Holly Binns, manager for the Pew Environment Group's Campaign to End Overfishing in the Southeast, issued this statement today:
"This is a critical time for many imperiled fish species in the South Atlantic region and the Council has taken a much-needed step to put nine species of snapper and grouper on the road to recovery. Amendment 17-B protects Warsaw grouper and speckled hind, which are critically endangered and snowy grouper, which is vulnerable to extinction, according to the International Union for Conservation of Nature.
"However, we are disappointed that the Council not only delayed a vote on the long-term plan to save red snapper but also unnecessarily weakened key provisions in the proposed recovery plan. These protections are necessary to reduce the large number of red snapper that are caught unintentionally when fishermen target other species. These red snapper too often do not survive when released back into the water.
"Red snapper are at just three percent of a sustainable population level – a result of overfishing that has continued for decades. This is a species in critical condition and it is past time to find the proper course of treatment. We hope the Council rethinks its strategy and strengthens the red snapper recovery plan when it reconvenes in March and approves measures that will help stop accidental catches. The public deserves a plan that will save this iconic species for the benefit of the ecosystem and future generations – not a weakened measure that caters to short-term thinking and won't get the job done."
The South Atlantic Fishery Management Council voted 8 to 5 on Friday to approve Amendment 17B, which helps end overfishing of nine species, including the critically endangered Warsaw grouper and speckled hind. It also protects snowy grouper, which is vulnerable to extinction, according to the International Union for Conservation of Nature. The amendment strengthens limits on popular snapper and grouper species and closes a swath of the ocean to fishing for eight deep-dwelling species. The U.S. Secretary of Commerce now has the final say. Please see our factsheet on Amendment 17B (PDF) for more detail.
The council also moved forward with plans for a long-term closure to all red snapper fishing and selected areas of the ocean that would be closed to bottom fishing. This option, Alternative 4-D, closes bottom fishing from just north of Charleston to Cape Canaveral from 98 feet to 300 feet in depth. A bottom fishing closure is needed to protect red snapper that are often caught accidentally when fishermen target other snapper and grouper species. For more details on Amendment 17A, please see our factsheet (PDF). The council is expected to take a final vote on the long-term red snapper plan, Amendment 17A, in March or June.