Southeast Leaders Make Major Move to Protect Spawning Fish in U.S. Waters

Limited-fishing zones could help boost some species after 11 to 2 vote

Creole Wrasse in the Dry Tortugas National Park© Jiangang Luo

This protected area in the Dry Tortugas Ecological Reserve provides safe habitat that helps fish populations thrive.

Fish may soon have some newly protected places to spawn in U.S. waters of the South Atlantic thanks to a measure approved today by fishery leaders.

The South Atlantic Fishery Management Council, which sets fishing policy in federal waters from North Carolina to east Florida, voted 11 to 2 to protect five locations off Florida, North Carolina, and South Carolina that range from 3 to 5 square miles each. Fishing will be allowed at the surface but will be prohibited in deeper waters where snappers and groupers gather to breed. Secretary of Commerce Penny Pritzker must give final approval before the new spawning special management zones take effect.

The vote is a victory for Southeast fishermen and fish populations because dedicating safe places for species to spawn should boost their numbers, especially for imperiled fish, such as speckled hind and warsaw grouper, whose populations have plummeted to dangerously low levels. The measure also could aid the recovery of popular but struggling species, such as red grouper and snowy grouper, which need more time than some other types of fish to reach their best spawning years.

The plan to create the spawning zones follows years of collaborative work by scientists, fishermen, conservationists, and fishery leaders who used existing and new research, together with decades of experience on the water, to identify the best areas to target and the most effective strategies to protect spawning fish. This cooperative effort set the project on a course for success and will continue as the sites are monitored to measure their performance.

Protecting spawning sites has worked in other places in the Southeast. For example, after fishing was prohibited in the Dry Tortugas Ecological Reserve in the Florida Keys, yellowtail and mutton snapper, as well as previously overfished species such as red grouper, increased in abundance and size inside the reserve. Now, ocean currents are transporting fish larvae to other areas throughout the region, which could replenish nearby fishing grounds.

The Pew Charitable Trusts will continue working to promote robust fish populations and healthy marine ecosystems that form the backbone of strong coastal economies. Learn more about Pew’s South Atlantic Ocean conservation project.

Holly Binns directs Pew’s efforts to protect ocean life in the Gulf of Mexico, the U.S. South Atlantic Ocean, and the U.S. Caribbean.

Click the graphic to expand.

Spotlight on Mental Health

Composite image of modern city network communication concept

Learn the Basics of Broadband from Our Limited Series

Sign up for our four-week email course on Broadband Basics

Quick View

How does broadband internet reach our homes, phones, and tablets? What kind of infrastructure connects us all together? What are the major barriers to broadband access for American communities?

Pills illustration
Pills illustration

What Is Antibiotic Resistance—and How Can We Fight It?

Sign up for our four-week email series The Race Against Resistance.

Quick View

Antibiotic-resistant bacteria, also known as “superbugs,” are a major threat to modern medicine. But how does resistance work, and what can we do to slow the spread? Read personal stories, expert accounts, and more for the answers to those questions in our four-week email series: Slowing Superbugs.

Explore Pew’s new and improved
Fiscal 50 interactive

Your state's stats are more accessible than ever with our new and improved Fiscal 50 interactive:

  • Maps, trends, and customizable charts
  • 50-state rankings
  • Analysis of what it all means
  • Shareable graphics and downloadable data
  • Proven fiscal policy strategies


Welcome to the new Fiscal 50

Key changes include:

  • State pages that help you keep track of trends in your home state and provide national and regional context.
  • Interactive indicator pages with highly customizable and shareable data visualizations.
  • A Budget Threads feature that offers Pew’s read on the latest state fiscal news.

Learn more about the new and improved Fiscal 50.