Limits set to protect grouper, other fish

01/31/08 Seán Kinane
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Today in St. Petersburg, the Gulf of Mexico Fisheries Management Council voted to move forward with efforts to help stabilize the population size of gag grouper and other fish species. The Council passed an amendment that the public can comment on before it is enacted.

Roy Crabtree is the regional administrator with the Southeast Regional office of the National Marine Fisheries Service and a member of the Gulf Council.

“There are a number of alternatives that are designed to reduce fishing mortality and end the overfishing on gag.”

From those, Crabtree said the Gulf Council selected its preferred alternative to rescue the gag grouper population from overfishing.

“It would make some adjustment to the commercial fishing quotas. On the recreational fishery, it would lower the bag limit for gag to one and establish a three-month closed season that I believe runs from January 15 to April 15.”

As WMNF reported on Wednesday, more than one hundred members of the public commented at the Gulf Council meeting. Many were commercial and recreational fishers voicing objections to the restrictions. The public will again be able to comment before final action is taken on the new gag grouper rules.

There will be a series of public hearings before the next Gulf Council meeting in April. At least three of those hearings will be in Florida. The Council took final action to protect populations of two other species that are currently undergoing overfishing, greater amberjack and gray triggerfish.

Again, Roy Crabtree.

“On greater amberjack for the recreational fishery it would raise the minimum size limit to 30 inches and allow no bag limit for captain and crew of for-hire vessels. …”

The Gulf of Mexico Fishery Management Council advises the National Marine Fisheries Service to help make fishing policy for U.S. waters. U.S. waters extend from the limit of state waters, which is about nine miles off the coast of Florida, to 200 miles offshore. The Council’s rules for the gray triggerfish, Crabtree said, will protect their population.

The Council’s actions could lead to long-term sustainable fisheries in the Gulf, according to Libby Fetherston [feather-stin], who is the Southeast Fish Program Manager with the Ocean Conservancy

The Marine Fish Conservation Network released its fourth annual report on the Gulf Council on Thursday, before the Council’s decisions on gag grouper, greater amberjack, and gray triggerfish.

In 2006, Congress passed changes to the Magnuson-Stevens Act, the nation’s primary law regulating ocean fishing. Wheatley said that before those modifications, the Gulf Council and the other regional fisheries councils often made decision based on politics, not science.

Kristina Jackson is an organizer with the Sierra Club’s Sustainable Fisheries campaign. She said the performance of the Gulf Fisheries Council was much improved in 2007, mainly due to rules set up to protect populations of red snapper.

Crabtree said he had not read the report, but agreed that the Council is improving its protection for fish populations.

The Gulf Council also voted to slow down plans to allow open-water fish farms in the Gulf of Mexico.

Marianne Cufone is director of the Fish Program for Food and Water Watch. “[The Council] voted to allow a joint committee … to review the document, revise it, and bring it back to the Council over the course of the next several months.”

Photo credit: Seán Kinane / WMNF

Learn more:

Gulf of Mexico Fishery Management Council Report by the Marine Fish Conservation Network

Gulf of Mexico Fishery Management Council

Previous day’s WMNF reporting on Gulf Council

Marine Fish Conservation Network

The Ocean Conservancy

Sierra Club – Florida Chapter

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