Feds consider lifting ban on some deepwater fish

A ban imposed in early 2011 on some bottom fishing in deep waters off the Florida Keys could be lifted by early 2012, according to the federal South Atlantic Fishery Management Council.

The closure covers fishing for several types of deepwater grouper and snapper in waters more than 240 feet deep.

Primarily aimed at protecting Warsaw grouper and speckled hind, the ban includes a prohibition on fishing for snowy grouper, blueline tilefish, yellowedge grouper, misty grouper, queen snapper and silk snapper in order to prevent accidental bycatch.

The National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration now is taking public comment on a plan to limit the ban to Warsaw grouper and speckled hind. The South Atlantic Council in August voted to move forward in lifting the ban except for the two targeted species.

Fishermen speaking at a federal hearing in February in Key Largo cited the deepwater ban as a prime example of regulations adopted without adequate reason.

Speckled hind and Warsaw grouper are “two species of fish that most anglers will never encounter in a lifetime of fishing,” Bill Kelly, executive director of the Florida Keys Commercial Fishermen’s Association, said Wednesday.

“Closing huge tracts of the Atlantic Ocean to all types of fishing reflects a mindset that every hook is going to catch a Warsaw grouper or speckled hind, neither of which has been scientifically proven to warrant stiffer regulatory measures,” Kelly said.

“Recent data analyses suggest speckled hind and Warsaw grouper rarely co-occur with snowy grouper, blueline tilefish, yellowedge grouper, misty grouper, queen snapper, or silk snapper,” the NOAA says in seeking public comment on the rule revision.

The wider ban implemented last Jan. 31 on other grouper and snapper has resulted in “socio-economic effects,” the agency said.

Comments on changing the rule will be taken through Jan. 19. The revised rule would then need approval by the secretary of the U.S. Department of Commerce. For information on commenting, go to www.safmc.net.

Other grouper closure begins Jan. 1

A separate four-month ban on shallow-water grouper species in federal waters of the South Atlantic begins Jan. 1. The closure runs through April 30.

No catches of gag grouper, black grouper, red grouper, scamp, rock hind, red hind, coney, graysby, yellowfin grouper, yellowmouth grouper and tiger grouper are allowed.

The closure also applies to shallow-water grouper taken in Atlantic state waters in Florida by people fishing off charter boats that hold a federal permit for grouper and snapper.

The shallow-water grouper closure is necessary “to protect snapper and grouper species made more vulnerable during spawning season,” according to the National Marine Fisheries Service.

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