Florida Keys News
Sunday, February 24, 2013
Online fishery meeting Monday
Anglers hoping for Keys-specific rules

Federal fishery managers will hold a meeting via the Internet on Monday to discuss implementing Monroe County, or possibly South Florida, specific rules.

Florida Keys anglers have long argued there need to be Keys-specific fishing rules, as they are regulated by differing fishing laws from four separate governmental agencies.

Keys fishermen fall under the jurisdiction of the Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission (FWC) in state waters, the South Atlantic Council in federal waters of the Atlantic Ocean, and the Gulf of Mexico Fishery Management Council in the federal waters of the Gulf.

The Florida Keys National Marine Sanctuary's main function is not the implementation of fishing rules, but it has set aside no-fishing areas that anglers have to abide by.

The agencies are not always consistent with their rules. For example, a seasonal ban on keeping grouper runs from Jan. 1 to May 1 in the Atlantic, but only February and March in the Gulf of Mexico and state waters.

"If you are fishing on one side of U.S. 1 you have one set of rules, but if you are fishing on the other, you have another," Keys angler and charter boat operator Andy Griffiths said. "There is no consistency."

Anglers have also argued that the jurisdictions for both South Atlantic and Gulf of Mexico fishery management councils encompass too much area and that has led to questionable fishing rules and seasonal closures being established, which in some cases led to fishermen off North Carolina being given favorable treatment, Griffiths said.

The South Atlantic council's jurisdiction runs from the Florida Keys to North Carolina and the Gulf Council's jurisdiction runs from Texas to the Keys.

The size of the councils' jurisdictions has been a major point of contention among fishermen and was at the center of the debate over the annual grouper ban, which Keys anglers say favors fishermen north of Florida. The ban runs during the height of tourism season in the Keys, but ends at the start of tourism season in North and South Carolina, Griffiths said.

"On our opening day of tourist season (Jan. 1) it is totally closed out, but on their opening day (May 1) it's wide-open," Griffiths said. "They (the council) could have just lowered the bag limit, but they didn't."

Monday's meetings comes more than two years after South Atlantic and Gulf council members discussed the idea in a joint meeting in Key West. The agencies have been busy setting up annual catch limits and other rules tied to the 2006 reauthorization of the federal Magnuson-Stevens Act and have not had a chance to meet and discuss Keys- or South Florida-specific rules, South Atlantic spokeswoman Kim Iverson said.

"The intent is to simplify things, streamline management and resolve overlapping issues," Iverson said. "The Keys are a very small area with a high concentration of both commercial and recreational pressure."

The meeting will be from 12:30 to 4 p.m. Monday. The direct link to the committee and webinar information can be found on the South Atlantic's website at www.safmc.net/Meetings/CommitteeMeetings/tabid/764/Default.aspx.

tohara@keysnews.com

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