Federal fisheries managers on Tuesday announced they are imposing temporary restrictions on recreational and commercial fishing for gag and red grouper, two of the most important fishing species in the Gulf of Mexico.
Possible restrictions on grouper and snapper fishing earlier this year prompted an outcry from some state and federal elected officials. HB 553, a House memorial that called on Congress and the president to reduce the economic impact of fishing restrictions, passed the House on April 21 but was never taken up by the Senate.
On Tuesday, the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration announced a temporary rule to prohibit recreational fishing for gag grouper in Gulf federal waters for six months beginning Jan. 1. NOAA's Fisheries Service also announced it is reducing the red grouper allowable catch by one-third next year for both commercial and recreational fishermen.
Actions on both species were taken because of declining fish populations, NOAA officials said. The Gulf of Mexico Fishery Management Council requested the temporary rule for gag grouper while the council explores long-term measures.
“This was a difficult decision but a necessary action to protect the Gulf gag grouper population,” Roy Crabtree, southeast regional administrator for NOAA’s Fisheries Service, said in a statement. “We hope this is a short-term action and will look to increase the harvest of gag as soon as possible.”
In a House committee hearing earlier this year, recreational and commercial fishing groups criticized proposed federal restrictions on grouper and red snapper fishing while some environmentalists defended them as helping conserve fish stocks to allow larger catches in years to come.
On Tuesday, a representative of the Southeastern Fisheries Association, a Tallahassee-based group which represents commercial fishing businesses, said the federal agency's science is inadequate to support the new restrictions.
"From our perspective until they do the proper science they don't know how many fish are out there," said Bob Jones, the group's executive director. "If they don't know how many fish are out there, how can you manage them?"
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