Two amendments under consideration at this time by SAFMC are number 16 and 17. Both amendments, if adopted, will curtail and eliminate fishing for members of the grouper and snapper families for the near term and likely will have a major impact on that fishery for the long term. The details of these proposals are available on the SAFMC website, but the fact remains that the offshore fishing communities – both residential and commercial – are about to face some very rough times.
So what does this mean to the weekend angler – the guy who fished maybe once a month for some fresh fish on the table? The vast majority of weekend anglers fish inshore. You may think that all this snapper and grouper hullabaloo will not affect them. If you believe that, you need to think a little harder.
Charter captains and guides who normally take parties offshore stand to loose their businesses to these proposals. The snapper and grouper are a major reason people charter boats to take them offshore. If I were one of them, I would be looking to find other opportunities to take paying anglers out to fish. And that means, in my guess, that they will turn to inshore fishing. Inshore fishing by this definition is inside the three mile federal limit.
Do you see a lot of anglers fishing inshore on the weekends now? I have an awfully painful feeling that you are going to see a whole lot more. Even the weekend recreational anglers who headed offshore for snapper and grouper will be changing tactics to find somewhere they can successfully fish.
Crowded fishing waters are only the tip of the iceberg. Fishing in the US is a 30 billion dollar a year industry. Yes, that’s billion with a “b”. When larger boats don’t head offshore, the entire supporting industry stands to suffer just like the commercial and charter boys. Boats, tackle, bait, accommodations – everyone is going to feel the pain.
I wish I knew a solution. There are arguments on both sides about these proposed changes. Some say bad science is causing knee jerk rules. Some say the overfishing perception is real. I really don’t have a feel for who is right and who is wrong. I only have a feel for who is going to be hurt – and that will be all of us who fish the south Atlantic coast of the US.
My friend Charlie witnessed several instances last week on the Florida Keys of anglers catching and keeping dolphin that were short (less than 20 inches long) and way over the limit in numbers. These folks did not seem to have any concern for conservation of the resource. It’s people like these that break the already strict limit laws that contribute to these probable closures. It’s also people like these that will probably ignore the new rules and bring illegal catches in anyway – snubbing the law. The sad part is that because of the lack of enforcement – the marine patrols are severely understaffed – they will do it with no consequences.
We can do our part by not only obeying the laws, but by reporting what we all will be calling poachers. They are the reason we can’t fish; reporting them is the least we can do. No confrontations are needed. Just write down the boat numbers and call state enforcement folks on your radio. I believe they will be happy to get the tip. It may not be an immediate fix to the problem, but it will make me feel a lot better knowing that they got caught.
We are in this for the long haul, and the long haul is going to be tough. More and more people on the water fishing for the same stock of fish means something had to give. It looks like it just did.