Coastal Conservation Association (CCA) applauds aprecedent-setting decision by the Gulf of Mexico Fishery ManagementCouncil (GMFMC) to deny the creation of two arbitrary no-fishingzones in the Gulf of Mexico.
The resolution allows recreational anglers to continue to trollfor coastal pelagic species on the surface while restricting bottomfishing for stressed gag grouper stocks in the Madison-Swanson andSteamboat Lumps areas, off the Florida coast.
“We are very pleased that the Council based its decision on thescience,” said Fred Miller, chairman of CCA’s National GovernmentRelations Committee. “This is the conservation measure we had inmind when CCA first offered its support of closed areas for gaggrouper stocks in 1999.
The process was much more difficult than it needed to be, butthe Council did the right thing. The end result is sound managementof the resource based on science, without an arbitrary closure totrolling.”
In 1999, it was determined that the Madison-Swanson andSteamboat Lumps areas are home to significant spawning aggregationsof gag grouper. CCA supported the initial proposal to close theareas to all bottom fishing to recover those stocks.
However, when the proposal expanded to include banning allfishing in the two areas, CCA filed suit in federal district court,arguing that preventing fishing for unrelated and healthy fishstocks in the mid- to upper-levels of the water column wasunnecessary to conserve gag grouper residing on the bottom, 200 to400 feet below the surface. In a settlement agreement between CCAand the National Marine Fisheries Service (NMFS) reached in 2001,NMFS agreed not to ban trolling for coastal pelagics in the closedareas until research could determine if it was possible forrecreational fishermen trolling on the surface for mackerel, wahooand other species to catch gag grouper.
The research, conducted by NMFS in June 2003, clearlydemonstrated that it is virtually impossible to do so, providingthe scientific basis for the Council to deny the implementation ofthe blanket no-fishing zones.
“We have contended all along that surface trolling in thereserves would not impact spawning gag grouper,” said AlexJernigan, chairman of CCA’s Gulf of Mexico Fishery Committee. “Thisdecision is a good compromise and it shows that the Council isadhering to the original intention to create the reserves for gaggrouper while allowing non-harmful recreational trolling.”
The Council’s decision will maintain a total ban on bottomfishing in the two areas, allow surface trolling from May toNovember and close the areas to all fishing during the wintermonths when gag grouper gather there to spawn.
The Council also adopted CCA’s recommendation to provide anadditional conservation measure by prohibiting the possession ofany reef fish while in the Madison-Swanson and Steamboat Lumpsareas.
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