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4 more Gulf fish may get protection
By Jason Heller, October 29, 2007 @ 02:00 AM (EST)
Source: Nola.com
As the federal government is set to finalize stricter limits on fishing the Gulf of Mexico's popular red snapper, fisheries regulators are under heightened pressure to rebuild at least four other beleaguered Gulf fish stocks in upcoming months. Though not as highly prized as snapper, greater amberjack, gray triggerfish and red and gag grouper have come under increased pressure from commercial and recreational anglers in recent years. A report this summer from the National Marine Fisheries Service made that clear, showing that all four of those species, along with red snapper, are subject to overfishing, meaning the species is being harvested too fast to reach optimal growth in the future. New federal fisheries laws require regulators to set new limits on fishing within a year after a species is subject to overfishing. In response, the Gulf of Mexico Fishery Management Council is meeting this week in Biloxi, Miss., to consider new regulations on amberjack, grouper and triggerfish. The council is not expected to make a final regulation decision for any of the species this week, but will likely lay the groundwork for a determination by January. The new plans for the fish species will be one of the first proving grounds for a new federal fisheries law requiring regulators to monitor how the species is being harvested throughout the rebuilding plan. The law is meant to prevent the delays in management that led to a federal judge intervening on behalf of the red snapper earlier this year. As with most decisions involving sport fishers and commercial fishers, the most friction is likely to develop over which sector gets the greatest share of the catch. One proposal suggests a 71 percent to 29 percent split in favor of recreational anglers. Greater amberjack have become increasingly popular in restaurants over the last decade, sometimes used as a substitute for the more regulated red snapper and redfish. The Gulf council, the regional body that sets fisheries regulations in federal waters off the Gulf Coast, started a rebuilding plan for amberjack in 2003, setting annual catch limits at 2.9 million pounds for both commercial and recreational fishers. But a recent population count for the species showed that the plan is not working, and that the actual harvest of the fish has been about 40 percent higher than expected. To rebuild the species by 2012, as required by law, the Gulf council will need to set new regulations on the species. "We've got about another five years, so we've got to get this reduction in place -- and get it in place pretty quickly," said Roy Crabtree, a regional administrator for the Fisheries Service and also a member of the Gulf council. The amberjack's biology contributes to fast reproduction, meaning that catch limits for the first year will cause a substantial overall population rebound. One of the alternatives being considered would reduce the overall catch limit to 1.9 million pounds for the first year, but gradually ease the restrictions as the fish population grows toward 2012.

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