Snapper Ban Delayed As Council Weighs Ban Of Bottom Fishing

Anglers and charter captains remain dumbfounded by study findings.

Nick Carter | June 23, 2009

The good news first: An interim, 6-month ban on red-snapper fishing on the Atlantic coast from North Carolina to Florida has been put off. Originally slated to begin as early as June, the closure has been pushed back, possibly as late as October, as the measure is reviewed.

The bad news: You better catch your snapper and grouper now. The South Atlantic Fishery Management Council (SAFMC) is taking a serious look at banning bottom fishing.

The initial request to initiate the ban on red-snapper fishing, for six months with a potential 6-month extension, was intended as a stop-gap measure to bring SAFMC into accordance with the federal Magnuson-Stevens Act, which requires overfishing of any species be stopped within a year of determining the species is overfished. The determination that red snapper are overfished is based on a federally commissioned 2008 stock assessment, and the findings of that study are adamantly disputed by anglers who say there are currently more red snapper than ever in the study area.

Angler success versus the study results was a hot topic at the June SAFMC public-comment meeting on the interim ban. More than 85 people showed up, and many of them decried the negative economic and social impact of such a closure which anglers claim is based on flawed data.

However, it appears SAFMC may go a step further than just a red-snapper ban. Because of high rates of mortality of caught-and-released red snapper found in the same stock assessment, SAFMC is considering a ban on grouper and snapper fishing, claiming red snapper are facing excessive mortality as bycatch for fishermen pursuing other species.

This measure would target productive red-snapper fishing areas for closure to bottom fishing, according to an SAFMC press release. The size and configuration of these areas vary in the different alternatives, but they mainly include areas in South Carolina, Georgia and Florida. The plan for these closures will be discussed at a Sept. 14-18 meeting of the SAFMC in Charleston, S.C. Following that meeting public comment will be accepted.

At presstime, there was a plan for continued public comment on the interim closure of red-snapper fishing. Dates and contact information had not yet been released.

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