Long term longline regulations considered
SUN PHOTO/CINDY LANE A longline reel sits idle at the Cortez
docks since regulators banned the gear through October.
Fisheries managers are considering a long term ban on the gear,
used to catch grouper, because it also snares loggerhead sea turtles.
CORTEZ – Fisheries regulators must agree on a target level of sea turtle bycatch by longline fishermen before they can decide on long term regulations, a fisheries management committee concluded last week.
Bottom longline fishing gear used to catch reef fish, including grouper, has been temporarily banned in deep water in the Gulf of Mexico since June 27 and in shallow water since May 18, putting Cortez grouper fishermen out of work.
The short-term emergency rule was a response to disputed studies that the gear is causing unintended threatened loggerhead sea turtle deaths in violation of the federal Endangered Species Act.
The ban lasts until the end of October and possibly for another six months afterwards or longer, depending on the Gulf of Mexico Fishery Management Council’s decision, expected later this month.
Regulatory actions under consideration include closing the fishery during certain peiods of time in certain areas, prohibiting the use of squid as bait in the bottom longline fishery and modifying fishing practices and gear.
After several hours of presentations by turtle experts and fisheries managers last Wednesday, the council’s Joint Standing and Special Reef Fish Scientific and Statistical Committee concluded that it did not have enough information to recommend long term restrictions on longline fishing since the council has not specified a target level for turtle mortality reduction, council statistician Steve Atran said.
"If you don’t know the goal, it’s difficult to know whether any management measures are appropriate," he said.
The National Marine Fisheries Service is expected to issue a biological opinion setting a target, he said.
"I’m ashamed of them not working overtime to provide the numbers," said Anna Maria Island Turtle Watch Director Suzi Fox. "They can’t wait when there are fishermen’s jobs on the line."