Fishing stocks saw more protection the past year

Bonefish and four species of sharks got a break in 2011. For that matter, so did commercial fishermen on several key issues.

State fishery managers put bonefish, the prized gray ghost of the flats, on the no-take list in April, joining the tarpon as a game fish considered far more valuable to the sportfishing economy alive than it ever could be dead.

The Bonefish and Tarpon Trust, based in the Florida Keys, in 2008 launched a campaign to end the state’s one-fish-per-day allowable catch for bonefish.

Bonefish are “one of the most valuable recreational fisheries in the state,” said Trust Executive Director Aaron Adams.

In February, the Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission gave preliminary approval to the no-take rule for bonefish and confirmed it in April. The law took effect July 1. “Bonefish is one of Florida’s rock-star species,” declared then-FWC board Chairman Rodney Barreto, a part-time Key Largo resident.

Another rule to safeguard permit, also a favorite game fish, took effect in September when the FWC enacted a Special Permit Zone, which covers all the Keys.

The recreational bag limit was reduced to one legal-size permit, and all commercial harvest of permit was prohibited inside the zone.

Tarpon have been protected for several years by a state law requiring a fisherman to have a $50 single-use tag in his or her possession before killing one of the big fish.

At the FWC’s November meeting in Key Largo, tiger sharks and three species of hammerhead sharks were added to the list of sharks on the protected list. Big sharks are slow to grow and breed, leaving the populations at serious risk of being overfished, biologists say.

One species that cannot be overfished soon enough is the lionfish, a beautiful but unwanted Pacific fish that may threaten local reef fish populations.

Protected by venomous spines, lionfish have no natural enemies and devour huge numbers of juvenile fish. First discovered in Keys waters in January 2009, lionfish seem to have increased steadily, despite efforts to eradicate them.

On the commercial fishing front, annual catches of lobster rebounded in the regular season that closed in March, along with prices driven higher by Asian demand.

The season reopened in August with strong prices and catch numbers that look bountiful after grim numbers early in the decade.

Workers in the commercial fishing industry seemed to win a round in the regulatory battle when a move to establish catch shares — a controversial fishing measure — were rejected by federal management councils for several fisheries, including snapper and grouper in the South Atlantic.

Under catch shares, specific fishermen or groups would get to harvest a specific percentage of a fishery’s total allowable catch. Lobster stocks are were rated healthy enough to not require the adoption of catch shares for the industry.

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