The Wire

  • 16-year-old murder suspect admits setting fire that killed mother, records state

    Excerpt from AL.com:

    Nicholas Lamons is charged in his mother’s fire death.

    A teen murder suspect admitted setting the Morgan County fire that killed his mother and sent two others to the hospital, court records state.

    Nicholas Lamons, 16, is charged in the Tuesday-morning fire death of his mother, 32-year-old Kimberly Lamons, at their Alabama 67 home in the Joppa area.

    “Nicholas was located a short time later asleep in the van in Somerville,” Investigator Jeff Reynolds wrote in an arrest affidavit. “Nicholas was questioned and admitted that he had started a fire in his bedroom prior to leaving the residence. Nicholas also stated that he came back by the house a short time later and saw the trailer burning but did not make an effort to notify anyone.”

  • Moore slams Washington Post’s Pulitzer Prize in fundraising email

    Excerpt from Associated Press:

    Former U.S. Senate candidate Roy Moore of Alabama is trying to raise money by pointing to the Pulitzer Prize that The Washington Post won for its investigation of him.

    In a Friday fundraising email to supporters, Moore’s legal defense fund, said The Post won for “lies and slander.” The email sent by the Moore for U.S. Senate Legal Defense Fund then asked for people to help replenish his legal fund.

    The Post won a Pulitzer for investigative reporting for its stories revealing allegations that Moore pursued teenage girls sexually decades ago while he was in his 30s. Moore denied any misconduct.

  • Birmingham considering another Democratic National Convention bid

    Excerpt from WBRC:

    Birmingham is going after another Democratic National Convention, but the city says this time the committee asked to make a pitch.

    Last month, the Democratic National Committee reached out to Mayor Randall Woodfin about the city applying to host the 2020 convention.

    In a statement to WBRC, Mayor Woodfin says he’s considering applying.

    “We are very excited that the Democratic National Committee has recognized the City of Birmingham as an attractive, possible site for the 2020 Democratic National Convention. Such recognition shows how much progress our city is making when we receive these kinds of unsolicited invitations,” Woodfin said.

45 mins ago

Alabama working to become a top dive destination

(Craig Newton)

Alabama already has the reputation as one of the best places in the nation to fish for saltwater species, especially red snapper.

Now, Alabama is striving to become one of the top destinations for divers to explore numerous wrecks, scuttled vessels and our state’s unparalleled artificial reef zones.

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The latest efforts to increase the awareness for dive enthusiasts occurred last week when the Alabama Marine Resources Division (MRD) scuttled a 102-foot tugboat, the Gladys B, in the Tatum-Winn North reef zone approximately 22 nautical miles south of Fort Morgan in 100 feet of water. The superstructure of the vessel is about 62 feet below the surface. The Gladys B was built in 1937 and donated to the MRD Artificial Reef Program by Steiner’s Shipyard from Bayou la Batre. The reef site coordinates are 29 53.635’N and 87 56.071’W.

On the same trip, MRD deployed approximately 200 concrete culvert pipes to enhance the old Tulsa wreck and the Radmore Pipe Number 1 site about 15 miles south of Dauphin Island and to create a new reef site about 25 miles south of Fort Morgan.

The next steps in the plans to provide habitat close to shore that may also attract dive enthusiasts from all over the U.S. will occur offshore and within yards of the Alabama shoreline.

The nearshore project includes circalittoral reefs, sometimes also called snorkeling reefs, that can be reached from the sandy beaches.

Craig Newton, MRD’s Artificial Reefs Program Coordinator, said bids were opened for the circalittoral reefs at three Gulf State Park beach access sites.

At those three sites, 166 reef modules will be deployed to provide habitat for a wide variety of marine life.

“We’re going to create four clusters of reef modules within the three circalittoral reef zones,” Newton said. “We anticipate we will have more activity at the Pavilion reef site, so we’re going to create two independent clusters of reefs at the Pavilion site. We will have one cluster of reefs at the Perdido site and one cluster of reefs at the Romar site.”

Walter Marine of Orange Beach won the contract to deploy the modules in the new zones, and that should happen sometime this year, Newton said.

“We were able to secure some more funds for this project and make it significantly larger than what the original grant proposal covered,” Newton said. “We are excited about that.”

Newton said the reefs, which will be about 475 feet from the shoreline, will be marked by large pilings on the beach. There will be no markers in the water. Signage on the beach will describe the project and include information on what marine life snorkelers might encounter on the reefs.

The offshore project will be the deployment of the New Venture, a 250-foot surveying vessel, which will be ready for final inspection by May 2018. Newton said the original plans included towing the vessel to Mobile to wait on a weather window to deploy the ship. Those plans have changed. Now the vessel will be towed to Venice, La. When the weather allows, the New Venture will be towed straight to the deployment site about 20 nautical miles south of Orange Beach in about 120 feet of water. The top of the superstructure will be 55 to 60 feet below the surface.

“We look to be about a month away from completing the deployment,” Newton said. “We had some engineering models on how the ship was going to sink. We had to add a couple of bulkheads within the interior of the ship to direct water to keep the ship stable as it’s going down. We want to do all we can to make sure the ship lands upright. We don’t want it to roll over.”

Creation of 15 acres of juvenile reef fish habitat is also scheduled. Limestone aggregate rocks from 8 pounds to 50 pounds in size will be deployed. Each reef site will be about an acre in size.

“The goal is to create habitat for juvenile reef fish,” Newton said. “We feel like there is a significant potential for production from this project. Hopefully, we can grow a few more reef fish. The juvenile habitat sites will go inside one of the 9-mile reef zones that were approved earlier this year. The timeline for this construction is about the same as the circalittoral reefs.

“We know we’re going to get some subsidence (sinking into the seafloor) with these rocks. But if we can get a decent amount of production from these reefs to offset the subsidence, then we feel like the project will be worth it.”

Marine Resources is also in the middle of an ongoing project to deploy 120 Super Reefs in the offshore reef zones. Two deployment trips have been made this year.

With all this reef activity progressing, the dive operators in Mobile and Baldwin counties hope to capitalize on this activity to increase awareness of the opportunities off the Alabama coast.

Several dive operators and tourism officials met recently at Orange Beach to work on a strategy to do just that.

In 2013, the dive business got a significant boost when The LuLu was deployed off the Alabama coast with much fanfare. Less than 24 hours later, divers swarmed the 271-foot vessel resting in about 110 feet of water.

“When we do something special, like this New Venture, the awareness and excitement starts all over again,” said Bud Howard of Down Under Dive Shop in Gulf Shores. “Just like when we sunk The LuLu. It was like ‘Wow.’

“With New Venture, we’ll get more advanced divers, technical divers and wreck divers. The interest in the New Venture has been burning my web page up.”

Down Under, which has a multi-passenger dive boat, has already made plans to dive the New Venture each Wednesday and Saturday, when weather allows, as soon as it is reefed.

Gary Emerson of Gary’s Gulf Divers in Orange Beach can carry six divers, the same capacity as Chas Broughton’s Underwater Works in Fairhope. Gulf Coast Divers in Mobile sells and rents equipment and refers divers to boat operators.

Emerson said an information campaign needs to be started to apprise boaters of Alabama’s dive-flag law, which requires a floating red-striped flag to be deployed in the area of the diving and snorkeling activity. Boaters are required to stay at least 100 feet away from the area marked by the dive flag.

The dive-shop owners expressed interest in adding more reefs in water no deeper than 60 feet to allow dive shops to offer more opportunities for new divers to gain certification. Certification dives are limited to depths no greater than 60 feet.

“We need locations with different depths to appeal to a wide range of divers,” Howard said. “We have people from all over the Midwest who come to Alabama because this is the closest place to them for diving opportunities. These people spend a lot of money when they’re here. I do think the snorkeling reefs are really going to help.”

Vince Lucido of the Alabama Gulf Coast Reef and Restoration Foundation echoed that last sentiment.

“When the snorkeling reefs get opened, that will be awesome,” Lucido said. “We’ll have access right off the beach.”

David Rainer is an award-winning writer who has covered Alabama’s great outdoors for 25 years. The former outdoors editor at the Mobile Press-Register, he writes for Outdoor Alabama, the website of the Alabama Department of Conservation and Natural Resources.

6 days ago

WATCH OUT: Disease-carrying ticks widespread across Alabama

(M. Finney)

As a turkey hunter, I am keenly aware of the threat posed by sneaking through the Alabama woods. And I’m not talking about the danger of encountering a member of the serpent family.

I’m talking about something much, much smaller but possibly just as harmful.

It’s the family of ticks that turkey hunters dread each spring, and the prevalence of disease-carrying ticks is becoming more evident each year.

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Emily Merritt, a research associate at Auburn University’s School of Forestry and Wildlife Sciences, has been working on a project, with funding assistance provided from the Wildlife and Sport Fish Restoration Program (Pittman-Robertson) through the Alabama Division of Wildlife and Freshwater Fisheries (WFF), since 2015 to determine the species of ticks in Alabama and their ranges.

Merritt said a study on ticks and tick-related illnesses hadn’t been done since the early 1990s, and it was very limited in scope.

The study that started in 2015 was to update and expand that research to include field collection sites for ticks.

“We collected ticks once a month for a year,” Merritt said. “We were all over the state. We also worked with WFF wildlife biologists to collect ticks off of deer for all three years and with the USDA (Department of Agriculture) to get ticks off of raccoons for two years.”

The most commonly collected ticks included the Lone Star tick, the Gulf Coast tick, the black-legged tick (aka deer tick) and the American dog tick.

The Lone Star tick is the most common tick in Alabama and can transmit a host of diseases, including the alpha-gal red meat allergy, Southern rash disease (a Lyme-like illness), tick paralysis and spotted fever diseases that are closely related to Rocky Mountain spotted fever. A white dot in the middle of the tick’s back is the reason for the Lone Star name.

“We found that the Lone Star tick and the Gulf Coast tick are the most aggressive,” Merritt said. “They hunt down their prey. Some ticks sit and wait, but the Lone Star and Gulf Coast ticks will actively seek out hosts. Turkey hunters complain that when they’re hunting they can actually see ticks crawling to them. Usually, that’s the Lone Star tick. I’ve also heard it called the turkey tick.”

Merritt said the Lone Star tick is found primarily in hardwood stands, while the Gulf Coast tick, which is a little larger and transmits similar diseases, is found primarily in more open areas with shrubs.

“The Gulf Coast tick likes areas like new clear-cuts, and they are found in controlled burn areas,” she said. “These are harsh, hot environments where you don’t often find ticks, but the Gulf Coast tick loves it.”

The tick that has gained the most notoriety because of its association with Lyme disease is the black-legged tick.

“It is the main culprit for spreading Lyme disease, but it also can spread other illnesses, like anaplasmosis, ehrlichiosis and tularemia,” Merritt said. “We find black-legged ticks equally in pine and hardwood stands.”

Merritt said the American dog tick also can transmit all the diseases associated with the other tick species.

“As the name implies, they bite dogs a lot,” she said. “We find them in people’s backyards, especially if they’ve got a nice, green lawn and a nearby wooded area. Obviously, people’s dogs are at risk. If their kids play in the backyard or if you’re gardening or landscaping in the yard, people can come in contact with the American dog tick.”

At one time, the Centers for Disease Control (CDC) insisted that Lyme disease was limited to the Northeast U.S., with a concentration of the disease around Lyme, Conn. In recent years, the presence of Lyme-like disease (Lyme borreliosis) has been acknowledged in Alabama.

“Lyme disease refers to one specific bacteria,” Merritt said. “Lyme borreliosis indicates there is a host of similarly related bacteria that cause illness in Alabama.

“Another thing we hear from doctors is there is no Rocky Mountain spotted fever here. That’s not true at all. The Alabama Department of Public Health (ADPH) has been tracking this. The problem with the CDC and other health agencies is they don’t consider it much of an issue down here. But it definitely is an issue.”

In fact, a graphic from ADPH shows that spotted fever-type illnesses have skyrocketed in recent years compared to the other tick-related illnesses.

“People are getting sick from ticks down here,” Merritt said. “So it’s counterproductive for those agencies to say it’s rare. If you are an outdoors person your chances of coming in contact with these ticks is pretty decent. There is definitely a risk.

“One of the reasons I’m trying to get the word out, and when we publish our research (later this year), is we really need doctors to recognize that these tick-borne illnesses are here in Alabama.”

One aspect of Merritt’s research includes a survey conducted through the Alabama Department of Conservation and Natural Resources. The survey was sent to hunters and anglers to ask about their experiences, knowledge of and costs associated with ticks and tick-borne illnesses.

For those who spend time outdoors, Merritt said the project research found that the most effective deterrent for tick attachment is a spray that contains permethrin.

“You don’t apply it to your skin,” Merritt said. “You spray it on your clothes, boots, hats, socks, backpacks, basically any fabric. When I go camping, I spray my tents and tarps with it. Depending on what brand you get, it will last anywhere from two weeks or two washings to six weeks and six washings.

“More so than bug spray, we found that the products with permethrin significantly reduced the amount of ticks we encountered. It also works well on other biting insects like chiggers and mosquitoes.”

Although the likelihood of contact with ticks is higher during the warmer months, Merritt said the insects are active year-round in Alabama.

“Be on the lookout, not only on pets, but your children, your loved ones and yourself,” she said. “If you go outside, there is the potential to come in contact with ticks. When you come back inside, check your clothes and gear immediately to see if there are any crawling ticks on you, your pets or children. Then take it a step further and check your body thoroughly for ticks. If you need to use a mirror or a partner, do that. Ticks can hide in all sorts of areas that are hard to see.

“And the longer a tick is attached, the better the chances are to get a tick-borne illness if that tick is harboring that illness.”

If you do find a tick attached to your body, Merritt said don’t haphazardly try to remove the insect.

“Don’t try to pick it off with your fingers or burn it off with a match or anything like that,” she said. “Get tweezers and get as close to the skin as you possibly can. Firmly grasp the tick where it attached to your body and start pulling with steady, even pressure until it eventually releases. It might be uncomfortable and a little painful, but you want to get that tick off as soon as you can.”

Merritt said tick-borne illnesses may cause symptoms as early as a couple of days, but symptoms could also occur as late as a couple of months after the exposure.

“If you start to experience flu-like symptoms, like aches and pain, or you see an expanding red rash, sometimes spotted and sometimes circular, you need to see a doctor,” she said. “It’s normal for a bite to be red, but if you see an expanding rash or it seems to be spreading to other parts of your body, that’s a clear indication that you do have a tick-borne illness.”

Merritt said if the tick is found it can be saved for testing by taping it to an index card, placing it in a freezer bag and storing it in the freezer.

“But don’t wait for test results,” she said. “If you think you have a tick-borne illness, your doctor should go ahead and start treatment. For most tick-borne illnesses, that involves treatment with antibiotics. For tick paralysis, it’s removal of the tick. For the alpha-gal allergy there is no treatment. You just have to avoid eating red meat, and that’s terrible.”

For more information, go here or this website, the Alabama Lyme Disease Association’s website.

David Rainer is an award-winning writer who has covered Alabama’s great outdoors for 25 years. The former outdoors editor at the Mobile Press-Register, he writes for Outdoor Alabama, the website of the Alabama Department of Conservation and Natural Resources.

2 weeks ago

Mentored turkey hunt yields unforgettable results

(D. Rainer)

The fate of a turkey hunt’s outcome is indeed fickle. High-fives can be the celebratory conclusion just as easily as the dejected hunter’s incessant second-guessing of the tactics that caused the gobbler to walk away instead of strutting into range.

Chuck Sykes, Alabama Wildlife and Freshwater Fisheries (WFF) Director, has been in both situations. Sometimes that fate varies daily. Sometimes it’s different segments of the season, and sometimes, it’s different years.

With a little less than a month left in the season for most parts of the state, Sykes said hunters have had mixed results.

“Some hunters are doing well; some are not,” Sykes said. “It depends on where you are in the state. Personally, I think the turkeys are a little behind for this time of the season as compared to previous seasons. Gobbling has been very poor for me. I’ve hunted quite a few days, and I’ve seen five turkeys die, so don’t be crying for me.

“It’s substandard for me compared to what it was last year, which gives me great hope that the end of the season is going to be really good. I just think that cold snap slowed things down a little bit. I know we had some cold weather last year, but there’s something just a little bit different this year.”

Sykes said last year’s opening few days started with lows in the 30s, but the turkeys were still “gobbling their brains out.”

“We even had a couple of mornings in the upper 20s, but we were killing turkeys,” he said. “They were working right. This year, turkeys are gobbling two or three times, hitting the ground, and it’s over with.”

Sykes said it appears the 2017 and 2018 seasons will be flipped in terms of turkey activity and hunting success.

“The first few weeks of the season last year couldn’t have been any better for me,” he said. “The last two or three weeks of the season couldn’t have been any worse.

“I’m anticipating, based on past experience, that during the last few weeks of the season, the gobbling should be better and turkeys should be working better. I think we’re going to have a good closing few weeks of the season.”

Although the overall season has been a disappointment for Sykes, one magical afternoon will be forever etched in his memory, and he wasn’t the one who pulled the trigger.

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That hunt occurred on one of the WFF’s Special Opportunity Areas (SOAs) during an Adult Mentored Hunting Program outing.

Sykes recruited his old hunting buddy Al Mattox to help guide during the hunt on the new Pine Barren SOA area. Charles Barrow of Ozark and Adam Arnold of Pelham were the lucky hunters who were randomly drawn for the hunt.

“Charles actually participated in one of the mentored deer hunts,” Sykes said. “He was lucky enough to get selected for the turkey hunt.”

Arnold, on the other hand, has been an avid shooter for years, including long-distance shooting and sporting clays, but had really never hunted.

“Adam is one of those guys who has been participating in the Pittman-Robertson Act program by buying guns and ammunition, but he hasn’t been buying a hunting license for us to be able to capture that money and bring it back to Alabama,” Sykes said of the excise tax levied on firearms, ammunition and hunting equipment. “So, this was a unique experience.

“His family didn’t hunt. I think he may have been dove hunting once or twice throughout his life, and that was it. His family and group of friends weren’t exposed to hunting, but he was introduced to shooting later in life.”

Sykes said Arnold is a very accomplished shot who has his own shotgun and extensive knowledge of firearms overall.

“The gun part of it was easy,” Sykes said. “The hunting portion, we had to do a lot of teaching. The way we handled it, my best hunting buddy, Al Mattox, was with me. Al got back from Afghanistan three weeks before the hunt and wanted to help. He had been serving a tour in Afghanistan for about nine or 10 months. Al and I have hunted together a long time.”

Sykes and Mattox came up with a plan to hunt as a four-man team with a primary shooter and a backup shooter.

“That way, during the heat of the action, whoever was with the secondary shooter could give them a play-by-play of what was going on, taking the pressure off of them,” Sykes said. “They weren’t worried about shooting. They were worried about learning. I could walk them through everything. I could explain what Al was doing with the primary shooter. Al could explain what I was doing with the backup shooter.”

What Sykes and Mattox didn’t anticipate was that by the end of the hunt there was a spent shell lying on the ground next to each hunter.

“It worked out really well,” Sykes said. “It just so happened, when everything came together, there were two mature birds and both were able to harvest their first birds.

“It was a once in a lifetime experience for those guys as well and Al and I as the mentors. It was a very emotional afternoon.”

Sykes said the unsuccessful morning hunt got the hunters prepared for the eventful afternoon session.

“It all worked out for the best,” he said. “During the morning hunt there was no gobbling, nothing. So, we got to teach them how to be still. We got to teach them how to pick a location when turkeys aren’t gobbling; how to look for tracks; how to look for sign. We taught them a bunch of the basics that morning.

“Right after lunch we went out, and on our first setup, I called in an extremely vocal hen. They were introduced to a live turkey at close range. They could use what we taught them that morning on camouflage and how to be still, when to move and when not to move.”

Mattox had done some scouting a few days before the hunt and found some gobblers in one area. Still, the hunters were on unfamiliar ground because WFF had just recently closed the purchase on the Pine Barren tract. Sykes and Mattox used aerial maps on their smartphones to survey for likely turkey hangouts.

“We actually found a hidden food plot and set up off the edge of it,” Sykes said. “Adam was the primary shooter. I was with Charles off to the side. We placed two hen decoys out in the field. I yelped on a box, and a turkey gobbled about 400 yards from us, kind of behind us. About 15 second later, I looked and saw two other gobblers in the hardwoods coming to us.

“Adam did really well. Al was talking him through everything. Charles and I were sitting back as spectators at that point. Adam and Al let the turkeys strut all the way by them, about 75 yards across the field at a distance of about 15 yards from the hunter.”

Al waited to give Adam the sign to shoot so that the turkeys would be in position for Charles to get a shot if the second turkey happened to hang around for a few seconds.

“When the turkeys got into a position where I knew Adam was ready, I called to them,” Sykes said. “The dominant bird gobbled. I was letting Adam and Al know it was time.”

Arnold fired and dropped his bird. Sykes then coached Barrow through the backup-shooter process.

“When turkeys are at 15 yards and there is a big boom, they don’t know where it came from,” Sykes said. “The turkey was walking in circles. I was cutting to him. The turkey didn’t know what to do. By the time the gobbler got his bearings, Charles was ready and made a good shot.

“It was an incredible hunt.”

Sykes fully expects similar scenarios to unfold on the Pine Barren SOA in Dallas County.

“It’s the most exciting piece of property I’ve been on that is public hunting,” Sykes said. “It’s part of the old Hit and Miss Lodge where Mossy Oak did a lot of their filming. The amount of game there is incredible.”

For those who haven’t had much luck this turkey season, Sykes said it’s time to regroup but never surrender.

“You’ve just got to keep going,” he said. “As my grandmother always told me, a bad beginning means it’s going to be a good ending, and I’m counting on it.”

David Rainer is an award-winning writer who has covered Alabama’s great outdoors for 25 years. The former outdoors editor at the Mobile Press-Register, he writes for Outdoor Alabama, the website of the Alabama Department of Conservation and Natural Resources.

3 weeks ago

David Rainer: Alabama leads way with artificial reef program

(David Rainer/Outdoor Alabama)

Those who wonder why anglers off Alabama catch more than 30 percent of the red snapper in the Gulf of Mexico despite having only 53 miles of coastline should have attended the Red Snapper Conference in Mobile last week.

The key to Alabama’s phenomenal red snapper fishing is the more than 1,000 square miles just off the coast that are designated artificial reef zones.

During the day-long conference, numerous scientists and fisheries biologists discussed reef fish management, habitat requirements, red snapper and triggerfish recruitment and growth. All those components are tied to Alabama’s reef zones.

Craig Newton, Alabama Marine Resources Division’s Artificial Reefs Program Coordinator, provided those in attendance a comprehensive look at the state’s artificial reefs program, from its unofficial start to today’s highly regulated deployment protocols.

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Alabama Department of Conservation and Natural Resources Commissioner Chris Blankenship, formerly the Marine Resources Director, said Alabama has the largest artificial reef system in the country and has created noticeable improvements in the fishery.

“I went to work on a charter boat when I was 14 years old,” Blankenship said. “If we caught a red snapper that weighed 5 pounds, that was a big red snapper. If you caught one that weighed 10 pounds, you took a picture with it. If you caught one that weighed 20 pounds, your picture ended up in the paper and in the red snapper fishing hall of fame. That was a big fish.”

A massive reef-building program occurred after that, and anglers continue to enjoy the results of the widespread habitat enhancements.

“We build reefs with money from CIAP (Coastal Impact Assistance Program), Sport Fish Restoration and other sources,” Blankenship said. “Over the last few years, we’ve gotten money from the National Fish and Wildlife Foundation from the Deepwater Horizon criminal fines, and we’ve built several hundred reefs with that money. We’ve created seven new reef zones within our 9-mile state waters boundary. We’ve built more than 30 inshore reefs. So, reef-building has been, and continues to be, extremely important to our state. Because of that, we have such a great red snapper fishery.”

Blankenship pointed out the extensive research being done in the Alabama reef zones by the University of South Alabama (USA), Dauphin Island Sea Lab and Auburn University.

“Dr. (Bob) Shipp is here today,” Blankenship said of the professor emeritus at USA’s Marine Sciences Department. “He was doing red snapper science before reef-fish research was in vogue. We’re blessed to have such great academics in the state to do this work.

“We’ve spent a lot of money and emphasis on red snapper research. We want not only to show we have the largest artificial reef system in the country. We also want to show how those reefs produce such a great fishery here in our state. Like I said, I remember what it was like to go out and catch small fish, a few fish. Now you can’t wet a hook without catching red snapper, big red snapper. The average weight of snapper in the charter fleet now is about 10 pounds. Having a robust reef fishery is extremely important to the economy of the state.”

Newton said the artificial reef story off Alabama started in 1953 when 200 car bodies were cabled together and deployed in two segments by the Orange Beach and Dauphin Island fishing communities. In 1961, the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers designated the “Snapper Banks” as the first artificial reef zones off Alabama.

The first deployment by the Conservation Department occurred when five 415-foot Liberty ships, known as the Ghost Fleet in the Mobile-Tensaw Delta, were hauled offshore and sunk in 1974.

The Marine Resources Division (MRD) strategy then changed to creating artificial reef zones instead of individual reef sites. The Corps permitted the first reef zone of 364 square miles in 1978. This is the first area where individuals could deploy MRD-approved reef material.

“What’s unique about this is these privately deployed reefs remain unpublished,” Newton said.

The Hugh Swingle reef zone of 86 square miles followed before another expansion occurred in 1989 with another 245-square-mile reef zone. In a program called Reef-Ex, 100 M60 decommissioned battle tanks were thoroughly cleaned and deployed in the Gulf for reefs in 1993. The Corps granted another expansion in 1997 with a permit for 336 square miles for reef zones. MRD teamed with the Orange Beach Fishing Association on the Red Snapper World Championship from 2004 through 2007 to deploy about 1,000 artificial reefs.

Since then, the focus has moved to nearshore with a 1.6-square-mile zone permitted just inside the 3-mile state boundary.

The latest artificial reef zones were permitted last year. A total of 30 square miles inside the 9-mile boundary for reef fish management was approved after an arduous permitting process.

Newton said acquiring a permit for reef zones from the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers has grown increasingly more complex through the years.

“Historically, it was relatively easy to get a permit,” he said. “You outlined the size and goals of the reefs. Several months later you got a permit. Quite a few things have changed since then.”

Now a reef zone permit application must go to the Corps of Engineers and ADEM (Alabama Department of Environmental Management) for consideration. The application must include detailed construction techniques and methods as well as defined boundaries. A 30-day public comment period required by the Corps is followed by an additional 15-day comment period for ADEM.

Because these are federally authorized permits, they also fall under the National Historical Preservation Act, which is the costliest factor in the permitting process.

“We’re required to have a marine archeologist in all aspects of performing a Phase 1 archeological survey,” Newton said. “We have to use multiple remote sensing techniques. We have to use side-scan sonar, a magnetometer and a sub-bottom profiler to identify not only archeological resources exposed on the sea bed, but those below the sea bed as well.

“We also have to prove the project doesn’t harm threatened or endangered species or compromise the critical habitat. The entire permitting process now takes from 20 to 42 months.”

The material allowed for reef deployment has changed significantly over the years as well. White appliances, like washing machines and refrigerators, are no longer used because they do not provide long-term stable structures. Vehicles and anything fiberglass are also banned. Now, material made of concrete, steel and natural rock are allowed. Chicken transport devices are used as well as concrete pyramids and other structures constructed specifically to provide the best habitat for reef fish.

The Rigs to Reefs program takes advantage of the federal “Idle Iron” regulations, which require oil and gas structures to be removed within five years of the last date of production. The reef program takes obsolete petroleum platforms and uses the structures for reefs.

“We have a diverse assemblage of reef types in our reef zones,” Newton said. “We have 1,282 reefs deployed by the state that are published in our reef program. What makes our reef zones unique is we have the permitted authorization to authorize the public to build their own reefs and the locations remain unpublished.

“We estimate there are more than 10,000 reefs off the shore of Alabama. About 12 percent of those structures are public reefs.”

Newton said about 42 percent of the reef structures are in the zones that have depths from 60 to 120 feet. About 28 percent of the reefs are in depths of 120 to 180 feet. Only 4 percent are deeper than 180 feet.

“What’s really important, you look at relative contribution of these artificial structures in deeper water,” he said. “We have very little natural bottom, natural rock, offshore of Alabama. The natural reefs we do have occur in these deeper waters. This aligns with our goals of avoiding natural reefs when we are deploying artificial reefs.”

Newton said a downward trend in reef deployment by the public coincides with the reduction in the public’s access to the fishery with the shorter and shorter seasons.

“From the mid 90s to the mid 2000s, we permitted about 1,000 reefs per year,” he said. “Now we’re permitting a fraction of that.”

When Marine Resources developed a model to look at the future of the reef system off Alabama, it provided a stark reality.

“What we see is the existing reefs are not going to last forever,” Newton said. “The usable life is about 10 years for regular structures, about 30 for the concrete pyramids. The model shows a steady decline of available habitat into the future. That is why it is imperative that we continue to build reefs on an ongoing basis.”

However, significant progress has been made recently in ending the extremely short federal red snapper seasons. If NOAA Fisheries approves an Exempted Fishing Permit (EFP) for the 2018 season, Alabama will receive just under one million pounds of red snapper allocation for a potential 47-day snapper season, which could be the catalyst to reverse the downward trend in private reef deployment. Marine Resources will host meetings in late April and early May to answer questions from the public if the EFP is approved.

David Rainer is an award-winning writer who has covered Alabama’s great outdoors for 25 years. The former outdoors editor at the Mobile Press-Register, he writes for Outdoor Alabama, the website of the Alabama Department of Conservation and Natural Resources.

4 weeks ago

Sheepshead fishing on fire on Alabama Gulf Coast

(David Rainer/Outdoor Alabama)

A little rust was evident after a long hunting season. The first tap at the end of the line meant a fish was interested in the bait, but the reflexes hadn’t been tested for a while. By the time I set the hook, I had felt the second tap. I knew that, in all likelihood, the hookset was a futile attempt to overcome my dormant fishing senses.

As suspected, no resistance was felt on the hookset and I reeled up a clean, bronze Kahle hook. I’d been robbed by one of the best bait thieves in Alabama’s coastal waters – the toothy, tasty species known as sheepshead.

After putting a chunk of fresh-dead shrimp on the hook, I tossed it near the structure. As soon as I felt the first tap, I set the hook and the fight was on. With its vertical body and large fins, sheepshead can stress your tackle. With the drag set correctly, a few runs later, the fish finally tired enough for me to bring it alongside the boat and into the landing net.

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It took only a couple of hours for Capt. Jay Gunn (251-752-8040), Grady Gunn and I to fill the ice chest to the brim with nice sheepshead, a scene that is repeated often this time of year along the Alabama coast.

Sheepshead is a species that comes into coastal waters during the winter and hangs around structure preparing for a migration to nearshore waters to spawn. Structure means jetties, piers, petroleum rigs inside Mobile Bay and the rigs just off the coast in 50 feet of water or less. During this pre-spawn period, the fish are voraciously feeding.

“Sheepshead come out of the Gulf and into the inshore waters during the winter when the water temperature falls below 65 or so,” Capt. Gunn said. “They’ll hang around in the bays and estuaries. After the winter when the water temperature gets back up near 65, they get ready to spawn.

“The full moon is on March 31, so this bite will reach a crescendo on the full moon. At that point, the bite will become somewhat sporadic. The females will go to the Gulf and there will be lots of smaller, three- to four-pound, males left in the bays. Once you start catching about half-and-half spawned out females and males, you’ll have about seven more days of fishing in the bays. Then it will be time to speckled trout fish.”

Gunn uses fishing tackle that would be suitable for fishing for largemouth bass or larger speckled trout. He uses 12- to 14-pound monofilament or fluorocarbon line or 20-pound braided line.

“After all kinds of experimentation, that size line doesn’t cause much resistance in the current and you don’t have as much bow in your line,” he said. “You have to keep that line tight to feel the strike and set the hook immediately.

“I use the smallest lead I can to keep the bait on the bottom. I use half-ounce leads when I can and go to three-quarters when the current is stronger. Sometimes, I can get away with just a split-shot. Whatever lead you use, you have to keep the line tight.”

Gunn uses Kahle hooks because the shape of the hook makes it easier for the sheepshead to get it inside its mouth. He starts with a No. 4 hook and never goes larger than a No. 1.

“Anything larger than that and you’re going to miss a lot of bites,” he said.

A close look at the mouth of a sheepshead reveals a set of teeth and bony structures that are designed to crunch the shells of a variety of crustaceans, especially small crabs and barnacles. If you reel in a hook with a closed gap, the sheepshead crunched it with the bait and robbed you. Move up one hook size as long as it’s not larger than a No. 1 and keep fishing.

This time of year, live shrimp are a little hard to find, but fresh-dead shrimp and fiddler crabs work just fine.

“You don’t always have live shrimp, so you may have to use fresh-dead shrimp or fiddler crabs,” Gunn said. “Sheepshead can be picky about using frozen shrimp, but you can get fresh-dead from your live bait dealer. And I never use a whole shrimp unless it’s really small. I pinch the shrimp into two to three pieces and try to hide the hook when I can.”

When Gunn approaches a likely sheepshead haunt, he starts fishing before he gets to the structure.

“I start about 10 feet from the structure if water clarity allows them to see the bait,” he said. “I move closer to the structure until I start getting bites. Sometimes it’s right on the structure, so bring plenty of weights and hooks because you’re going to lose some if you’re fishing on top of the structure.

“I reel down until the line is tight, and I set the hook when I feel that first tap. If you feel the second tap, that’s the hook being spit back out with no bait.”

Gunn insists that sheepshead are not like other inshore species this time of year. There’s no waiting around to see if the fish are triggered into a feeding mood.

“If they’re there, they’re not finicky as long as you have the right kind of bait,” he said. “Don’t sit around on the bite. If you don’t get a bite in 10 minutes, move to the next spot.”

The average size of the fish in the bays will vary from 3 to 6 pounds. Gunn says about every 25 to 30 fish, you’ll hook a whopper that will weigh from 8 to 10 pounds. A 9½-pounder is his largest so far this spring.

Of course, one of the largest structures on the Alabama Gulf Coast is the Gulf State Park Pier, which juts more than 1,400 feet into the Gulf. The sheepshead bite has been on fire according to dedicated pier fisherman David Thornton, who said, “The sheepshead are chewing the pilings off the pier.” Of course, he was speaking figuratively, but I’m sure the sheepshead are chowing down on the abundant barnacles attached to the pier’s pilings.

Over the years of watching plenty of guides clean sheepshead, Gunn continues to refine his fileting technique. He uses a large, sharp butcher knife to cut along the dorsal fin down to the rib cage. He then makes a cut upward and around the rib cage and finishes to cut the filet off with the skin and scales attached. When it’s time to complete the filet process, he switches to a filet knife that has a double-bevel to keep the cut about a sixteenth of an inch off the skin to avoid the strong red meat next to the skin.

“I cut over the top of the rib cage,” he said. “There’s no meat on the ribs. All they’re good for is dulling your knife. Before you fry or freeze the fish, make sure you get all the red meat off.”

Of course, the most common way to consume sheepshead filets is to dredge them in your favorite fish-fry mix, then drop in 350-degree oil and fry until golden brown.

As an alternative, Gunn makes a faux West Indies salad, substituting sheepshead for crab meat.

He cuts the filets up into chunks and gently boils them in salted water. After the fish chunks are done, he drains the fish and refrigerates until completely cold. At that point, the fish will flake easily. He flakes the fish thoroughly and sets aside. He then finely chops equal parts of red and green peppers, white and purple onions and celery. He tosses in the flaked fish and mixes the whole dish with his favorite Italian dressing. Refrigerate for at least a couple of hours, preferably overnight to absorb the flavors.

Alabama has a 10-fish-per-person sheepshead limit with a 12-inch size limit.

“I don’t keep any sheepshead below 16 inches,” Gunn said. “With a 16-inch fish you get a decent filet. With an 18-inch fish you get a nice filet.

“The thing about sheepshead this time of year is they don’t have to have tide movement or a certain kind of weather. Go when you can, and don’t sit on one spot waiting for them to bite.”

David Rainer is an award-winning writer who has covered Alabama’s great outdoors for 25 years. The former outdoors editor at the Mobile Press-Register, he writes for Outdoor Alabama, the website of the Alabama Department of Conservation and Natural Resources.

1 month ago

Bobwhite quail enthusiasts tour Alabama black belt

A covey of quail flush at High Log Creek on a recent tour of Alabama Black Belt quail-hunting opportunities (David Rainer/Outdoor Alabama)

The bobwhite quail opportunities in the Alabama Black Belt were put under intense scrutiny recently. As expected, the Black Belt quail experience received nothing but praise.

Alabama Black Belt Adventures and sponsors hosted representatives of Quail Forever and the outdoors media for a grand tour of the quail hunting in the Alabama area famous for its rich, dark topsoil and abundant wildlife.

The tour started at Shenandoah Plantation in Union Springs, followed by a day of hunting at High Log Creek Farm and Hunting Preserve near Hurtsboro. Great Southern Outdoors Plantation in Union Springs entertained the group with dinner prepared by Iron Chef winner David Bancroft. Another award-winning chef, Chris Hastings, prepared one day’s lunch for the hunters at Gusto Plantation in Lowndes County. A trip to the Boggy Hollow Wildlife Management Area (WMA) in Conecuh National Forest was included in the tour.

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Howard Vincent, president and CEO of Quail Forever and Pheasants Forever, said the programs he represents have three main purposes.

“We’re a habitat organization with three enduring strategies,” Vincent said. “We raise dollars, and we drive them in the ground. We do advocacy in Washington, D.C., typically on the Farm Bill. We are the face of the Conservation Reserve Program. And then we do education and outreach – how do we introduce more youth into the outdoors and shooting sports and hunting sports? How do we generate the next conservationists? That’s what we do every single day.

“The unique feature of Quail Forever and Pheasants Forever is the local chapters raise money, and then they retain control of that money. We just started a new chapter in Alabama, the Alabama Black Belt chapter in Union Springs. That makes six chapters in Alabama right now.”

Vincent and many of his Alabama excursion companions are based in Minnesota. Therefore, they enjoyed a break from the February cold up north and were treated to one of our main traditions.

“In Alabama, we learned that Southern hospitality is no cliché – it’s the absolute truth,” Vincent said. “Pam (Swanner of Alabama Black Belt Adventures) pulled all of this together. It was seamless. The Quail Forever team couldn’t be more proud to be down here to learn. We look forward to working together.”

To cap the week focused on Alabama quail, about 100 guests gathered at the Alabama Wildlife Federation (AWF) NaturePlex in Millbrook to hear a presentation by Bill Palmer of Tall Timbers Research Station in Tallahassee, Fla., where the bobwhite quail is one of the main focal points in its Game Bird Program.

Tim Gothard, AWF Executive Director, introduced Palmer and said interest in bobwhite quail restoration is as high as he has seen it in his 25 years in conservation.

“I don’t know that we have all the answers to make quail like they were in the 40s and 50s and 60s, but the interest in quail has really not waned,” Gothard said. “That is really the impetus for this event and the landowners we’ve talked with through the years. We knew that interest was still vibrant.”

Palmer, who has been at Tall Timbers (talltimbers.org) for 21 years, agrees with Gothard’s assessment.

“We’ve got a lot of people who are really passionate about returning quail to the landscape, returning fire to the landscape,” Palmer said. “This is probably the most difficult conservation issue that the nation has faced. It’s a really tough turnaround for bobwhites.”

Palmer said Georgia is a perfect example of what has happened to quail populations and quail hunting over the years.

In 1961, 142,000 hunters harvested more than 3.5 million quail, likely all wild birds, in Georgia alone. By 2009, the number of hunters had shrunk to 22,000 and the number of birds taken was a little more than 800,000. The telling number, however, is that 97 percent of the birds taken in 2009 were pen-raised.

“That is a real shocking statistic,” Palmer said. “It’s just mind-boggling that millions of wild quail were shot just 50 years ago, and we no longer have those numbers.

“We’ll never go back to the 60s and 70s. That’s just not going to happen. But that doesn’t mean we can’t have significant success and significant opportunities for young folks to enjoy our wild bird hunting again.”

Palmer said a variety of issues have been blamed for the decline of wild quail populations including land use, predators and even fire ants.

Tall Timbers’ research indicates it’s the lack of fire that is likely the main factor in the quail’s demise.

“The loss of fire in the South, the stamping out of fire in the South, is largely the reason for quail decline, frankly,” he said. “The idea that people were burning the South for fun. They were burning the South because they were bored. There was a strong federal and university effort to stamp out fire in the South. We bit into it. The nation bit into it, and we’ve got to dig out of that problem.”

Palmer said the evidence in the burn frequency in tree-ring studies (dendrochronology) shows that fire happened frequently.

“If you look at pre-settlement basis, the landscape was burned on about a two-year fire frequency. The South was burned. The Native Americans were burning in the West. The Native Americans were burning in the Northeast. That’s the bottom line.”

However, prescribed fire cannot be applied indiscriminately or it will adversely impact the quail habitat.

“There are more than a million acres of prescribed fire in this region,” Palmer said. “Probably no other area in the country burns as much as we do here. It’s up to us to make sure 25 years down the road there is more fire, and it’s safely and wisely used.

“On public lands, it hasn’t been as successful for one main reason – the scale of fire. When you burn on a 100-acre scale you have very normal breeding season survival. When you burn on a 1,000-acre scale, survival is half that amount. That population can’t grow. It’s going to go down or stay flat.”

Tall Timbers set up different plots, starting in 1962, that were burned by prescribed fire on different frequencies. Plots were burned every year, every two years, every three years and never.

“By the time you get to three years, you’ve lost your quail habitat,” Palmer said. “By the time you get to unburned, which is most of the Southeast these days, you’ve really lost your quail habitat. It’s great Cooper’s hawk habitat, but it’s not good quail habitat.”

Palmer said quality quail habitat includes pine or oak savannas, prescribed fire every two years, reasonable timber density and good ground cover. Predation management and supplemental feeding can also increase annual quail survival.

Translocation of wild birds is another technique Palmer discussed that has proven to be successful.

“What can we do to expand wild bird populations?” he asked. “Translocation is a key factor in that. Our research shows it’s a very viable technique. If you moved birds to a site, if the habitat was there and predators were managed, the quail did just as good or better than the site they came from.”

In the past few years, Tall Timbers has moved more than 2,000 quail to different sites around the Southeast. Alabama was the first state to work with Tall Timbers on relocation efforts.

“That’s from 50 to 100 birds per site,” Palmer said. “That adds up to a lot of landowners who had no hope, who, all of a sudden, are investing in wild quail management because they have a chance to build a population relatively quickly. We’re really focused, with our partners, on expanding our impact. Leveraging our translocation project is a big deal on both public and private land.”

Palmer said other than supporting groups like AWF and Quail Forever, those who wish to see the return of wild quail should contact their elected officials.

“Encourage your representatives to increase funding for prescribed fire,” he said. “This is key. We need to increase ecological management on public lands. And we need focal areas on public lands.”

The Alabama Wildlife and Freshwater Fisheries (WFF) Division has such a focal area in the Boggy Hollow WMA, which is being converted into bobwhite quail habitat through selective timber thinning and more frequent, smaller prescribed burns. These efforts will encourage the growth of native grasses and forbs to provide opportunity for an increase in the current bobwhite population.

“We’re doing call counts on 22 WMAs; we’re doing habitat work on WMAs,” said WFF Director Chuck Sykes, who managed a quail plantation for seven years earlier in his career. “The Division recently purchased property where a portion is dedicated to quail. We are working on Boggy Hollow in partnership with the U.S. Forest Service.

“We know what it takes. Give us a little bit of time. Partner with us and I can assure we can get things done. We have people in place. We have projects in place. Boggy Hollow is going to be a good thing.”

(Image: A covey of quail flush at High Log Creek on a recent tour of Alabama Black Belt quail-hunting opportunities — David Rainer/Outdoor Alabama)

David Rainer is an award-winning writer who has covered Alabama’s great outdoors for 25 years.

1 month ago

Alabama advisory board gets updates on chronic wasting disease, snapper

As expected, the focus of the first Alabama Conservation Advisory Board meeting of the year was the increased awareness and efforts to keep chronic wasting disease (CWD) out of Alabama.

CWD, a disease that affects members of the cervid family of animals (deer, elk, moose, caribou, etc.), was recently confirmed in west-central Mississippi. Previously, the closest state with CWD was Arkansas.

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The diagnosis of the deer in Mississippi made it the 25th state with the disease. Alabama quickly added its neighboring state to the list where restrictions are in place on the importation of whole carcasses or carcass parts from cervids. Those restrictions state that any member of the cervid family harvested in those CWD-positive areas must be properly processed before it can be legally brought into Alabama. Parts that may be legally imported include completely deboned meat, cleaned skull plates with attached antlers with no visible brain or spinal cord tissue present, upper canine teeth with no root structure or other soft tissue present and finished taxidermy products or tanned hides.

Chuck Sykes, Director of the Alabama Wildlife and Freshwater Fisheries Division, asked the Conservation Advisory Board at the Montgomery meeting to extend those cervid importation restrictions to all 50 states, territories or possessions of the United States and foreign countries. The Board passed a motion to extend the restrictions.

“Mississippi became positive during their deer season, and we had to immediately close the border to import of whole Mississippi deer because they were a CWD positive state,” Sykes said. “We don’t know where the next one is going to pop up. Yes, it is an inconvenience, but it pales in comparison to the inconvenience we will all have if CWD gets here.”

Sykes said WFF has tested about 500 deer annually for CWD since 2002 and has now partnered with the Department of Agriculture and Industries to have testing capabilities in Alabama. WFF purchased the testing equipment, and Agriculture and Industries will train technicians to conduct the tests.

“We’re trying to do everything we can to inform people of the danger,” Sykes said. “We don’t want you to panic, but we want you to understand this is a serious issue.

“We know the highest risk of the disease coming here is by someone moving live deer or someone moving a hunter-killed deer into the state without properly taking care of it.”

Alabama recently prosecuted a pair of Alabama residents for importing live deer, which has been prohibited since 1973, from Indiana. The pair was charged with numerous counts, including federal Lacey Act charges. The judge fined the breeders $750,000, voided their deer breeders license and confiscated all the breeders’ deer.

“We’re dealing with a handful of individuals that could mess it up for everybody, so we want y’all to be vigilant in watching,” Sykes said. “Let us know if you see something that is not right. Please help us with the resource we’re trying to manage.”

Alabama has more than 200 licensed deer breeders. Those breeders are required to test every animal 12 months old or older that dies in the facilities. Sykes said more than 300 captive deer are tested annually. WFF recently changed the regulations to require the deer breeders to maintain an online database of animals.

Sykes said a great deal of misinformation about CWD has been disseminated, mainly through social media.

“Probably the biggest one is the lack of differentiation between EHD (epizootic hemorrhagic disease) and CWD,” he said. “EHD, we’ve always had. It hit north Alabama pretty hard this year. We have outbreaks every year. Most of them are not severe.  Epizootic hemorrhagic disease and related bluetongue viruses are transmitted by midges. They bite one deer and then transmit it to the next deer. It’s endemic to Alabama and most of the Southeast. It hits the northern states harder than us. You typically see these outbreaks in late summer and early fall. It is not always fatal. That’s a big difference. This is something that’s not going to wipe out our deer herd.

“Now chronic wasting disease, on the other hand, is caused by a prion, a misfolded protein, not a virus. It’s similar to CJD (Creutzfeldt-Jakob disease) in humans, scrapie in sheep and BSE, or mad cow disease, in cattle. It is infectious, communicable and always fatal.”

Sykes said CWD is not endemic to the South, but once it shows up, it doesn’t go away. He said no successful methods have been developed to sanitize the soil, the environment or facilities.

“This is serious,” he said. “This is not made up. This is a real issue. It was first found in captive mule deer in Colorado. The CDC (Centers for Disease Control) changed their recommendation last year. They recommend that hunters strongly consider having those animals tested if it was killed in one of the CWD zones before they eat it. Mississippi’s Department of Health just put out an advisory to hunters for this. Now there are processors with meat stacked to the roof because people won’t come get their deer meat.

“As of today, CWD has not been shown to jump to humans, but the science is really new and it is being studied.”

Sykes gave an example of the proper way to deal with deer that are harvested in a CWD-positive state. One Alabama hunter took a deer in Colorado, and the processed meat was shipped back to Alabama. Shortly thereafter, the hunter got a message that the deer had tested positive for CWD. Instead of discarding the meat himself, the hunter did the right thing and immediately contacted WFF officials, who arranged for the pick-up and proper disposal of the meat.

The Advisory Board formed a CWD subcommittee during the meeting. Brock Jones of District 7, Raymond Jones Jr. of District 5 and Patrick Cagle of District 2 agreed to serve on the subcommittee, which will report to the Board at its next meeting, May 19 in Tuscaloosa.

Sykes also asked the Board for guidance on Game Check, WFF’s program to report deer and turkey harvests. During the first year of mandatory reporting, Game Check reported the deer harvest at 82,484 animals. This year’s totals were 75,874 deer harvested, which Sykes said is both disappointing and confusing.

“We’ve done everything I know to do to try to educate people on the importance of Game Check,” Sykes said. “If we don’t have good information, how can we make good decisions? During the first year, we said we wouldn’t give any tickets. It was a learning situation. This year, we issued about 200 citations and about 300 warnings, trying to encourage compliance. It didn’t work. Do I tell our enforcement guys to sit at main intersections going to processors to start checking trucks? Do we camp out at taxidermy shops or sit at hunting camp gates waiting for people to come in and out? I don’t know what else to do. I’m looking to the Board for suggestions.

“We estimated 30-40 percent are complying. What if we’re wrong and 70 percent are complying. That’s pretty scary. It goes back to what (Marine Resources Director) Scott (Bannon) said. Withholding information from us is not going to do any good. In fact, it does just the opposite. If 70 percent of the people are reporting, and we’re only getting 75,000 deer maybe our numbers aren’t as robust as we thought. The average time a hunter hunts and what is reported is how we are basing our population estimates right now. If that’s the case, our deer numbers are much lower than we have been anticipating.”

Despite the Game Check numbers, WFF has recommended that season lengths and bag limits remain basically the same except for calendar dates and changes to Zone C in north Alabama, which has been reduced in size for the 2018-19 season. With two years of data, Sykes said WFF biologists recommended the return of a portion of the zone to the season parameters for the rest of the state.

“Good information gives us the ability to adapt our management plan and do what’s best for the resource first and then the hunters as well,” Sykes said.

Marine Resources Director Bannon briefed the Board on the proposed recreational red snapper season with an exempted fishing permit that would allow Alabama to have a 47-day snapper season, starting June 1 and running on weekends (Friday, Saturday and Sunday) through Labor Day and including the entire week of the Fourth of July. The daily bag limit will remain at two per person with a 16-inch minimum size. The proposed season is awaiting final approval from NOAA Fisheries.

Bannon said the mandatory Red Snapper Reporting Program, known as Snapper Check, will allow Marine Resources to closely monitor the harvest in Alabama’s artificial reef zone, the nation’s premier reef fish habitat.

Marine Resources will hold a Snapper Conference on March 22 at the Holiday Inn in downtown Mobile to discuss the potential season. Visit www.outdooralabama.com for more information and/or registration.

(Image: A deer suffering from chronic wasting disease — David Rainer/Outdoor Alabama)

David Rainer writes for Outdoor Alabama, the website of the Alabama Department of Conservation and Natural Resources.