Protected Species in Mississippi Waters
To safeguard marine biodiversity, certain species are protected by federal law in Mississippi waters. Here's what you need to know:
Protected Species List
- Marine Mammals: All marine mammals are protected and must be taken to a rehabilitation facility if inadvertently taken in nets or on fishing hooks.
- Sea Turtles: Protected species include Kemp’s Ridley, Hawksbill, Leatherback, Loggerhead, and Green Sea Turtles.
- Atlantic and Gulf Sturgeon: These sturgeon species are protected and must be handled with care if encountered.
- Marine Birds: Various marine bird species are protected under federal law.
- Sawfish: Both Smalltooth and Largetooth Sawfish are protected species.
- Rice’s Whale: Formerly known as Bryde’s Whale, this species is protected.
- Giant Manta Ray: Protection extends to the Giant Manta Ray species.
- Oceanic Whitetip Shark: This shark species is protected under federal regulations.
- Injured or Dead Sea Turtles or Marine Mammals: Contact the Institute for Marine Mammal Studies or the National Marine Fisheries Service.
- Manatee Sightings: Report sightings or injured/dead manatees to the Manatee Sighting Network.
- Captured Gulf Sturgeon: Notify the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service or the Gulf Coast Research Laboratory.
- Other Injured or Dead Protected Species: Immediately inform the Mississippi Department of Marine Resources.
- Endangered Species Act Violations: Intentional harm to endangered or threatened animals can result in fines up to $20,000 and a jail sentence of up to one year.
- Fishermen Note: Possessing fish with heads, tails, or flesh removed until reaching the final destination is illegal. Fish may be eviscerated and scaled, with fish parts discarded in designated trash receptacles on land to protect sea turtles.
Helping Sea Turtles While Fishing
When fishing, it's crucial to take steps to protect sea turtles, especially if they are inadvertently caught. Here's what you can do:
Resuscitating Inadvertently Caught Sea Turtles
- Positioning: Place the sea turtle on its breastplate (lower shell) and elevate its hindquarters several inches.
- Protection: Keep the turtle moist and in the shade, avoiding containers with water.
- Release: Once recovered, release the turtle over the stern of the vessel with engines in neutral.
Preventing Hooking and Entanglement
- Bait and Waste Management: Reuse bait and properly dispose of cleaned fish remains to avoid attracting sea turtles to piers.
- Environmental Responsibility: Recycle fishing line and stash trash properly.
- Feeding Prohibition: Never feed sea turtles, as it's harmful and illegal.
- Hook Type: Use corrodible (non-stainless steel) hooks to reduce wildlife injuries.
- Awareness: Reel in your line or change location if a sea turtle is near or shows interest in your bait or catch. Avoid casting in the direction of sea turtles.
Responding to Hooked Sea Turtles
- Immediate Action: Call the response team at 1-888-SOS-DOLPHIN (1-888-767-3657) if you hook a sea turtle, even if it escapes.
- Handling: Do NOT lift by the hook or line. Use a net or lift by the sides of the shell to bring the turtle to land. Leave the hook in place to avoid further harm.
- Protection: Keep the turtle out of direct sunlight, covering the shell with a damp towel (excluding the head).