Government shutdown affects hunting, fishing

USFWSJennifer Lenain

Picayune Item (MCT)

PICAYUNE – The federal shutdown began Tuesday, and its effects include closing National Wildlife Refuges. The U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service issued a release detailing a contingency plan in the event of a shutdown on Friday.

The release states, “National Wildlife Refuges will be closed to public access. Visitor Centers and other buildings will be closed.”

The Department of the Interior and the wildlife service issued a release Tuesday stating the only functions that will continue at refuge areas are “those necessary to respond to emergencies and to protect human life or property.”

The closure includes all hunting and fishing seasons on national wildlife refuges.

When Chuck Perry, of Perry Farms in the Mississippi Delta, posted on social media that Panther Swamp National Wildlife Refuge was officially closed as a result of the government shutdown, hunters shared their displeasure.

Perry said he runs a 90-spot camper facility and has a 3,000 square-foot hunting lodge that he leases out to hunters. His wife, he said, operates a small restaurant and pub on the property and it is open only during hunting seasons.

“A federal warden called me yesterday and asked how many hunters I had in my campground, since it’s close to Panther,” Perry said. He told the warden he had quite a few and he was asked to put the word out to hunters that the refuge could be closing.

“The shutdown hurts my small business, because most of my campers hunt Panther,” Perry said.

“So, the shutdown hurts all of us one way or another,” he said.

The Fish and Wildlife Service manages nearly 150 million acres of land and waters in the National Wildlife Refuge system and operates 73 national fish hatcheries, according to the release. The service has 561 refuges and 38 wetland management districts.

In Mississippi, there are 11 National Wildlife Refuges: Dahomey National Wildlife Refuge, Grand Bay National Wildlife Refuge, Hillside National Wildlife Refuge, Mathews Brake National Wildlife Refuge, Mississippi Sandhill Crane National Wildlife Refuge, Morgan Brake National Wildlife Refuge, Noxubee National Wildlife Refuge, Panther Swamp National Wildlife Refuge, St. Catherine Creek National Wildlife Refuge, Tallahatchie National Wildlife Refuge and Yazoo National Wildlife Refuge. Bogue Chitto National Wildlife Refuge spans the Mississipp-Louisiana state line with a portion of the refuge being located in Pearl River County.

As of Tuesday, Mississippi Department of Marine Resources does not anticipate anything with the shutdown to immediately affect that agency, DMR Spokeswoman Melissa Scallan said.

State waters are still open for the oyster season and the two-week supplemental fall recreational fishing season for red snapper, said Scallan. “Red snapper season is set. I cannot answer questions for NOAA.”

The National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration could not be contacted for details pertaining to fishing in federal waters.

Tom Becker, president of the National Association of Charter Boat Operations and president of the Mississippi Charter Boat Association, said as far as he knows, federal waters were not shutdown.

“The red snapper season is preset, so it’s happening,” Becker said. Becker said he has not heard anything from NOAA on the issue and fishermen are reporting all catches the same as usual.

The supplemental fall recreational fishing season for red snapper opened Tuesday with a two-fish bag limit and a 16-inch minimum size limit.

The season will close on Oct. 15, at 12:01 a.m., said Becker.

Ship Island is among the National Parks closed until further notice, according to the Gulf Islands National Seashore.