Florida Keys News
Thursday, April 14, 2011
Feds seek input on proposed lobster rules

Federal regulators are considering new Florida spiny lobster rules that would limit commercial harvesting amounts and locations and dictate what color line fishermen can use.

The South Atlantic Fishery Management Council is considering limiting the annual harvest -- for the first time ever -- to 7.9 million pounds, with 5.6 million pounds allocated to commercial fishermen.

The Florida Keys Commercial Fishermen Association "can live with" the proposed catch limits, but still thinks there should be no limits because the Keys population is not isolated or finite, Executive Director Bill Kelly said.

Because lobster larvae travel in ocean currents from Cuba, Mexico and other Caribbean countries, local harvesting has little impact on the fishery's long-term health, Kelly argued.

Fishermen have launched a statewide effort to lobby federal legislators either to exempt lobster from the Magnuson-Stevens Fishery Conservation and Management Act, which requires regulators to set annual catch limits for all commercially harvested fish species by the end of December, or to allow the state to write its own lobster rules.

The South Atlantic council also is considering banning lobster traps in 25 areas of the Atlantic Ocean to protect staghorn and elkhorn corals, whose population declines prompted the federal government to list them on the Endangered Species List in 2006.

A third proposal would assign a specific color line for each fishery so regulators can determine what type of fishing gear is snaring or destroying corals and entangling fish, turtles and marine mammals. Kelly argued that regulators' own studies have found that only two sawfish and 10 turtles, eight of which were successfully released, have been entangled in trap line.

Replacing a total of 8,267 miles of lobster trap line would cost a combined $12.3 million, Kelly said.

"This has the potential to create a tremendous financial hardship," said Kelly, who is lobbying to have the replacement phased in over several years to ease the burden.

In an unrelated rule, the South Atlantic council is considering maintaining the cobia bag limit of two fish per angler per day, according to the latest proposal.

The South Atlantic will take a formal vote on both rules in Key West in June.


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