While fishing on Florida's Gulf coast remains under threat of oil, the ocean side now faces a permanent closure of its red snapper fishery. The closure would stretch from just south of Cape Canaveral all the way up to Brunswick, Ga.
Much of this stems from the poor implementation of the Magnuson-Stevens Act, which was reauthorized in 2006. In order to combat overfishing of threatened species, the Magnuson-Stevens Act contains tough guidelines for closing areas in order to restore species.
This has led to the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Association closing all snapper grouper species in water depths of
98 – 240 feet in this area.
The amendment will undergo
further review by NOAA Fisheries Service before submission to the
Secretary. The amendment is designed to meet the requirements of the
reauthorized Magnuson-Stevens Act to end overfishing and rebuild stocks
within a specified time period.
After reviewing public
comment and the management alternatives, the Council modified the area
closure for snapper grouper species, reducing the closed area by
eliminating much of the previously proposed area off the coast of
Georgia. The proposed closure encompasses federal waters where red
snapper landings are highest. The area closure is designed to help
eliminate release mortality for red snapper that occurs when fishermen
target other co-occurring snapper grouper species.
Almost all agree that these closures, as long as their based on sound science, can be the way to preserve these species. But many in the recreational fishing industry believe that there is no sound science.
The Congressional Sportsman's Foundation went as far as calling this closure a disaster:
Another disaster impacting sportfishing and boating is the continued closing of important recreational angling in thousands of miles of U.S. marine waters by NOAA Fisheries. The recreational fishing and boating industries and the industries who serve them contribute $82.3 billion to the U.S. economy every year and support nearly 534,000 jobs.
“NOAA is attempting to cut off thousands of miles of valuable recreational fishing areas without sound scientific reasoning and by utilizing faulty fish population data,” said CSC Co-Chair Rep. Dan Boren. “At no time in our history has there been more of a need for hard, accurate science regarding our marine resources.”
On January 4, 2010, NOAA Fisheries closed the South Atlantic red snapper fishery, and yesterday the South Atlantic Fishery Management Council agreed to a red snapper ban (MORE…) in a 5,000-square-mile area off the coast of Georgia and northern Florida in water ranging from 98 to 240 feet, effectively closing the entire area to any bottom fishing.
The CSF is not alone in worrying about this closure. The American Sportfishing Association issued a release outlining the millions of dollars that could be lost if this closure is expanded.
The Coastal Conservation Alliance testified in front of NOAA's South Atlantic Fisheries Management
Council stating that:
Re-examining the entire assessment, from the data used to a new review panel, provides a public forum for all concerns to be openly addressed. We believe this further review is necessary before any final action is taken.
We would like to draw special attention to the mention of the need for fishery independent surveys in this fishery. CCA views fishery independent data as critical to the establishment of a better assessment process that is not solely dependent on recreational and commercial catch for data. Many of the questions that were raised with the previous stock assessment would have been avoided through the use of fishery independent data. We encourage the adoption of such survey methods as quickly as possible.
The future of this closure is still murky. The passed amendment now goes to Secretary of Commerce Gary Locke for his approval. From the official release:
If approved by the Secretary of Commerce,
management measures in Amendment 17A will likely be implemented later
this year. A new stock assessment is being conducted for red snapper in
the South Atlantic and the results will be presented to the Council in
December 2010. The Council will consider adjusting management measures
following the stock assessment if warranted.
–By Brian McClintock
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