Federal fishery managers are seeking the public's input on a plan that would restrict where fishermen can place their spiny lobster traps.
If approved, the plan, which is intended to protect staghorn and elkhorn coral, would have a substantial impact on Florida Keys fishermen, as many of the closed areas are in Keys waters. The plan has been approved by both South Atlantic and Gulf of Mexico fishery management councils, and is now in the hands of the National Marine Fisheries Service.
A total of 60 closed areas covering 5.9 square miles are proposed. The fishery management councils developed the proposal, called Amendment 11, to address requirements of the federal Endangered Species Act. Elkhorn and staghorn corals were listed as threatened on the Endangered Species List in 2006.
The size and location of the closed areas has been a source of debate among fishermen and rule makers. Keys commercial fishermen questioned initial drafts of the zones and the quality of the coral in those zones. Some of the maps depicted healthy elkhorn and staghorn coral in areas consisting of coral rubble, according to fishermen and conservationists. Fishermen argued that fishery managers were using old data, as the coral colonies in those areas were killed two years ago by winter cold snaps.
Federal fishery managers, Florida Keys National Marine Sanctuary officials and Florida Keys Commercial Fishermen's Association members reviewed the initial maps and worked out revisions, with which all sides appeared comfortable.
"Our concern is whether [federal fishery managers] had the right maps," said marine sanctuary Superintendent Sean Morton.
Written comments on the proposed rule must be received no later than June 14 to be considered by the National Marine Fisheries Service. All comments received by the Fisheries Service will be addressed in the final rule, according to federal fishery managers.
Copies of the proposed rule and the amendment may be obtained from the Fisheries Service website at http://sero.nmfs.noaa.gov/sf/SpinyLobsterAmendment.htm.
Comments can be posted online at the federal e-Rulemaking Portal at http://www.regulations.gov.
Comments also can mailed to Susan Gerhart, NOAA Fisheries Service, Southeast Regional Office, Sustainable Fisheries Division, 263 13th Ave. S., St. Petersburg, FL 33701-5505.
Maps of the proposed closed areas can be found online at http://gulfcouncil.org/resources/Spiny_Maps.php.