Longline grouper fishing could face more restrictions

By Kate Spinner
http://www.heraldtribune.com/article/20090616/BREAKING/906169942

Published: Tuesday, June 16, 2009 at 1:29 p.m.
Last Modified: Tuesday, June 16, 2009 at 1:29 p.m.
 
Longline fishing for red grouper will likely be limited to very few individuals in the future, the result of tightening regulations meant to save Loggerhead sea turtles from extinction.
The Gulf of Mexico Fishery Management Council is considering new laws that would combine seasonal restrictions on longline grouper fishing and a gradual reduction in the number of fleets that will be allowed to operate, proposals fishing industry leaders call "premature and unjustified."
 
The council votes tomorrow on whether to recommend the new rules to the National Marine Fisheries Service, which could make a final decision within several months. The rules under consideration today and tomorrow would prohibit longline fishing in waters 210 feet or shallower between June and August, a compromise made in April between environmental groups and the fishing industry.
 
But advocates for sea turtle conservation now are not sure whether the regulations proposed will do enough to protect the turtles. A federal observer on a longline boat recorded the deaths of five loggerhead turtles in April this year, indicating that a longer seasonal closure may be necessary.
 
"If we had known that it might have influenced our decisions," said Jessica Koelsch, Florida marine wildlife program manager for the Ocean Conservancy. Scientists will report to the council today on whether the recent deaths, called takes, have any bearing on whether the recommended rules go far enough.
 
A temporary ban on longline fishing for shallow water grouper has been in place since May, following research in 2006 and 2007 that indicated longline fleets were catching turtles at a pace at least eight time higher than regulators had assumed.
 
The temporary ban already is taking a toll on fishermen, said Glen Brooks, who manages a fleet of six boats out of A.P. Bell Fish Company in Cortez. The fleets had to put away their longlines and switch to vertical fishing gear, rod and reel. He said his fleet’s grouper landings have dropped 75 percent, barely enough for some fishermen to break even on expenses. Others are losing money.
 
In an average year, a captain of a longline grouper fishing vessel nets about $45,000 to $50,000 a year, after expenses, Brooks said.
 
"There’s a very large learning curve. I’m hoping eventually they’ll get the hang of it," Brooks said, adding that he would be happy to see half his fishermen adapt to the changes.


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Published in: on June 16, 2009 at 2:46 pm  Leave a Comment  

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