Feds to review health of yellowtail population

Fishery scientists take a look at updated reports on the yellowtail snapper population Wednesday to see if commercial harvest limits can be raised.

“We’re seeing some clues that the outcome probably is going to be favorable” for South Florida’s commercial yellowtail fishing fleet, said Bill Kelly, executive director of the Florida Keys Commercial Fishermen’s Association.

“According to the current assessment, yellowtail snapper in 2010 were not overfished and overfishing was not occurring,” says one reviewer of revised stock reports submitted to South Atlantic and Gulf of Mexico fishery management councils.

Members of the councils’ combined Science and Statistical Committees meet this coming week in Tampa to discuss several species, but a four-hour session Wednesday has been reserved for yellowtail.

“Hopefully, they agree to adjust the [allowable biological catch], which will allow the councils to adjust the annual catch limits,” Kelly said.

The National Marine Fisheries Service planned to close the South Atlantic commercial harvest of yellowtail snapper on Sept. 11, saying the commercial yearly limit of 1.14 million pounds of the species was nearly reached.

But a last-minute executive order was issued one day before the closure to allow fishermen to keep harvesting yellowtail. New reports on harvested yellowtail indicated the annual catch limit was not reached, Fisheries Service Regional Director Roy Crabtree said.

If the yellowtail season closed through Dec. 31, about 275 commercial boats in the Florida Keys, including more than 100 full-time yellowtail boats, would have been affected.

It is still possible the season could close before January, but no announcements have been made.
A commercial closure would not affect recreational fishing for yellowtail, a popular food fish.

The Keys reportedly bring in about 90 percent of Florida’s annual yellowtail catch, and the winter months are the most lucrative for fishermen because of visitor demand for snapper.

A Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission stock assessment for 2012 indicates yellowtail are “in good shape,” according to a report by lead author Luiz Barbieri.

Doug Kelly, a biologist who works as marine agent for the Monroe County Cooperative Extension Service, is a member of the Gulf Council’s science committee.

In other recent commercial seasons:

  • Fishing for golden tilefish reopens Tuesday. A new population assessment indicates the deepwater fish numbers are healthy so the annual catch limit can be raised to 541,295 pounds (gutted weight). Recreational fishing for golden tilefish remains closed until Jan. 1.

  • Commercial fishing for vermilion snapper closed Sept. 28 when the 302,500-pound annual limit in the South Atlantic was reached. Recreational fishing remains open. There is a possibility the commercial catch limit could be increased in 2013.
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