Officials increase yearly yellowtail catch

Federal fishery managers soon will increase the overall annual catch allowance for one of the Florida Keys most economically important and tasty fish — yellowtail snapper.

The increases will not affect the current daily bag limits for recreational or commercial fishing, National Marine Fisheries Service spokeswoman Allison Garrett said.

Instead, the new regulations increase the total allowable yellowtail catch from 2.1 million to 3.03 million pounds, according to federal fishery managers. The commercial limit will increase from 1.1 million to 1.5 million pounds. The recreational limit goes from 1 million to 1.4 million pounds, fishery managers said.

The National Marine Fisheries Service will publish a rule change in the Federal Register Wednesday announcing the increase in the allowable catch for yellowtail snapper in the jurisdiction of the South Atlantic Fishery Management Council, which runs from North Carolina to Florida. The rule will go into effect Sept. 12, Garrett said.

The Gulf of Mexico Fishery Management Council, which oversees fisheries from Florida to Texas, will increase the annual catch limit for yellowtail in its jurisdiction from 725,000 pounds to 901,125 pounds. That increase will go into effect Sept. 3, according to federal fishery managers. The Gulf Council does not split the catch between recreational and commercial segments.

The Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission’s (FWC) Florida Marine Research Institute completed a stock assessment of yellowtail in May 2012 that found the species healthy and in non danger of being overfished, FWC biologist Joe O’Hop said.

“The assessment results suggest the yellowtail snapper catch levels can be increased without jeopardizing the health of the population,” National Marine Fisheries Service officials wrote in a bulletin released Monday.

The annual catch limit increase comes after fishery managers considered closing the yellowtail fishery early in 2012. Last year was the first year that an annual catch limit had been established for yellowtail, and the first year the fishery was in jeopardy of closing.

National Marine Fisheries Service announced in August 2012 that the annual commercial yellowtail quota in the Atlantic had nearly been reached, and that the commercial fishery would be closed Sept. 11 through Jan. 1.

However, the Fisheries Service’s Southeastern Science Center in Miami reviewed commercial landings and found there were more yellowtail than previously believed, and that commercial fishing could continue.

Ninety percent of all yellowtail caught in Florida comes from the Florida Keys, said Bill Kelly, executive director of the Florida Keys Commercial Fishermen’s Association.

The fishery supports 100 full-time fishermen and 175 part-time fishermen in the Keys, Kelly said. Many recreational charter fishing captains take their clients yellowtail fishing in late summer and early fall, after the dolphin fishing slows down.

“This is one of the most economically important fin fish in the Florida Keys,” Kelly said.

tohara@keysnews.com

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