Federal Consideration Of Bottom Fishing Closure Suspended

The Secretary of Commerce has agreed with recommendations of NOAA Fisheries Services and the South Atlantic Fishery Management Council to suspend consideration of the potential large bottom fishing closure in the Southeast. Economic impact information generated by the American Sportfishing Assn. (ASA) in cooperation with the Berkley Conservation Institute (BCI) and Big Rock Sports led to the decision. If not suspended this closure could cost the industry 30% of retail income in the affected region and could eliminate hundreds…perhaps thousands of jobs.

“I believe that two things primarily impacted this decision,” said BCI Director Jim Martin. “First, the Council and NOAA Fisheries heard loud and clear that risking such an economic impact in a time of economic recession was the wrong decision. While we are all committed to the full rebuilding of red snapper in the South Atlantic, closing the entire bottom fishing complex for so long…perhaps over a decade, was going to have a devastating impact on the economy, our jobs and the industry as a whole. We have ASA and Big Rock to thank for doing the exceptional survey of potential economic impacts.

“Secondly, the new stock assessment for South Atlantic red snapper showed what anglers have been saying all along….that the stock was stronger than was originally reflected in previous stock assessments. The good news is that the most recent assessment showed several younger year classes have moved into the catchable population. With the continuation of prohibition on targeting red snapper, it is believed that most of these fish will recruit into spawning populations to help rebuild red snapper to levels without the drastic measure of closing all bottom fishing.”

It will still take many years to fully rebuild red snapper, even with the prohibition on target fishing this species. Once this happens, a sustained yield of many times the current catch is expected if management is careful not to overfish red snapper.

There is still the issue of the incidental mortality of red snapper that are caught in recreational fishing, and are brought to the surface and released. Pure Fishing is working with ASA and others to examine techniques to resubmerge these fish back to the depth that they were caught before releasing them.

Added Martin, “In the short term, an economic disaster has been avoided by the wise decision by the Secretary of Commerce. The longer term good news is we expect to be able to rebuild South Atlantic red snapper without having to close the whole bottom fishing complex.”