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NOAA surveying on crab rule

A federal agency is collecting public comment on a proposed rule to repeal the fishery management plan for stone crab in the Gulf of Mexico.

The National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration published the rule in the Federal Register July 20, opening a public comment period that continues through Aug. 19.

The rule mostly impacts Florida commercial stone crab fishers. The federal management plan, setting U.S. government quotas for crabbers, was implemented in 1979 to respond to competing gear use between stone crabbers and shrimpers, and only applies to federal Gulf of Mexico waters, not Florida waters.

In reviewing federal rules, NOAA’s fisheries service and the Gulf of Mexico Fishery Management Council examined the need for the federal stone crab management plan.

The conclusion the agencies reached was that regulation is adequately managed by the state. Florida law forbids the taking of whole stone crabs. Crabbers are allowed to take claws at least 2 3/4 inches long and are required to return stone crabs safely to the water. The stone crab can regenerate its claws three to four times.

“NOAA Fisheries Service is considering action that would repeal the stone crab FMP and allow the Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission to exclusively manage the stone crab fishery in adjacent federal waters beginning with the 2011-12 season,” read a press statement from the federal agency.

The stone crab season opens in Florida Oct. 15.

The action, according to NOAA, would promote management of the stone crab fishery in the most efficient manner, while maintaining conservation of the resource and the ecosystem.

Comments about the proposed rule to repeal the federal stone crab plan can be submitted to www.regulations.gov. On the website, click on “submit a comment” and then enter “NOAA-NMFS-2011-0140” in the keyword search and click on “search.”

      To mail comments, write to Susan Gerhart, Southeast Regional Office, NOAA Fisheries Service, 263 13th Ave. S., St. Petersburg, FL 33701.

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