Florida Keys News
Thursday, May 23, 2013
Group talks about closing spawning area

A Florida Keys National Marine Sanctuary committee will discuss closing down fishing in Western Dry Rocks reef when it meets in Marathon today.

The Sanctuary's Ecosystem Protection Working Group is working on recommendations for possible sanctuary rule changes. The sanctuary is currently reviewing its management plan and rules.

Lower Keys spear fisherman Don DeMaria has proposed shutting down the reef, as it is one of only two major snapper spawning areas off the continental United States, he said. The other major spawning area is Riley's Hump in the Tortugas Ecological Reserve, which was closed to fishing in 2001.

Both reserves produce mutton snapper that migrate throughout the Florida Keys and Florida, said DeMaria, a member of the South Atlantic Fishery Management Council's Snapper Grouper Advisory Panel.

Last year, members of the Snapper Grouper Advisory Panel recommended the council "consider" making Western Dry Rocks a closed spawning area -- or at least implement a seasonal closure during the spawn.

A June 2012 report from South Atlantic's Law Enforcement Committee states that most of the mutton spawn fishing occurs at Western Dry Rocks and Eyeglass Bar, also off Key West.

DeMaria contends the area is also home to breeding populations of black grouper, permits and other fish.

"It's a multispecies area," he said. "It needs to be protected."

Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission (FWC) biologist Danielle Morley will give a presentation at the sanctuary's working group meeting on "how spawning aggregations fit into the working group concept of ecosystem protection," the agenda states.

The working group meets at 9:30 a.m. at the Marathon Garden Club, Mile Marker 50.

tohara@keysnews.com

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