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SAFMC Adds Still More Rules

July 29, 2008

By JIM SUTTON

Reasonably intelligent people have been trying to follow the saga of the South Atlantic Fishery Management Council’s quest to protect offshore bottom-fish species for quite a while – with little or no luck. It’s like a regulatory chameleon, changing colors against backdrops of “new” scientific data. But it’s always looking to swallow the recreational bottom-fishing fly as it crawls forward.

The SAFMC met in Orlando in June to OK sweeping changes to their rules. The whole mess was called Amendment 16 (and I’m not even getting into the ramifications of Amendment 17 on bottom fishing).

While it’s complicated, here are the high points: It would close gag grouper in the South Atlantic from January through April and decrease bag limits during that time the season is open. It mandates the use of venting tools and non-offset, non-stainless steel circle hooks when using dead or live natural baits (no problem here). It creates a no-possession bag limit for captains and crews of charter boats. And it sets up an eight-month closed season for vermillion snapper and reduces the bag limit from 10 to four fish.

At the Orlando meeting, the SAFMC backed off Amendment 16, saying it needed more time to study new data. Perhaps the heavy opposition by charter boat operators and recreational anglers made these monarchial management folks think twice.

Then they came up with a new plan – that added new management alternatives to the original amendment, rather than taking any away. Among them:

– A totally closed season from February through April for gag, black, red, scamp, yellowmouth, tiger, yellowfin, red hind, rock hind, grasby and coney grouper.

– A May 1 fishing year start date for commercial vermillion snapper and with a 1,000-pound trip limit (while setting a four- fish limit for recreational anglers).

– A June-through-December closure of these same species south of the Miami-Dade/Monroe County line. And a total year-round closure of gag grouper south of the Miami-Dade/Monroe County line. Fishing for the other species mentioned above would be allowed, but only from Jan. 1 through May 31.

The last time this issue came up, it caught many of us unaware. This time, we have the time and the means to comment on these alternatives before the SAFMC meets.

One of the three meetings is scheduled for 3-7 p.m. on Thursday, Aug. 7 at the Hyatt Regency Riverfront, 225 Coast Line Drive East, in Jacksonville. In addition, you can comment online until 5 p.m. on Aug. 15.

Copies of the amendment documents are at www.safmc.net. E-mail comments to SGAmend16 SecondPH@samfc.net.

Written responses can be mailed to Bob Mahood, SAFMC, 4055 Faber Place Drive, Suite 210, Charleston, S.C. 29405.jim.sutton@jacksonville.com, (904) 359-4215

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