Plan for more closures on hold

A Florida Keys National Marine Sanctuary working group held off on voting on a series of recommendations that call for more closed fishing areas, deciding to request more public meetings to discuss them.

Dozens of fishermen attended Monday’s Ecosystem Protection Working Group meeting to voice their opposition to a plan that called for more than hundred miles of new closed areas.

The group was scheduled to vote Monday on a series of draft recommendations that included increasing the size of some sanctuary special protection areas such as Sand Key and Rock Key off Key West and in the Marquesas Keys in the Key West National Wildlife Refuge. The recommendations also proposed establishing a new special protection area, which would close the area to fishing, on Snapper Ledge off Key Largo.

The group’s draft recommendations proposed expanding the Tortugas Ecological Reserve in the Dry Tortugas, which was set aside in 2001 to protect snapper and grouper spawning populations.

The recommendations also proffered shutting down fishing at Western Dry Rocks Reef to protect mutton snapper spawning populations. The group is also considering possibly closing or reducing the bag limit at Western Dry Rocks in April, May and June, during the spawn.

However, the working group held off on voting when fishermen spoke about the lack of current science and research to justify closing more areas.

Some of the studies used to warrant the closed areas came from science reports and stock assessment done in 1999 and 2000, Florida Keys Commercial Fishermen’s Association Executive Director Bill Kelly said.

“The science doesn’t support the closures,” Kelly said.

The working group voted to discuss the proposed closed areas at meetings in the Upper, Lower and Middle Keys. The request for more meetings will go before the Florida Keys Sanctuary Advisory Council, which will determine if more meetings are held or the council will act on the recommendations. The council will meet Aug. 20 in Key West.

tohara@keysnews.com

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