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The end of fishing? Planned closures mean doomsday for Atlantic bottom fishing.

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For those of you tuning in now, Amendment 17 to the South Atlantic Snapper-Grouper Fishery Management Plan proposes not only the closure of red snapper fishing, but also wholesale closure of bottom fishing in great swaths of productive territories from the Carolinas south to Central Florida.

Amendment 16--banning shallow-water grouper fishing for four months, vermilion snapper fishing from November to March, as well as other measures--is set to begin January 1, 2010. An Interim Rule to close red snapper fishing is in progress toward publication in the Federal Registry and final approval by the Secretary of Commerce, Gary Locke.

Combined, the regulation changes amount to the end of bottom fishing as we know it.

The South Atlantic Fishery Management Council (SAFMC), including Chairman Duane Harris and Dr. Roy Crabtree, who presides over the Council as Regional Administrator for the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Admininstration (NOAA), all contend that the reauthorized Magnuson-Stevens Act is forcing their hand. If that is the case, then the best course of action for all concerned anglers would be to call their representatives in Congress and the Senate and tell them to support the federal bill H.R. 1584, the Flexibility in Rebuilding American Fisheries Act. The amended law would buy time to rebuild these fisheries by forcing NOAA to take into account a host of factors, including vital recreational opportunities and an industry supporting many thousands of peoples' livelihoods.

At June meetings, the Council reviewed an estimate of the financial loss that would be caused by Amendment 15A, Amendment 16 and the red snapper closure: $62,219,575 in direct surplus value to citizens and charter operators. That sum, reflecting data that the lead analyst admitted was outdated and erroneous, is a drop in the bucket compared to the total revenue generated by fishing in trip fees, tackle costs, hotel, travel, food and other expenses.

Dennis O'Hern of the Fishing Rights Alliance advanced a more believable estimate: $2 billion a year in lost revenues from proposed closures.

If, like me, you can't imagine how it makes any sense in these desperately hard economic times to put more people out of work unjustifiably, then ask your elected politicians that very question.

We did, and here is what they said: Bryan Gulley, spokesperson for U.S. Senator Bill Nelson, said, "Senator Nelson shares the concerns of recreational and commercial fishermen about the scientific data and economic analysis being used to manage the South Atlantic red snapper fishery. That's why he and Sen. Mel Martinez wrote to NMFS in March to urge the agency to come up with a sensible long-term management plan rather than relying on drastic and short-term actions that hurt anglers."

People may also wonder where Florida Governor Charlie Crist stands on the critical closures. Crist's spokesperson, Sterling Ivey, said, "We are currently reviewing the NOAA ruling and the effect it may have in Florida."

Crist plans to run for Sen. Martinez' seat next year. Martinez, who will not run again, had no comment.

The politicians need to hear your questions, your concerns, and your outrage.

For more than a year, the underpinning document of the red snapper stock assessment, known as SEDAR 15, has been shot full of holes by routine amateur analysis, by professional review, and importantly, by documented experience of countless anglers. But the more the science gets criticized, the more the Council defends it.

One of the sharpest shots to SEDAR 15 came at the June meetings in a report by Dr. Frank Hester. A former veteran government fisheries expert, Hester concluded that SEDAR 15 used insufficient and even erroneous catch data to produce an unreliable model and conclusions about the red snapper stocks.

Perhaps most damning of all was Hester's observation that the statistical model failed to run any outcomes using a domed selectivity component, meaning that as snapper age, they become less available to catch.

Latest info on developments in the South Atlantic and Gulf fisheries will be available at floridasportsman.com and in the September FS issue.

The SEDAR model assumed that red snapper were consistently available throughout their lifetime, which could explain why the model indicates that older red snapper are lacking in the general population.

Crabtree of NOAA stated that a forthcoming review "will not necessarily change the timing of either the Interim Rule or Amendment 17."

A handful of active anglers and marine industry business owners, and fishing-rights groups including Fishing Rights Alliance (FRA), Recreational Fishing Alliance (RFA) and the Southeastern Fisheries Association (SFA), are rallying hard to stop these closures and protect the rights of anglers. Despite their best efforts, and the critical work of Dr. Hester and other scientists, the SAFMC has shown no signs that it's ready to admit failure with its SEDAR assessment.

For more updates on this vital subject, visit www.floridasportsman.com.
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Title Annotation:On the Conservation Front: News and commentary from the environmental battlegrounds
Author:Conway, David
Publication:Florida Sportsman
Geographic Code:1U5FL
Date:Aug 1, 2009
Words:805
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