ORLANDO, Fla. (AP) — Fishermen will be prohibited indefinitely from catching red snapper in federal waters from North Carolina down to the Florida Keys under a measure passed by a federal fisheries management council Wednesday.
The ban passed 9-4 by the South Atlantic Fishery Management Council also prohibits the fishing of other snapper and grouper species in a nearly 5,000-square-mile zone off the coasts of Georgia and Florida.
Supporters of the ban hope it will eventually restore the red snapper’s population over the next three decades.
Opponents, though, doubt studies showing that the population is overfished and said Florida fishermen already have been squeezed by restrictions in the Gulf of Mexico due to the BP oil spill.
Wednesday’s vote extends for an undetermined time an interim red snapper ban that was to expire in December.
Opponents said the council at least should have waited to pass the measure until December, when there will be a new red snapper population count. The new survey will help the council determine how long the new ban should last. The terms of the new ban also could be tweaked once the new population survey is released, a scenario that creates uncertainty for fisherman who are now planning how to adjust.
"It’s hard to have a business plan and decide how you’re going to work, how you’re going to make your boat payments, how you’re going to make your house payments when the rules keep changing," said Charles Phillips, a seafood wholesaler from Georgia who also is a council member. "It’s hard on everybody."
The ban prohibits fishing red snapper in an area of the Atlantic stretching from North Carolina to Florida. Fishing other snapper-grouper species also would be banned in depths of 98 to 240 feet in a nearly 5,000-square-mile zone of ocean stretching from an area in Georgia about 15 miles north of Fernandina Beach, Fla., down to around Melbourne, Fla.
Supporters of the ban said fishermen often catch red snapper accidentally in this area when fishing for the other species. Council members reduced the size of this zone by about 1,300-square-miles before the vote.
The ban will take effect later in the year after it is reviewed by the National Marine Fisheries Service and then U.S. Commerce Secretary Gary Locke.
Short-term hardships faced by fishermen will be offset by the health of the red snapper population, which will benefit fisherman down the road, supporters said.
"There’s nothing that has had a larger impact on the fishing community than this," said Charles Duane Harris, the council’s chairman. "People think we don’t care but we do care. We care tremendously."