As reported by Kevin Wadlow in the April 3 edition of the Florida Keys Keynoter

Ros-Lehtinen: Don’t close deep-water fishery

A pending federal rule that would halt bottom fishing for deep-water grouper along the Florida coast would add to troubles facing commercial fishermen and charter-boat crews, U.S. Rep. Ileana Ros-Lehtinen said Tuesday.

“Generations of commercial fishermen, recreational anglers and charter-boat captains are being regulated out of businesses,” Ros-Lehtinen, who represents the Keys, said in a letter to NOAA Fisheries Regional Administrator Roy Crabtree.

“The recreational and commercial fishing communities face tremendous challenges in the wake of multiple fishery closures and extended bag limits, including Amendment 17B,” Ros- Lehtinen said.

Amendment 17B of the South Atlantic Fishery Management Council’s Snapper-Grouper plan includes the ban on fishing for bottom-dwelling species in waters below 240 feet.

The pending rule, passed in December by the South Atlantic council, seeks to protect Warsaw grouper and speckled hind, “two deep-water species extremely vulnerable to overfishing,” according to council staff.

Also covered under the closure would be snowy grouper, blueline tilefish, yellowedge grouper, misty grouper, queen snapper and silk snapper.

If U.S. Commerce Secretary Gary Locke approves Amendment 17B, it could take effect later this year. Ros-Lehtinen’s letter cautioned the move would “economically devastate commercial and recreational fishermen in South Florida.”

Recreational and commercial fishermen speaking at a Key Largo hearing on the rules in December agreed.

“We’re on a path of destruction for charter fishing in our area,” Islamorada charter captain Steve Leopold told council representatives.

Marine conservation groups, including the Pew Trust’s End Overfishing in the Southeast project, say the action is needed.

Deep-water grouper are “slow-growing and late-to-mature species being caught faster than they can reproduce,” says a Pew report. “The species have plummeted to critically low population levels…. Even if accidentally caught fish are returned to the water, too few survive the process.”

Gulf council takes up catch shares

A discussion of catch shares for the commercial king-mackerel fishery will be held during the April 12-15 meeting of the Gulf of Mexico Fishery Management Council in Galveston, Texas.

“This is a healthy fishery already governed by quotas,” said Bill Kelly, acting executive director of the Florida Keys Commercial Fishermen’s Association.

Council staff is advocating an increase in the commercial quota for king mackerel, also known as kingfish, he said. “It’s a controlled fishery with no need for catch shares,” he said.

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