Yellowtail closure has Keys fishermen steaming

A closure of the commercial yellowtail-snapper fishery in federal waters definitely will occur just after midnight Monday.

The primary question now facing crews aboard 275 Florida Keys commercial boats that hold a federal yellowtail license: How soon can the season be reopened?

“This closure could not come at a more inopportune time – right when demand and prices are going up,” said Bill Kelly, executive director of the Florida Keys Commercial Fishermen’s Association.

“This will cause significant and irreparable economic harm,” Kelly said. “Not only to fishermen, but to fish houses, restaurants and markets.”

State and federal fishing managers apparently agree that the stock estimate used to set the species’ 1.14-million-pound annual catch limit, as required by federal law, widely underestimated the yellowtail population.
“It’s not question of overfishing,” Peter Bacle of the Stock Island Lobster Co. said. “With yellowtail, I’m not sure that’s possible.”

“There is a lot of fish out there,” Marathon resident Orelia Gonzalez said on behalf of several yellowtail operations. “Nobody knew this was coming. These are the four months when the tourists are here, when our fishermen make their money.”

The federal South Atlantic Fishery Management Council holds a regular week-long meeting beginning Monday in South Carolina.

Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commissioner Martha Bademan and state commercial-fishing representatives will be there, pushing to have the agency’s Science and Statistical Committee review a newly completed yellowtail stock assessment as soon as possible.

“I’ll be there banging a big drum,” Kelly said.

“The stock assessment is highly favorable,” Kelly said. “It says yellowtail are not overfished, and that it’s actually an ‘underutilized species’…There’s more yellowtail out there than ever.”

But revising federal regulations, even on an emergency basis, will take weeks.

“It’s got to go through the process,” Kelly said. “The most optimistic timeline would be early to mid-October. If the system runs it’s course, it could be mid to late November.”

Without the expected emergency action, the commercial hook-and-line yellowtail fishery would stay closed until Jan. 1.

Recreational yellowtail fishing remains open.

Commercial fishing for yellowtail in state waters also is open, but the primary fishing grounds lie in federal waters. Monroe County produces 90 percent of Florida’s yellowtail catch, Kelly said.

Wholesale prices for yellowtail snapper generally run about $2 in the summer months to $3.50 or $4 in the winter season, according to reports.

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