4 weeks ago

Snapper season opener shows pent-up demand

While the second weekend of the private recreational red snapper season in Alabama saw near perfect conditions, the opening weekend proved why state management of the red snapper is so important to ensure maximum access to this treasured fishery.

Pent-up demand from a variety of reasons, including the COVID-19 restrictions, placed the May 22 opening day of snapper season in record territory.

“On opening day, that was the most people I’ve ever seen on a Friday,” said Alabama Marine Resources Director Scott Bannon. “Even though the weather was a little rougher, the harvest was almost the same as the 2018 numbers. People were just glad to have the opportunity to get out. They were tired of being at home. They felt this was a safe and enjoyable outdoor activity. And we agree. When I got to Dauphin Island at 8 o’clock on opening day, the trailers parked alongside the road were already backed up 7/10ths of a mile from the ramp (Billy Goat Hole). Saturday was another busy day. With the winds picking up Sunday and Monday, the activity was down a good bit.”

The 2018 and 2019 seasons were conducted under an EFP (exempted fishing permit) to allow state management and significantly increased the number of days private recreational anglers were allowed to catch red snapper over recent years.

With the approval of regional management beginning in 2020 for the five states on the Gulf of Mexico, each state sets its season, bag and size limits under certain parameters.

Because Alabama closely monitors the red snapper harvest through its Red Snapper Reporting System, Snapper Check, Marine Resources can adjust the seasons to allow anglers to catch as many fish as possible while staying within the state’s quota. Alabama’s private recreational season is set to run each Friday through Monday with a closing date tentatively set for July 19. The closing date may be adjusted to ensure the state’s quota of 1,122,662 pounds is met but not exceeded. Snapper Check numbers indicated 176,782 pounds of red snapper were harvested opening weekend.

Bannon and Chris Blankenship, the Commissioner of the Alabama Department of Conservation and Natural Resources, ventured out on opening weekend with old friends Brian and Daniel Rowe and crew and came back with a box full of red snapper.

“I had some concerns that the seas were going to be a little choppy,” Bannon said. “We had been talking to some boats that were struggling, so they stayed close and came back pretty early. In the afternoon, the wind died down. The bite was not hard and fast, but we caught big fish. We only caught a few undersized fish that had to go back. We caught everything from just over legal (16 inches total length) to a few just over 20 pounds. It was a real good trip.”

From a management perspective, Bannon said that’s what marine scientists like to see on a reef, a variety of sizes of snapper. He also said some of the relatively small reefs held good-sized fish.

On opening day, Bannon said the anglers used a variety of baits to target the red snapper and definitely saw a preference.

“They seemed to like the whole pogeys (menhaden) better than cigar minnows on that day,” he said. “People caught a lot of big fish that opening weekend, which generally happens in a season. People reported catching legal-size fish relatively quick. They didn’t have to throw many undersized fish back.”

By the time the seas got rough on that opening weekend, Bannon could see how the state management of the season was paying dividends.

“That Monday of opening weekend, we only had a handful of reports through Snapper Check,” he said. “I think that was honest. People really paid attention to the weather and didn’t put themselves in harm’s way. People now realize it’s about the pounds caught and there will be more opportunities to catch snapper later. Of course, that all goes back to the reporting through Snapper Check and getting accurate numbers.”

One thing Bannon did on that opening Friday was to check to see if anglers had the Snapper Check app loaded on their smartphones.

“I, along with other Division employees, helped the ones that didn’t have it get the app loaded on their phones,” he said.

Bannon also discovered that many people are still unaware of the Reef Fish Endorsement that went into effect for the 2020 season. Anglers who catch any fish that are considered a reef fish species are required to purchase the $10 endorsement.

Visit www.outdooralabama.com/saltwater-fishing/saltwater-reef-fish-endorsement for a list of fish species the endorsement covers.

“Nobody seemed overly concerned the endorsement was in place, but they were unaware they needed it,” Bannon said. “Some people purchased it on the Outdoor Alabama app while they were launching the boat.”

The reef fish endorsement provides a source of funding to continue to maintain the research and monitoring for populations in Alabama’s artificial reef zones that is required to continue state management of the red snapper fishery.

“We had been using federal funds,” Bannon said. “We needed a source of funds to continue that work. Also, other than Snapper Check, we didn’t have way to determine how many people are participating in the reef fish fishery. The endorsement helps us to determine the effort.”

Bannon pointed out that if you’re fishing for saltwater species on the Causeway and you don’t catch reef fish, you don’t need to purchase the Reef Fish Endorsement.

“But if you’re participating in the fishery offshore, these funds help us pay for Snapper Check and the monitoring through Dauphin Island Sea Lab and the University of South Alabama,” he said. “Now that we do have state management, we are obligated to manage the fishery to the best of our ability. The endorsement helps provide funds to do that.”

Because the reef fishing endorsement is new, Bannon said Marine Resources Enforcement will issue warnings right now. On opening weekend, 11 warnings were issued for no reef endorsements.

“Our Enforcement staff wrote 12 citations for not reporting their snapper harvests,” he said. “We only had one over-the-limit case. We had no undersized fish citations and only one over-the-limit of all the people that were checked on opening weekend. I consider that a successful weekend. And people used good judgement for the smaller boats to not go on Sunday and Monday. I am a little concerned that our (Snapper Check) reporting is down just a little bit. That is the driving force of our management goal to give people the most opportunities to catch red snapper.”

Meanwhile, the charter-for-hire season opened Monday for a straight 62-day run through August 1, 2020. The charter boat section is still under federal management.

“A couple of different charter captains I’ve spoken with said bookings are up,” Bannon said.

Bannon is excited that it appears the red snapper season will be successful now that restrictions on Alabama’s beaches have been lifted.

“Alabama is definitely a fishing destination,” he said. “I’ve talked to folks who used to go to Destin to go fishing until they discovered Alabama. Now they make plans to go charter fishing in Alabama.”

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.

42 mins ago

ADFSR returns to its roots for 2020 rodeo

The Alabama Deep Sea Fishing Rodeo (ADSFR), the largest saltwater tournament in the nation, will revert to its roots for the 87th rodeo, scheduled July 17-19 at the rodeo site on Dauphin Island.

Because of the COVID-19 restrictions, the ADSFR will concentrate strictly on the great fishing along the Alabama Gulf Coast, which harkens back to the early days of the rodeo when a group of dedicated tarpon anglers assembled on Dauphin Island for the initial events.

As safety precautions, ADSFR 2020 President Cory Quint said the rodeo will not hold the Liars Contest on the Thursday night before the rodeo. Also, the sponsors’ tent and the fish viewing area will not be available for the 2020 rodeo. The music entertainment has also been dropped for this year. However, the Roy Martin Young Anglers Tournament set for July 11, 2020, will be held as planned.

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“First and foremost, we’re a fishing tournament at heart,” Quint said. “Everything else we do is what we call ‘the show,’ which means we make it family friendly and appealing to other people outside of anglers.”

Many people are not aware of how much work goes into hosting the ADSFR, which attracts more than 3,000 anglers to the small barrier island in south Mobile County. Quint said normal rodeo preparation for the next year’s event starts about a month after the rodeo has fired the cannon to signal the end to the event.

“We always try to improve some aspect of the rodeo each year by making it bigger and better,” Quint said. “In April, our mindset had to shift to how we make sure this rodeo will happen. We had all this social distancing. You had to wear a mask. You could only have groups of so many people. You had all this stuff. We worked with the Town of Dauphin Island, and they told us they were okay with us fishing, having a weigh-in and selling T-shirts. They did not want us to give anybody a reason to congregate. As much as I hate it, we had to cut out the Liars’ Contest. We had big plans to honor Mike Thompson (a multiple Liars’ Contest winner who died unexpectedly several months ago). I’ve known Mike (Captain T-Bone to the rodeo crowd) just about my whole life through my mom and dad (Jimmy and Terri Quint). I really wanted to do that personally. But, we didn’t have a choice. We couldn’t do the music. We couldn’t do the sponsors’ tent, which is about 60 percent of our sponsors. We are kind of going back to our roots as a fishing tournament. But I don’t want people to be confused about our rodeo site. It is still open. If you want to come see somebody weigh in, look at the boats or watch a sunset, you can still do that. We just can’t give people a reason to congregate. All we’re asking from the anglers is to be mindful of social distancing and be respectful of the Town of Dauphin Island. They really did do us a favor by allowing us to have the rodeo this year.”

Jeff Collier has been the Mayor of Dauphin Island for the past 22 years and knows what the rodeo means to Dauphin Island in terms of retail sales and rental income. With the exception of a couple of years during World War II, anglers have gathered on the island for fishing festivities.

“We’ve seen a lot of rodeos,” Mayor Collier said. “I was born and raised here, so I’ve seen most of the last 59 or so. That’s a lot of rodeos. This is going to be similar to some of the rodeos in the past. There’s going to be a little less activity, and we’ll be focusing on the fishing aspect of it, which is what the event was originally. Over the years, they added more events, but this year it will be back to that fishing tournament environment. We hate that for them. It would be nice to have the Liars’ Contest and the concerts, which had been well-received. Unfortunately, that won’t happen this year.

“The rodeo is such a historic event. This is the 87th rodeo. Any community would be happy to have them as part of the community. But, at the same time, we also commend them, because I think what they’re doing under these circumstances is the right and responsible thing to do.”

During a normal three-day rodeo, more than 75,000 people visit Dauphin Island for the fishing or the show. The absence of that traffic is definitely going to impact the businesses and rental properties.

“With this COVID situation, a lot of our small mom-and-pop businesses need all the help and support they can get,” Mayor Collier said. “The rodeo was one of those times they could benefit when the times were good. With a population of about 1,250 permanent residents on the island, you can see what bringing 75,000 people onto the island would have in terms of economic impact. It’s a big event. It covers as much as four days, so it has a big impact on our small community. But I do still think it will be a good event. People who do come down, we want them to act responsibly. We’re encouraging people to wear a face covering. We’re not requiring it, but we’re encouraging it. As we say, we want to be part of the solution not part of the problem.”

One change has been made in the ADSFR tournament categories. Rodeo anglers have 30 species of fish eligible to weigh in at the rodeo. However, red snapper is no longer on that list. The Alabama Marine Resources Division, which manages Alabama’s share of the red snapper quota in the Gulf of Mexico, announced this week that the last day of the 2020 season will be July 3 to ensure the quota is not exceeded. Red snapper has been replaced by lane snapper on the rodeo’s eligible fish list. Quint said that obviously also eliminates the Red Snapper Jackpot.

Mayor Collier was not shocked that the red snapper season had to be cut shorter than originally planned.

“With the coronavirus thing, people were itching to get outside,” he said. “There were a lot of boats out, and everybody I talked to had good catches. It doesn’t surprise me one bit.”

Visit www.adsfr.com for more information on the rules, categories and schedule for the 87th Alabama Deep Sea Fishing Rodeo.

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.

16 hours ago

Brooks: ‘I oppose the Socialist Democrat and racist efforts to deface and destroy Mount Rushmore’

Count Congressman Mo Brooks (AL-05) as a steadfast supporter of Mount Rushmore.

Ahead of President Donald Trump’s planned Friday trip to the national memorial in South Dakota for a pre-Independence Day fireworks show and patriotic tribute, Brooks released a statement emphasizing his cosponsorship of H.R. 7358.

This bill, known as the Mount Rushmore Protection Act, was authored by Congressman Dusty Johnson (R-SD) and would prohibit federal funds from being used to alter, change, destroy or remove, in whole or in part, any name, face or other feature on the namesake memorial.

Liberal organizations in recent days have begun to target Mount Rushmore, with the Democratic National Committee even claiming the monument is “glorifying white supremacy.”

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Brooks pushed back on this, saying, “Thomas Jefferson, George Washington, Teddy Roosevelt, and Abraham Lincoln are exceptional American heroes. Each contributed monumentally to America’s greatness and share a common legacy of spreading freedom and liberty throughout the world. Their places on Mount Rushmore are well-deserved as exemplars of what it took to make America great, and efforts to denigrate their contributions are beyond reprehensible.”

The North Alabama Republican also outlined the contributions of each American icon memorialized on Mount Rushmore.

“Thomas Jefferson drafted the Declaration of Independence, the document that officially kicked off America’s quest for independence,” he continued. “George Washington won the Revolutionary War, served as America’s first president, and set the high standards of honor and leadership that have molded the republic to this day. Teddy Roosevelt protected America’s beautiful and special lands for public enjoyment forever. Abraham Lincoln held our young nation together through the most tumultuous period in American history, freed the slaves and gave his life perfecting of union. These men represent the best of us. Generations of Americans have celebrated their contributions to our nation. They embody American exceptionalism, freedom and liberty.”

Brooks said this issue exemplifies larger societal issues that are ongoing in America.

“With the exception of the Civil War, America has never faced greater internal threats,” the congressman warned.

“Socialist Democrats and racists, as evidenced by a recent Democrat National Committee tweet that said Mount Rushmore is ‘glorifying white supremacy’, are dead set on undermining American’s freedom and liberty,” Brooks continued. “In a frenzy of delirious ‘wokeness’, Socialist Democrats and those who promote racial division are hellbent on destroying the very fabric of our republic.”

“I oppose the Socialist Democrat and racist efforts to deface and destroy Mount Rushmore,” he stressed to conclude his statement.

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

18 hours ago

Auburn University gets $3 million grant to increase innovative conservation practices

AUBURN, Ala. – Auburn University College of Agriculture research and extension faculty will be using a $3 million grant to help forge a future for Alabama agriculture by encouraging the use of innovative conservation practices among the state’s row crop farmers.

The grant comes from the USDA Natural Resources Conservation Service (NRCS) On-Farm Conservation Innovation Trials (On-Farm Trials), a new component of the Conservation Innovation Grants first authorized in the 2018 Farm Bill.

Auburn’s $3 million grant is the largest to a single entity of the more than $24 million awarded. The grants are designed to help partners implement and evaluate innovative approaches that have demonstrated conservation benefits on farmland.

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These conservation practices are sorely needed on Alabama farms for several reasons, said Rishi Prasad, assistant professor and Alabama Extension specialist in the Department of Crop, Soil and Environmental Sciences and leader of the research project.

“Many soils in Alabama are severely degraded and have low organic matter content,” Prasad said. “It is important to rebuild soil health to conserve soil for use by future generations. Increased adoption of cover crops by Alabama farmers can create sustainable row-crop production systems while protecting the state’s soil and water resources.”

Another aspect of the grant will be the demonstration of water-smart irrigation practices, he said.

“Summer droughts in Alabama are very common, often causing yield losses,” Prasad said. “The adoption of water-smart irrigation in Alabama is considered one of the most important strategies for mitigating the negative impacts of drought. This project will demonstrate the use of these technologies and help increase the adoption of irrigation in Alabama.”

The project also will help farmers evaluate nutrient losses and demonstrate the agronomic, economic and environmental benefits of improved conservation practices compared to farmers’ “business-as-usual” practices, he said.

“Fertilizer is one of the major inputs used in crop production,” Prasad said. “However, more than 50 percent of the purchased fertilizers ends up getting lost in air or water. This project will help farmers evaluate those losses.”

Three Alabama farms have been selected as cooperators for this project: Posey Farms in north Alabama, Lazenby Farms in central Alabama and L.C. Farms in south Alabama. These farms will be used to demonstrate the innovative conservation practices.

“The interesting part of this project is that any farmer who wants to adopt cover crops or smart irrigation technologies will receive incentive payments that include assistance for cover crop seed, planting and termination costs, labor charges and forgone income,” Prasad said. “Farmers also can borrow inter-seeder, roller crimper and soil moisture sensors from selected NRCS offices as a part of this project.”

A network of learning sites will be established at the extension offices located in Lawrence, Geneva and Lee counties, said Audrey Gamble, assistant professor and Alabama Extension specialist in the Department of Crop, Soil and Environmental Sciences, who also is involved in the grant. Project meetings with cooperating farmers and neighboring farmers will be organized, and information on the project will be presented.

“Farmers will be called for face-to-face meetings, dinner meetings, workshops and field days where information on topics related to cover crops, water-smart irrigation strategies, nutrient budgets and nutrient-use efficiencies will be presented,” Gamble said. “As project data becomes available, information will be shared with farmers at learning sites. The project already is underway, and we will be instrumenting these demonstration farms in the fall of 2020.”

For Brenda Ortiz, professor and Alabama Extension specialist in the Department of Crop, Soil and Environmental Sciences, the grant marks the continuation of on-farm irrigation projects she initiated in 2017.

“The important thing about this project is that we will look at the whole system—the impact of cover crops on soil health and soil structure that will impact soil water storage and movement which, in the end, will impact water availability for the crops and improved nutrient and water-use efficiency,” Ortiz said.

While technological changes take time, there is a greater awareness in Alabama now of what technology can do to increase irrigation efficiency, she said.

“Farmers and consultants have gained knowledge on the use of soil sensors for irrigation scheduling, and we have been able to demonstrate the impact of variable-rate irrigation at some sites,” Ortiz said. “However, more work is needed.”

Ortiz hopes the innovation grant will increase the adoption of practices such as irrigation scheduling.

“If we can accomplish this, it will be a great success story and will result in possible environmental and economic benefits,” she said. “The other piece of the puzzle is nutrient management. This project has a strong emphasis on environmental stewardship.”

Leah Duzy of the National Soil Dynamics Laboratory is working on the economic aspects of the grant. Innovation grant awardees are required to evaluate the economic and conservation outcomes from these practices and systems, giving NRCS critical information to inform conservation work in the future. That’s where Michelle Worosz, professor of rural sociology in the Department of Agricultural Economics and Rural Sociology, will play a role in implementing the grant.

“Production agriculture by its very nature is sociological—there is nothing that is not a product of human activity and/or social interaction,” Worosz said. “In the case of our grant, I will examine the conservation-based decision-making processes that take place on the three selected farms. These farms will serve as case studies of technological change, adoption and adaptation.

“I also will observe the extension team as they interact with a broader range of participants during workshops and field days. It is hoped that data from the case studies and the observations can be used by the team to improve conservation technology. In other words, this feedback loop is a means of co-developing knowledge about conservation strategies, particularly smart irrigation and cover cropping.

The grant’s implementation on “real” farms is important to its success, Worosz said.

“Understandably, producers can be quite skeptical of experimental plots on research farms,” she said. “Because research plots are often smaller, they may receive an unrealistic amount or type of care, they may not be subject to the same rules or regulations, the farm manager and researchers might have access to more or different resources such as advanced technologies, the plots are not required to produce the same yields or produce the same return on investment, and they may be located in a place that is not comparable to producers’ farms.”

It’s also important that the conservation technologies will be co-developed by faculty and extension specialists working alongside farmers, Worosz said.

“This is a way to develop a more robust set of bundled technologies—technologies that will be more user-friendly and better able to meet the needs of the user while also meeting larger environmental goals,” she said. “If the user has input, it will help with a broader buy-in of these conservation technologies by other producers.”

(Courtesy of Auburn University)

19 hours ago

Lara Trump: ‘We actually had never confirmed a rally in Alabama’

Senior campaign adviser Lara Trump has rebutted reporting from CNN that the president’s reelection campaign canceled a July 11 rally in Mobile, Alabama.

Trump — who is married to the president’s son, Eric — told Fox News’ Martha MacCallum this week that the rally was never finalized.

Rumors had been swirling in previous weeks that President Donald J. Trump would come to the state to campaign in person for his endorsed Republican Senate candidate, former Auburn University head football coach Tommy Tuberville.

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RELATED: Watch: Trump, Tuberville depart Air Force One together

MacCallum asked Lara Trump if the Alabama rally was canceled and, if so, why it was canceled.

“Well, we actually had never confirmed a rally in Alabama,” she responded. “We never talked about it, never announced anything. So, I’m not sure why everybody got so excited about an Alabama rally.”

The show host then interjected to followed up with, “So there never was an Alabama rally? That’s what you’re saying?”

Shaking her head to indicate a negative response, Trump added, “There was nothing official from the campaign. We never announced anything on that.”

It should be noted that the Tuberville campaign never confirmed the rally, either.

He will face former U.S. Attorney General Jeff Sessions in Alabama’s July 14 Republican primary runoff.

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

23 hours ago

New public pavilion opens at Smith Lake

Anglers and tournament staff now have a shaded place on Smith Lake to host their weigh-ins.

A new public weigh-in pavilion is open at the Lewis Smith Lake Dam boat ramp in Walker County. The pavilion was funded through a partnership between B.A.S.S. and Alabama Power, and constructed with the help of many others.

“Our great partnership with Alabama Power continues with this pavilion,” B.A.S.S. CEO Bruce Akin said. “It was exciting to see this come together, and we look forward to future tournaments that will benefit the local community.”

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New fishing weigh-in pavilion opens on Smith Lake from Alabama NewsCenter on Vimeo.

The pavilion provides shade for fish holding tanks during tournament weigh-ins, which reduces stress and increases survival rates of the fish.

“This facility was designed to make setting up for weigh-ins easier and more efficient for all sizes of tournament organizations,” said B.A.S.S. Conservation Director Gene Gilliland. “Having the pavilion close to the water, the boat ramp and the courtesy docks will improve the survival of fish released following weigh-ins – and that means more bass for everyone to catch in the future.”

Construction began in January and was initially scheduled to be completed by April but was delayed due to the COVID-19 pandemic. Volunteer labor was coordinated by the Union Sportsmen’s Alliance that provided apprentices for all phases of the build.

“The Union Sportsmen’s Alliance was privileged to be a part of this great partnership to benefit local anglers and the community,” said Robert Stroede, conservation manager for the Union Sportsmen’s Alliance. “Our union volunteers donated more than 1,000 hours of their time and trade skills to help make this facility possible and benefit not only the community but also the valuable resources of Smith Lake. Partnerships like this one between corporate, public and nonprofit organizations are now, and will continue to be, a huge asset to the future of conservation.”

The new pavilion is the latest in a growing list of amenities offered at Alabama Power’s 65 public recreation sites. It is the second pavilion Alabama Power and B.A.S.S. have worked together to build. In 2014, B.A.S.S., Alabama Power, the Alabama Department of Conservation and Natural Resources, Shelby County and volunteers from Alabama B.A.S.S. Nation teamed to open a similar weigh-in pavilion at Beeswax Landing on Lay Lake.

“We were thrilled to work with B.A.S.S., the Union Sportsmen’s Alliance, the Alabama Department of Conservation and Natural Resources and the local community to construct this pavilion,” said Zeke Smith, Alabama Power executive vice president of External Affairs. “Not only does this pavilion enhance this access point on Smith Lake, it also helps showcase the state of Alabama’s beautiful waterways.”

The Alabama Department of Conservation and Natural Resources donated engineering expertise to the project, and added a ramp and docks to the nearby boat launch.

“We are very excited about the pavilion and the upgrades we have made to the access point at Smith Dam,” said Alabama Department of Conservation Deputy Commissioner Ed Poolos. “It all works together nicely and will offer a great experience for anyone interested in visiting this beautiful lake.”

Project leaders said the pavilion will boost the Smith Lake community.

“I have been involved with high school fishing for a number of years and the sport is rapidly growing,” said Casey Shelton, business manager, International Brotherhood of Electrical Workers (IBEW) System Council U-19. “This has been a great partnership to see come together and will benefit the local community for years to come.”

Community leaders said the pavilion will attract more fishing tournaments, especially among high schools and amateurs.

“I am pleased to be involved in this project alongside Alabama Power and know that those that enjoy bass fishing, especially high school anglers in our community, will enjoy this pavilion and the facilities,” said Alabama Senate Majority Leader Greg Reed. “This partnership with B.A.S.S., IBEW, Alabama Department of Conservation and Natural Resources, Union Sportsmen’s Alliance and Alabama Power is a wonderful opportunity for Smith Lake and will promote the sport of angling for many years to come.”

“We so appreciate the investment Alabama Power has made in the Smith Lake Dam Pavilion,” added State Rep. Connie Rowe. “For several years this area has been utilized by The Chamber of Commerce of Walker County for fishing tournaments, which bring thousands of visitors and their tax dollars into our area. This pavilion will serve as a hub for those tournaments and other events.”

For up-to-date information about Alabama lakes, download the Smart Lakes app to your smartphone at smartlakes.com. For more information on this or other Alabama Power public recreation sites, visit apcshorelines.com.

(Courtesy of Alabama NewsCenter)