By DINAH VOYLES PULVER, Environment writer
December 10, 2010 12:05 AM
Posted in: East Volusia -Fishing Tagged:snapper ban Plans to close nearly 4,300 miles of the Atlantic Ocean off the Florida and Georgia coast to bottom fishing may be dropped completely if a federal fisheries panel gets its way.
The South Atlantic Fishery Management Council voted Thursday in North Carolina to drop the plan to prevent bottom fishing after new information from scientists and fishermen showed red snapper populations are better off than originally estimated, and that fewer are being caught while fishermen are catching other species.
"It's a step in the right direction," said Capt. David Nelson, who co-owns and operates the Finest Kind fishing charter service out of Ponce Inlet. "This is going to help everyone," said Nelson, who has been active in the ongoing debate over red snapper.
The prohibition against bottom fishing was approved earlier this year to prevent fishermen from accidentally catching red snapper while trying to catch other species of snapper and grouper.
The latest information reported to the council concluded a ban on red snapper fishing, which went into effect in January and became permanent last week, may be adequate to end overfishing of red snapper. The reports indicate fishermen changed fishing patterns as a result of the moratorium and the declining economy, and were catching less red snapper accidentally.
The broader closure was supposed to begin last week, but officials with the National Marine Fisheries Service announced they were delaying the bottom-fishing ban for 180 days to let the council take a look at the latest scientific studies on red snapper populations.
The council's recommendation from the Thursday night vote will be forwarded to the fisheries service and its parent agency, the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration, which would have final approval.
While the latest reports indicate red snapper stocks are healthier, the Pew Environment Group, which promotes ocean conservation, said Thursday the fish are still in "urgent need of protection."
"Overall, we are cautiously optimistic that this recovery plan will get the job done," stated Holly Binns, a project manager for Pew. "We will have to wait and see whether this compromise plan is strong enough to help the species rebound. We hope the council's well-intentioned effort to ease short-term economic costs does not hurt red snapper in the long run," Binns stated.
Many commercial and recreational fishermen have argued for two years that the measures being taken to protect red snapper are overly restrictive.
They say red snapper are more bountiful and healthier than federal officials thought. The broad ocean closure was even more controversial, with Florida fishermen wondering why this area was being singled out while ocean areas off North and South Carolina were excluded from the planned closed area.
Everyone should believe in something. I believe I'll go fishing!
12 Redfish 26 3/4 my largest