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Date of Issue: November 24, 2005

Month's ban on grouper proposed

A one-month ban on recreational grouper fishing in federal waters has been proposed by the Gulf fishery advisory council, running closely with the commercial ban.

Commercial grouper fishing is prohibited for a month in the early spring, and the sport fishing shutdown would be nearly the same - Feb. 15 to March 15, peak of the spawning season. It would apply to federal waters, starting nine miles offshore.

It follows by two weeks a federal judge's ruling against a ban on grouper fishing, and sports fishermen are up in arms.

But "I don't see what their problem is," said Karen Bell of Cortez, member of the Gulf of Mexico Fishery Management Council, which imposed the one-month closure.

"If they want fish, and everyone does including me, the fishery has to be managed to keep stocks in place," plentiful enough to permit harvest by fishermen.

The slow pace of getting through the regulatory process probably means the ban wouldn't take place until 2007. It will be implemented by the National Marine Fisheries Service.

Red grouper already is closed in federal waters until the end of the year by decree issued in August by the federal government. The reds are deep-water fish normally found more than nine miles offshore, while gag and black grouper thrive in shallower inshore waters.

"We will fight this decision," Ted Forsgren is quoted as telling the St. Petersburg Times. He is executive director of the Florida Chapter of the Coastal Conservation Association, the state's largest sport fishing lobby.

"It makes no sense to me. The decision is completely uncalled for."

That's about what U.S. District judge John E. Steel said Oct. 31 in his ruling that the Martime Fisheries plan at that time to shut down all recreational grouper fishing: "It is arbitrary and capricious" and "an abuse of discretion" by the agency.