“We’ve got about two weeks left in the season, so they’ll have the catch totals sometime in August,” he said. “Depending on how much impact the bad weather had, it’s possible at the August Gulf Council meeting we may be able to have a weekend in the fall. We just won’t know until we see what the weather does the next two weeks and how much the effort has been affected. Roy is very conservative and that was his rationale for extending the season six days, so I’m confident we won’t go over.”
Blankenship said he finally got to take his family on a snapper trip last week. He said it didn’t take long to put a limit of snapper in the boat.
“I took my father, wife and three kids out the other afternoon,” Blankenship said. “We caught a limit of snapper, came back in and cleaned up the boat in a total of three-and-a-half hours. All of our fish were longer than 20 inches.”
The average size of the red snapper being caught might be the only sticking point in the season extension.
“The average size of the fish seems to be even bigger than last year,” Blankenship said. “That may be the risk we’re taking, but I think NMFS has that factored in.”
Shipp said there’s no doubt that, as the fishery rebounds, larger and larger snapper are being caught.
“People are high-grading,” Shipp said. “People catch a five-pounder, and they know they can catch an eight-pounder, so they throw the five-pounder back. I know that’s going to have a negative impact on the quota, but I’m sure Roy took that into consideration when he held it to six days.
“The one criticism I have of NMFS on this is they go by weight instead of numbers. That’s wrong. Weight is a proxy. Real numbers are what determines fishing mortality. But that’s a story for another day.”
Although the extension goes through the middle of July, it won’t help the Alabama Deep Sea Fishing Rodeo (ADSFR), which is scheduled July 20-22 at Dauphin Island. For the first time in recent history, red snapper is not one of the categories at the rodeo, which holds the Guinness World Records title as largest fishing tournament in the world.
However, there will still be red snapper brought to the weigh scales because of an exempted fishing permit granted by NMFS to several large fishing tournaments along the Gulf Coast. The ADSFR is the only event in Alabama to get the permit, which gives the rodeo 200 red snapper tags that will be distributed through a random drawing.
John Napper, 2012 rodeo president, said interested anglers can apply for a permit in four ways – online at www.adsfr.com; by email at RedSnapper@ADSFR.com; mail the application to P.O. Box 16606, Mobile, AL 36606; or submit an application in person at the Jaycees Office at 600 Bel Air Blvd., # 120 in Mobile. The cutoff for applications is July 8.
“We will issue the tags at around 6 p.m. at the Liar’s Contest on July 19,” Napper said. “People who are selected will have to show a valid ID and proof of purchase of a rodeo ticket.”