The NOAA Fisheries Service has eliminated the 240-foot (40-fathom) snapper-grouper prohibition in South Atlantic federal waters. This Draconian prohibition made illegal the possession of six deepwater snapper-grouper species (snowy grouper, blueline tilefish, yellowedge grouper, misty grouper, queen snapper, and silk snapper) in or from the South Atlantic federal waters in water deeper than 240 feet.
This rule was put into effect in the first place to reduce bycatch of speckled hind and warsaw grouper. But fishermen protested the rule as being overly burdensome to charter boats, private fishermen, tackle stores and the commercial fleet along the South Atlantic coast. When Dr. Jane Lubchenco, the NOAA administrator visited with industry representatives at the Miami boat show last year, she heard a unified message from them; this ban needed to go. Apparently, that message was heard.
In addition to widespread public opposition, a new analysis of landings data indicates that different management measures are likely more effective in protecting speckled hind and warsaw. The South Atlantic Management Council will develop an amendment to further protect speckled hind and warsaw grouper, and that amendment will include the expansion of existing closed areas, and possibly the creation of new ones, so this announcement doesn’t come without at least some pain for anglers. But it is a step in the right direction for which NOAA should be commended. We spoke, they listened, and they acted. Note that it remains unlawful to harvest or possess speckled hind and warsaw grouper.