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Date of Issue: May 06, 2009

Commercial red grouper catch effectively ends May 18

Longline fishing for red grouper will effectively end for six months May 18 in the wake of a National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration Fisheries Service ban of catch in less than 300 feet of water in the eastern Gulf of Mexico.

The rule changes current prohibitions to waters less than 120 feet.

Red grouper are arguably the most prized of grouper and don’t seem to live in the deeper waters.

Karen Bell of Bell Fish Co. in Cortez said that about 25 longline boats — those that run long lines of baited hooks to catch the big fish — will effectively be put out of business. The boats employ a total of about 100 fishers.

“The Gulf of Mexico Fishery Management Council requested this emergency rule after a NOAA observer study documented the reef fish longline fleet was incidentally catching and killing too many loggerhead sea turtles,” according to a council report.

“Most shallow-water grouper fishing occurs within the 50-fathom contour off the west Florida shelf, an important sea turtle feeding area, where most of the incidental sea turtle by-catches occur,” the council report continued.

NOAA Fisheries Service administrator Roy Crabtree said the group hopes to work out solutions to the turtle-longline interaction during the 180-day ban.

“We are working closely with the council and constituents to find more permanent solutions to protect sea turtles affected by this fishing gear,” he said. “I hope we can identify options that not only provide sea turtles the protection they need, but minimize the economic affects to the fishing industry.”

“We’re going to fight this,” Bell said.