Federal fishery managers said Monday that they are holding off on implementing a ban on the commercial harvest of yellowtail snapper that was supposed to go into effect today.
The National Marine Fisheries Service announced last month that commercial fishermen in the Atlantic Ocean were close to reaching the annual quota for the fish, and that the fishery would be closed from Sept. 11 through Jan. 1.
However, the Fisheries Service's Southeastern Science Center in Miami reviewed yellowtail commercial landings data last week and found that there is more yellowtail than previously believed, and commercial fishing can continue, said Roy Crabtree of the National Marine Fisheries Service. The recreational harvest was never in jeopardy.
Crabtree told The Citizen on Monday he hopes to know by the end of the week how long the fishery will remain open, he said.
"There are more fish than we initially thought," Crabtree said. "How much more? I don't know."
The catch limit for the South Atlantic is 1.1 million pounds, according to Kim Amendola, National Marine Fisheries Services spokeswoman.
The Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission's Florida Marine Research Institute released a stock assessment for yellowtail two weeks ago that found 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 South Atlantic Fishery Management Council meets this week in Charleston, S.C., and will discuss increasing the annual yellowtail catch limit as a result of the FWC study, Crabtree said. However, increasing the annual catch limit could take months to accomplish.
This is the first time fisheries managers have proposed early closure of the commercial yellowtail fishery.
This is also the first year annual catch limits have been set for yellowtail snapper by both the South Atlantic and Gulf of Mexico Fishery Management councils. About 60 percent of the annual catch limit for the Gulf of Mexico has been harvested, said Crabtree, who serves on both councils.
"They were too precautionary when they called for the closure," said Bill Kelly, executive director of the Florida Keys Commercial Fishermen's Association.