More waters could be closed to recreational fishing when the South Atlantic Fishery Management Council meets this week in Charleston, S.C.
On Wednesday morning, the council’s Snapper Grouper Committee will discuss whether closed areas are beneficial. Then the committee will consider the establishment of 12 new marine protected areas and habitat areas of particular concern and the tweaking of four current closed areas to increase the population of speckled hind and warsaw grouper.
The waters in question range from North Carolina to Florida. If everything that has been proposed is approved, the total amount of protected area would increase by a few hundred square miles. Whatever the committee decides, public hearings won’t be held until 2014.
I am not against having closed areas as long as there is a need for them and they protect the species in question. Unfortunately, the federal government has a track record of claiming a species is in dire need of protection and goes ahead with plans to close an area to fishing.
When anglers and, in the case of Florida, for example, biologists with the state’s Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission challenge that claim, the feds suddenly announce that the species in question is actually doing quite well and the closure is no longer needed.
Another problem with closed areas is they often prohibit all types of fishing. In the case of bottom-dwelling species like speckled hind and warsaw grouper, it makes sense to prohibit bottom fishing for other groupers and snappers because there is a chance of accidentally catching the species in question.
Not allowing anglers to troll or live-bait on the surface for species such as dolphin, wahoo and billfish, even though the chances of catching a grouper or snapper are between slim and none, makes no sense. In this case, the South Atlantic Council could allow trolling.
One other problem I have with closed areas is they rarely ever become open areas again, despite the promises of the reigning federal fishery managers. What often results is a perverse type of Catch-22.
If the protected area doesn’t work, the managers and environmental groups, many of whom believe that no one should be allowed to fish, will say that the area needs to be expanded to make it work better.
If the protected area does work, those same people will say that since it is doing such a good job of increasing fish populations, it makes sense to expand the area to protect even more fish from the hooks of recreational anglers.
Then there are the factors that do way more damage to fish and their habitat than recreational anglers, but are never considered, like fertilizer-laden runoff and minimally treated sewage.
In Florida, those things lead to algae blooms and bleaching of coral reefs, which negatively impact the juvenile fish that fishery managers are so concerned about protecting from anglers.
Of course, it’s a lot easier to tell anglers that they can’t fish somewhere than telling state, federal and municipal bureaucrats that they need to stop pumping fouled freshwater into our estuaries and the Atlantic Ocean.