GULFPORT, Miss. -- Mississippi Deep Sea Fishing Rodeo officers are preparing for an event that will feature 15 saltwater and six freshwater divisions -- fewer than in the past thanks to the oil spill in the Gulf of Mexico.

In the past, there were 22 saltwater divisions but the 62nd annual event has eliminated seven categories, including the popular red snapper and amberjack divisions.

The rodeo begins Thursday and will run through Sunday.

'We are 100 percent committed,' weighmaster Mark Wright told The Sun Herald. 'We feel like we'll be stronger in the years to come because this rodeo will prove that we're committed to the anglers.

'This is one of the worst hurdles we have had to cross. But we are crossing it.'

Despite closings in the Mississippi Sound by the Department of Marine Resources and federal waters by NOAA, which will limit the number of fish being entered, the rodeo itself has not changed.

The rodeo will still feature the Midway carnival rides, daily live music, vendors and the boat auction -- and the ever popular Kids Rodeo on Saturday.

Based on the closures, if there are categories with no entries -- like bonita -- prizes will be held over for next year.

'We hope the west side and into Lake Borgne and Pontchartrain will be open,' Wright said. 'Plus, we hope bay fishing will be open, too.

'If we have that, we should be all right. It will level the playing field between the big boats and the smaller boats. It could get interesting. As far as the prizes, they have all been purchased. If a category isn't filled, we will roll that prize over to next year.'

The bass and cobia shootouts have been eliminated, leaving only two shootouts in 2010 -- speckled trout and redfish.

'We still have some Louisiana waters on the east side (Mississippi River) that are still open,' Wright said. 'I think a lot of the anglers will fish the Biloxi marsh, Delacroix and Lake Pontchartrain. Plus, the lower Pearl River has been holding some nice redfish.

'I think the overall weight in the Redfish Shootout will be the same as past winners. But I think the weight will be lower in the Speckled Trout Shootout. I am being optimistically cautious and hoping for the best. But prepared for the worst.'

As far as the Bass Shootout, the event was eliminated and more money was added to the overall prize.

'In the beginning, I was one of the advocates to cancel the rodeo,' Wright said. 'Then, I thought about how many tournaments have been canceled. We know the fishermen want and need something to do.

'So we are not going to stop and we're going to put on the best event we possibly can. The coast deserves this. Yes, our backs are against the wall, but fishing is a way of life.'

Online: Deep Sea Fishing Rodeo,

Information from: The Sun Herald,

(Copyright 2010 by The Associated Press. All Rights Reserved.)

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