It will soon be harder to find a fresh fillet of yellowtail snapper at your favorite restaurant or market, as federal fishery managers will stop commercial catch of the fish on Sept. 11.
The National Marine Fisheries Service announced Wednesday that fishermen in the Atlantic Ocean are close to reaching the annual quota for the fish. The commercially fishery will reopen Jan. 1.
However, recreational anglers can still catch and keep yellowtail.
The closure is only in waters governed by the South Atlantic Fishery Management Council.
Fishermen can still catch yellowtail in waters governed by the Gulf of Mexico Fishery Management Council, which includes the Dry Tortugas west of Fort Jefferson. The fishery is still open in Florida state waters, which run three miles offshore in the Atlantic Ocean.
However, the commercial quota in the Gulf of Mexico is about 60 percent met and that fishery could be shut down before the end of the year, said Roy Crabtree, a regional administrator for National Marine Fisheries Service and member of both fishing councils.
This is the first time the yellowtail commercial fishery has been closed in the waters.
This is also the first year annual catch limits have been set for yellowtail snapper by both the Gulf of Mexico and South Atlantic councils. The catch limit for the South Atlantic is 1.1 million pounds, according to Kim Amendola, National Marine Fisheries Services spokeswoman.
However, the Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission's Florida Marine Research Institute released a stock assessment for yellowtail this week has determined the stocks are healthy and not in jeopardy of being overfished.
The report, which has been independently reviewed by three scientists, states that the yellowtail fishery is in "good shape, not being overfished and is still at a sustainable level," said Luiz Barbieri, a senior research scientist who oversaw the review.
The study could lead to the South Atlantic Council agreeing to increase the annual catch limit and reopening the fishery later this fall, Crabtree said.
The council will meet next week in Charleston, S.C., and discuss the issue, he said.
"We will talk about all of this," Crabtree said. "I am sure we will talk about adjusting the catch limit and about how quickly it can get done."
Barbieri will attend the meeting and provide information. The council's Science and Statistical Committee will have to address it, but the committee is not scheduled to meet until October. There is discussion about having the committee hold an emergency meeting prior to October, said Bill Kelly, executive director of the Florida Keys Commercial Fishermen's Association.
"We are all scrambling to make this happen as soon as possible," Barbieri said.
Yellowtail is one of the main and most profitable fin fisheries in the Florida Keys.
The snappers congregate in large numbers along various coral reefs throughout the Keys, which make up 90 percent of the yellowtail snapper commercial fishery in Florida, Kelly said.
Kelly was concerned that the Fisheries Service did not have all the data before it set the annual catch limit for yellowtail snapper.
"Obviously, it (the closure) is a serious concern to all of us," Kelly said. "We have a substantial number of fishermen who solely fish for yellowtail year-round. You have fishermen who will not be able to provide for their families for several months."