4 weeks ago

Snapper Check data supports season extension

With less than ideal weather conditions so far this summer and the ability to closely monitor the harvest data through Snapper Check, the Alabama Marine Resources Division recently announced a five-day extension of the red snapper season that runs from August 1-5.

Stormy weekends and Hurricane Barry made it more difficult for offshore anglers to head out this year compared to the 2018 season, when anglers couldn’t have asked for better weather.

“Last year was an anomaly of a year in terms of weather,” said Scott Bannon, Director of the Marine Resources Division (MRD). “I even had charter boat captains remark that they had fished every single day in June last year, and they’d never done that before. The weather was phenomenal, and people caught a lot of fish, which is good. But the result of that was we had to close the season earlier than projected because more people got to go catch more fish. I think people were excited that the state was able to manage the season. They were excited about a 47-day season. There’s no doubt there was disappointment when we closed early last year (after 27 days), but that is actually one of the benefits of the program. That is, we have the ability to monitor the catch and ensure we don’t go over. If you go over the annual quota, you’re penalized the next year.”

The traditional June 1 date for the opening of snapper season this year was similar to 2018, but weather conditions deteriorated after that.

“Opening weekend was beautiful, and (fishing) effort was very high, which was good,” Bannon said. “The effort was even a little higher than it was for some of the days last year. Since then, the weather has been more typical. We had a couple of weekends where it blew pretty good, and effort was down. When Hurricane Barry came along, the effort was basically negligible. People choose not to fish when the weather is bad and having Snapper Check in place allows us the ability to quantify how much the weather affects efforts and landings. We want people to understand that they don’t need to put themselves in an unsafe situation just to go catch fish. We have the ability to monitor the amount of fish being caught, and just as days can be removed from the season during ideal conditions, they can be given back when conditions are not favorable for fishing.”

After the 4th of July weekend, MRD staff determined that a significant portion of Alabama’s total allowable catch for red snapper remained.

Alabama was allocated 1,079,573 pounds for the 2019 season, which is operating under an Exempted Fishing Permit (EFP) that NOAA Fisheries granted for the 2018 and 2019 seasons.

“When the catch data for the season through the Independence Day weekend was analyzed, we realized we had enough quota remaining that we could go beyond the six days remaining in July,” Bannon said.

Red snapper anglers, at the same time last year, had harvested about 360,000 more pounds of fish.

“We calculated how much harvest could occur during the remainder of the season, based on the average daily catch and weather conditions through the current fishing season,” Bannon said. “We decided we could easily add the first five days of August, which would be a Thursday through Monday. Kids wouldn’t be back in school yet, and the amberjack season would be open. It would be a combination of weekends and weekdays. We had heard from the public they would like more weekdays.”

Bannon believes the attitude of Alabama’s snapper anglers has changed since the state has been able to manage the fishery.

“I think we are past the point of what I call panic fishing – people just fished because they felt they had to because they weren’t going to get many opportunities,” he said. “Now, anglers’ attitudes are more relaxed toward snapper season, knowing they are going to be provided an opportunity to fish a specific quota and days can be added to the season due to bad weather, if necessary.”

One feature that has played a huge role in the transition to state management is Snapper Check, a mandatory reporting system that is required of all anglers who catch red snapper. Red snapper must be reported before the fish leave the water, either on the way in from the trip or at the dock before the fish are off-loaded. The good news is, it appears more anglers are participating in the system.

“The reporting rate is the highest it has been,” Bannon said. “We appreciate that, and we hope the anglers appreciate that, because it allows us to make better decisions when calculating the season length and the number of days to add to a season. Real data makes a difference. People participating in the dock-side survey helps as well. That’s where we get the average size of the fish. Average fish weight is an important part of the equation to determine the number of days in the season, which is based on effort and the average size of the fish because the quota is determined by pounds. Having Snapper Check means we’re getting information in near real-time.”

Bannon said MRD officials saw that with two-thirds of the season over, only a little more than half of the snapper quota had been caught.

“We want to fish very close to our quota, but we do not want to go over,” he said.

For 2020 and beyond, the Gulf States will transition from the EFP to a state-managed red snapper fishery with Alabama receiving an allocation of 26.298 percent of the total quota, which is an increase from 25.3 percent in 2019. It is anticipated that Alabama will receive an allocation of about 1.2 million pounds for the 2020 season.

“The in-season adjustments to both this season and last year’s season show why we worked so hard in Congress and at the Gulf Council to get state management of the red snapper fishery,” said Chris Blankenship, Commissioner of the Alabama Department of Conservation and Natural Resources. “The nimbleness of the state to quickly adjust seasons to protect the resource and also to provide maximum access to citizens is good for both the fish and the fishermen.”

Bannon said the new management plan also gives the state the ability to set the seasons, bag limits within certain parameters, and size limit. MRD can also implement area closures.

“For next year, we probably won’t make any significant changes to the size or bag limits,” Bannon said. “I want to be pretty conservative with changes. I want to provide some consistency, which makes anglers more comfortable and allows us to more easily compare trends in the data.”

Bannon said the 2018 and 2019 snapper seasons are proof that Alabama can manage its own red snapper season to the benefit of all involved.

“We’ve shown that we can and will work toward that allocation to the best of our ability,” he said. “That includes not going over the allocation, because that is not a benefit to the anglers. In years prior to the EFP, harvests were consistently over the quota, which slowed the recovery of the stock. We want to be close to the allocation but not over. We want to fish as many days as possible. I think that when conditions are favorable and fishing effort is very heavy or if the weather kicks up and people don’t go fishing, we have a system in place that can provide timely and realistic estimates of impacts on the harvest rates. Under the federal system, we could have never done that. During the short federal seasons of the past, people felt like they had to go, and people shouldn’t feel they have to do that. That can be dangerous and takes the fun out of fishing.”

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 mins ago

Limestone County sheriff’s attorney blasts ‘draconian’ ethics act after indictment

After it was announced on Thursday that longtime Limestone County Sheriff Michael Anthony “Mike” Blakely has been indicted on 13 state ethics counts, separate press conferences featuring his personal attorneys and the spokesperson for the sheriff’s department pumped the breaks on those looking to equate Blakely merely being charged with actually being guilty.

First, Mark McDaniel, the lead attorney for Blakely’s defense, emphasized that the sheriff would be entering in a plea of “not guilty” on all counts and looks forward to trying the case in a court of his peers.

WHNT carried McDaniel’s comments to the media, in which he emphasized that a large part of the defense will be challenging the constitutionality of Alabama’s ethics statute.

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“Virtually anything you do as a public servant now under that act is illegal, so we’ll be contesting the constitutionality of the ethics act also,” McDaniel said.

He called the ethics act “draconian” and added he will file a motion asking the court to strike it down.

Asked what about the ethics act they will be challenging, McDaniel responded, “A lot of things.”

McDaniel specified that one of those things will be how overly “broad” the statute is.

“You don’t even know what you’ve done [wrong],” he added, saying that the public should stay tuned to see their motions “attacking” the ethics act’s issues.

In a press conference shortly afterwards, Limestone County Sheriff’s Department spokesman Stephen Young stressed that Blakely continues to serve as the sheriff and that the department’s operations will not be affected by the ongoing legal situation.

Young also cautioned people about utilizing indictments as indicators of guilt.

“A grand jury indictment is not a conviction,” Young advised. “In fact, it’s the process typically used when an agency cannot obtain enough probable cause to obtain its own warrant. As Sheriff Blakely once told me, ‘You can indict a ham sandwich.’”

Watch:

Blakely served in the U.S. Marine Corps and as an Alabama State Trooper before becoming the county sheriff in 1983. He has also served as an officer in the Alabama National Guard.

McDaniel said it is an “honor” to represent the sheriff and that he is “proud” to defend Blakely against the charges.

The attorney noted that Blakely “absolutely” intended to continue serving. The sheriff was back at work immediately after posting bond on Thursday.

A Democrat, Blakely is the longest-serving sheriff in state history. He won the statewide “Bobby Timmons Sheriff of the Year Award” as recently as 2017.

Sean Ross is the editor of Yellowhammer News. You can follow him on Twitter @sean_yhn

2 hours ago

Alabama postpones 50th anniversary tour over singer’s health

Country band Alabama says it is postponing the remainder of its 50th anniversary tour as lead singer Randy Owen battles health complications.

The group announced Wednesday that the 69-year-old Owen is suffering from migraines and vertigo, and doctors say he needs more time to recover.

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The news comes after a string of already-canceled shows due to the singer’s health.

Bass player and vocalist Teddy Gentry wrote in a statement that though he and the rest of the band are disappointed, Owen’s recovery is the priority.

The 50-city tour was scheduled through Nov. 23, where it would have ended in Salisbury, Maryland.

Rescheduled dates will be released in the coming weeks.
(Associated Press, copyright 2019)

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How Alabama’s Iron Tribe Fitness sets the standard for group workouts

Iron Tribe Fitness, founded in Birmingham, Alabama, is leading the way for workout programs across the nation. Ranked as one of the top five workouts in the nation, this 45-minute HIIT group workout class offers participants exciting and effective workouts in a time frame that works with any kind of schedule.

Recently, the gym hosted Coach 201, a weekend training session for their instructors in their downtown Birmingham corporate location. This session brought together all of Iron Tribe’s local coaching staff to review training guidelines and program goals.

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In hosting this training, Iron Tribe is living out their core value of delivering a consistent experience. Forrest Walden, Iron Tribe’s founder and CEO says this training session taps into the heart of what the program does — which is creating communities that change lives.

“It’s always great to see the entire team come together to fellowship and dive deep into why we do what we do every day,” Walden said.

During the training, Iron Tribe coaches were given the opportunity to learn more about the classes they teach and strengthen their relationships with each other. As a result, the coaches are empowered to return to their home gyms and lead their athletes with renewed skills and confidence.

“Kyle Sottung, our director of product development, is extremely thorough and talented at what he does. To see him lead our Birmingham coaches is always such a blessing. Our coaches are more empowered now than ever to pour into the Birmingham community,” Walden stated.

According to Walden, Iron Tribe is successful because the program is more than just a workout, but a way to strengthen the communities they serve.

“Iron Tribe stands on a list off essential core beliefs. These beliefs steer what we do every day, both inside and outside the gym. It’s our hope that by continuing to develop ourselves that we can be exceptional coaches and role models within our communities,” Walden said.

Ready to get in the best shape of your life? Learn more by visiting irontribefitness.com.

3 hours ago

Limestone County sheriff indicted, arrested on 13 financial theft, ethics charges

Attorney General Steve Marshall on Thursday announced that Limestone County Sheriff Michael Anthony Blakely has been indicted and arrested on several ethics charges.

Blakely, 68, surrendered to authorities and was later released on a $49,000 bond, according to the attorney general’s office.

The indictment includes 13 charges that cover a range of conduct over multiple years.

“Public officials are entrusted to perform their duties honestly and above reproach,” Marshall said in a statement. “When that bond of trust is broken, our society suffers undue harm. My office—working with our federal and state partners—is committed to ensuring that the violators of the public trust be held accountable under the law.”

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Specifically, the first four counts charge Blakely with four separate thefts from his campaign account that total $11,000.

Counts five through 10 charge him with theft or ethics charges stemming from his illegally taking money from Limestone County funds, including from the Sheriff’s Law Enforcement Fund.

Count 11 charges Blakely with soliciting a $1,000 wire transfer from a subordinate other than in the ordinary course of business.

Finally, counts 12 and 13 charge the sheriff with using his official position or office to acquire interest-free loans. Count 12 charges Blakely with using his official position or office to obtain interest-free loans in the form of a $50,000 cashier’s check and/or a $22,189.68 credit. Count 13 charges Blakely with using his official position or office to obtain interest-free loans by taking money from a safe that was used to store the Limestone County inmates’ personal funds.

“I would like to thank the Federal Bureau of Investigation for its investigative assistance in this case,” Marshall added. “Anyone with information regarding corrupt practices by public officials is encouraged to contact the Alabama Attorney General’s Office at reportcorruption@ago.state.al.us.”

The case is being prosecuted by the state attorney general’s Special Prosecutions Division.

“While the overwhelming majority of public officials serve honorably, those who corrupt the operations of government rob their communities—their friends and neighbors—of the fundamental right to honest government, and we must insist on absolute honesty, integrity and trustworthiness from everyone,” FBI Birmingham Special Agent in Charge Johnnie Sharp, Jr. commented.

“I want the citizens of north Alabama to know that if they have information about potential wrongdoing by a public official or law enforcement officer, the FBI wants to hear from you,” he advised. “If you have information, call my office’s Public Corruption Tip Line at (844) 404-TIPS, share what you know, and join in the fight against corruption.”

Blakely, as is the case with all indictments, is presumed innocent unless and until proven guilty in a court of law.

UPDATE 1:20 p.m.

Blakely’s attorneys held a press conference emphasizing that he will plead not guilty to all counts, per WHNT.

Sean Ross is the editor of Yellowhammer News. You can follow him on Twitter @sean_yhn

4 hours ago

NASCAR Hall of Famer Rusty Wallace: Talladega Superspeedway renovations ‘a whole different level’ — Expect to see other facilities follow its lead

On Wednesday at the Talladega Superspeedway, former NASCAR great Rusty Wallace, the 1989 champion of the sanctioning body’s premier series, took part in a tour with members of the media that showcased the finishing touches being put in the facility’s “Transformation” renovations with its October fall race weekend fast approaching.

The $50 million “Transformation” project comes as Talladega Superspeedway celebrates its 50th anniversary. Among the improved amenities are the Talladega Garage Experience, which is made up of the Open Air Club. Also included are a new Race Operations tower high above the track’s tri-oval and the new Pit Road Club that offers race fans a close-up view of team pit stops.

On Wednesday, Wallace appeared on Huntsville radio’s WVNN to discuss the facility’s overhaul and other changes to NASCAR over the past few decades.

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“These guys have taken it to a whole different level,” Wallace said. “I got there today, and we’re talking about all brand-new garage areas and they made it so all the fans can come down in the garage and stand literally three-foot in front of the race cars, watch the race cars pull in, watch the drivers get out, watch them run their motors, watch all the behind the scenes stuff. And that’s like nothing I’ve ever seen in our sport at all.”

“It adds some aspects to the new builds – the Daytona build, Phoenix, Ariz., Richmond, Va.,” he continued. “And those are fantastic. But Talladega is probably the best I’ve seen. I mean, you literally – you’re a fan. You can stand right in front of that car. It’s neat having that much access.”

When asked how it compared to another time in NASCAR when things were much more accessible, Wallace explained this offered an organization that that era did not provide.

“What it does is it organizes a lot better,” Wallace explained. “There’s places to watch. There are ways to watch. They’re even telling the pit crews where they can put their big toolboxes that they operate out of so it won’t obstruct the view of a fan that has come down there to see these cars.’

Wallace also touted the new 35,000-square foot Talladega Social Club with its 41-foot television and 71-foot wide bar, which was adjacent to the garage area.

The 1989 champion said he expected other NASCAR facilities around the country to follow Talladega’s lead.

“I think you’re going to see all these facilities around the country trying to keep up the facilities and make them the best you can,” he said. “If you ask Rusty Wallace, ‘Hey, do you want it hard or easy to sit inside of a race track,’ I’m going to tell them I want it easy. Do I want to go inside with the air conditioner when it is 100 degrees outside, I’m going to tell you yes. That’s the reason I like these new facilities they’ve got.”

Access to drivers and internet access also compliment the new facility, according to Wallace.

The track, along with its parent company, International Speedway Corporation, announced last year it’s “Transformation,” an approximate $50 million redevelopment that is part of ISC’s long-term capital allocation plan and reinvestment into its major motorsports complexes.

Full completion of the modernized project is anticipated for October. For ticket information for the 1000Bulbs.com 500 and Sugarlands Shine 250 doubleheader NASCAR Playoffs weekend, October 11-13, visit www.talladegasuperspeedway.com or call 855-518-RACE (7223).

@Jeff_Poor is a graduate of Auburn University, the editor of Breitbart TV and host of “The Jeff Poor Show” from 2-5 p.m. on WVNN in Huntsville.