NOAA’S Saltwater Fishery Management Council held a recent public hearing in Jacksonville Florida concerning recent and proposed fish closures. Will they listen to our fishermen?
Hundreds of fishermen showed up recently for a meeting held by NOAA’s Saltwater Fishery Management Council held at Jacksonville’s Marriott Hotel on Salisbury Road. The open hearing was fueled by the recent black sea bass closure for the South Atlantic Fishery which began February 12th and reopens on June 1st.
“The black sea bass closure may put some of our local charter boat captain’s out of business,” Jim Sutton said. “With the recent closure for both gag grouper and red snapper off from Jacksonville, taking away the black sea bass, gives perspective deep water charter fishermen few reasons for booking a deep water charter fishing trip.”
Jim Sutton is the outdoor writer for the local newspaper, the Florida Times-Union.
Where bottom species are concerned, including red snapper, grouper, and sea bass, you have to think about party boat fishing. Northeast Florida is well known for its excellent bottom fishing and don’t think for one moment that stocks of sea bass, grouper, and red snapper are depleted in these fertile fishing waters. Several party boats showcase Northeast Florida bottom fishing from the St. Mary’s inlet to Daytona Beach. The Heavy Hitter operates out of Fernandina Beach. Two party fishing boats operate from Mayport, Florida including the Mayport Princess and the Majestic. The Sea Love takes party boat fishermen out of St. Augustine, Florida while the Sea Spirit and Critter party fishing boats operate from Daytona Beach, Florida.
“We hope all of these fish bans don’t discourage fishermen from booking a day of fishing aboard our Mayport Princess,” Becky Hogan said. “During the winter fishing season we actually do a lot of corporate fishing charters where our guests simply enjoy catch and release fishing. And for those fishermen that still wish to take fish filets home to eat, we can still keep flounder, amberjack, cobia, mangrove snapper, and sharp nosed sharks. In fact a lot of our fishermen will keep the small reef sharks as they do offer excellent table fare.”
“Last summer we enjoyed an increase in party boat fishing, which was mainly due to our excellent grouper fishing and the Gulf of Mexico oil spill. Captain George Strait has just re-painted the Mayport Princess, it actually looks much better than it did when it was brand new back in 1998. We are very skeptical that we will enjoy still enjoy excellent party boat fishing during the upcoming year, even with the fish closures.”
Certainly with our dragging economy, party boat fishing is still the most reasonable way to enjoy a day of deep sea fishing. The fee for a nine-hour drift fishing trip aboard Captain George Strait’s Mayport Princess is $80.00 per fisherman. For more information, visit http://www.mayportprincessfishing.com.
I fished aboard the Mayport Princess with captain George Strait this past fall and the well known and seasoned party boat captain talked about his past and future.
“Terry, we are experiencing some of the best red snapper fishing that we have enjoyed in several years,” Captain Strait said. “It simply does not make good sense that NOAA has shut down our red snapper fishery. The current red snapper regulations are working where we were catching red snapper of all age groups before the closure. This is a definite sign that our red snapper fishery off from Jacksonville, Florida is extremely healthy. Just before the closure took effect, our drift fishing party limited out with keeper size red snapper within a few hours of bottom fishing.”
Captain Allen Mills operates AC Charters from the Fernandina Harbor Marina, Amelia Island, Florida and is questioning why NOAA has shut down virtually all of his bottom fishing during his winter fishing season.
“It just does not make good sense that our government has shut down all of our bottom fishing and at the same time,” Captain Mills said. “You would think that NOAA would stagger the closures, so that we could at least keep one or more species of bottom fish during the entire fishing season. Further more, just the other day I had a deep sea charter that caught their limit of black sea bass in a very short period of time. I still believe that NOAA is using the wrong data while determining when certain species of saltwater game fish are over-fished. My customers’ baited hooks are telling me that bottom fishing is better than it has ever been for grouper, red snapper, and black sea bass.”
Many recreational, charter captains, and commercial fishermen are questioning methods taken by NOAA to determine fish stocks. Apparently traditional phone surveys are not working.
“As a Jacksonville Charter Captain, I am frequently called and asked to help with a phone survey,” Captain Terry Sturgeon said. “In many cases charter captains like myself are asked how many trips we made during a certain time period and more importantly, what we caught. While I mainly target redfish, I will typically report the number and size redfish that we landed. Other local Jacksonville charter captains that often target one species of game fish, will only report that particularly species of game fish. So here is the problem, you may have a very healthy stock of area game fish that no one is targeting. Our government receives the data where very few game fish of one species is not being harvested and right away determines that the species is over-fished!”
“We all know there are plenty of sea bass, grouper and red snapper, the fishery is as good as it gets. A major problem lies in the way that NOAA is using the wrong “Data” when determining our current stocks of game fish.”
Ted Forsgren is president of the Florida’s Coastal Conservation Association (CCA) that formed in 1984.
“A major problem lies in that our association, CCA and other similar associations, just do not have the money it takes to fight NOAA and stand up for our fisherman’s rights,” Forsgren said. “Environmental groups such as Pew and the Sam Walton Foundation are funding huge amounts of money in supporting current fish closures. Unfortunately there are groups of people that have one goal, and that is to stop us from enjoying what our forefathers have passed on to us from one generation to the next and that’s “Fishing”.
For the average fisherman, understanding all that is taking place and how NOAA is planning to manage future stocks of game fish in the South Atlantic Fishery can be totally confusing to say the least. For example, during the Jacksonville SAFMC Public Hearing, guests were handed information packets on each subject. Amendment 24, “The Snapper, Grouper Fishery Management Plan of the South Atlantic Region” contained upwards of 100 pages of information, which mainly identified goals and action.
Many of the fishermen that participated in the public hearing voiced their concerns that the National Oceanic Atmospheric Administration is simply developing their own agenda and reasoning for fish closures.
Add to the fire NOAA’S Comprehensive Annual Catch Limit (ACL) Amendment pamphlet for the South Atlantic Region which contains seventy-seven pages of fishery management that now includes wahoo and dolphin. That’s right, NOAA now has plans on managing dolphin that grow up to twenty pounds in a year and are by far the best reproducing game fish in the South Atlantic Fishery!
A major concern with many fishermen lies in the fact that over fishing is taking the blame for natural and manmade induced problems. Include the Gulf Coast red tides that reduced the stocks of grouper and snapper and coastal pollution caused by waterfront developments.
I have personally witnessed seagrass beds simply eliminated by coastal development where fertilizers and septic tank runoffs were the culprit. Waterfront homes should be on a sewage system instead of allowing their waste to drain into nearby marsh creeks and bays.
Angler magazine, March 2011
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