May 16, 2011
Don't plan on taking home a single east coast grouper on New Year's Day.
For the first time, grouper fishing will be banned on Atlantic waters, for at least four months starting Jan. 1.
Incredibly, federal fishery managers are imposing the grouper closure on an “emergency” basis, with obtuse plans to then either extend it still further or install a confusing tight limit thereafter.
The ban grows out of what many consider to be junk science conjured up by the South Atlantic Fishery Management Council and the National Marine Fisheries Service. The two work in shadowy concert using procedures warped to suit the feds' immediate purposes.
The Council is supposedly advisory in nature. Its actions are by law subject to review and change or rejection by the NMFS. But in this case the two entities are treating the Council's 8-5 closure vote Sept. 18 as final action.
Still, the truth is that NMFS and/or its parent U.S. Commerce Department could stop the coming closure. But don't bet on it.
In fact, when it comes to understanding the federal machinations, don't count on anything.
Grouper fishermen and captains up and down the coast and through the Florida Keys are in angry shock over the closure, which will cost millions of dollars in losses to the economy.
There are unanswered questions galore. Will the grouper closure apply in state waters? (Although not many groupers are caught in state waters, who's to say where a grouper on the cleaning table was caught?)
While many veteran anglers and experts insist that grouper populations are larger now than in two or three decades, the government claims that their own guesstimates from the '60s and earlier indicate there were many more in those old days. No proof of that claim seems necessary.
On the red snapper front, a similar emergency closure was put off in September pending more talks at a December meeting. To its credit the Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission urged the Council to reject the red snapper closure.
The Council meets again Nov. 30-Dec. 5 in Wilmington, N.C.
What may happen is anyone's guess. We predict it will make as little sense as the recent actions.