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Local Commercial Industry Reaction

Category: Top Stories

By Ted Carter

SBJ Staff

Part 2 of 3

1/11/2010 - A depressed economy is about to get more depressing for Georgia and South Carolina’s commercial fishermen with the arrival of four-month bans on grouper and red snapper fishing off the coasts of the two states.

And sticker shock could be ahead for seafood lovers with a taste for grouper sandwiches and grilled red snapper fillets. “They are absolutely going higher,” said Charlie Russo of Russo Seafood in Savannah, though a week after the grouper ban began Russo’s market had a $14.99 per pound price on grouper fillets, the same as before the ban. The market has whole red snapper for $8.50 a pound, also the same price as last week. “We have it for now,” said a clerk.

With demand constant and supply limited, Gulf fishermen will fetch handsome prices for their grouper and red snapper, said Russo. He said he can’t predict how high they’ll be in a couple weeks.

Meanwhile, Teeples’ Seafood in Thunderbolt had a $12.95 per pound price on grouper fillets Friday and a $6.95 per pound price on whole red snapper. In Garden City, Matthews Seafood was asking $15.95 a pound for grouper fillets and did not have any red snapper.

Lazaretto Creek Seafood near Tybee Island had neither grouper nor red snapper for sale. Nor did Phillips’ Seafood in McIntosh County. “When grouper seaon opens in May, we’ll go back to catching grouper,” said owner Charlie Phillips, who has his own fleet of fishing boats.

The closing of federal waters to grouper and snapper fishing is an intermit measure designed to offset overfishing federal authorities say has occurred in the South Atlantic from North Carolina to Florida. Closing of grouper fishing began Jan. 1 and runs through April 30. Red snapper fishing became off limits Jan. 4 and will remain that way through June 2. The snapper ban will be considered for a 186-day extension upon the initial restriction’s expiration, federal officials say.

Federal fisheries officials enacted the interim bans as a prelude to a more drastic action that could involve an indefinite ban on bottom fishing in an approximately 10,000-square-mile expanse of ocean from South Carolina to just below Cape Canaveral, Fla.

The current restrictions extend out the full 200 miles of federal jurisdiction, officials say.

Charter and party boat captains must also obey the closure rules, according to the new rules enacted by the National Marine Fisheries Service.

Though federal authorities can’t restrict fishing in the state waters, their new rules specify that any commercial, charter or party boat captains who hold federal permits to take grouper and red snapper in federal waters can’t take grouper or red snapper from within the three-mile state jurisdictions.

The restrictions come at a time anglers aboard Steve Amick’s charter boats have been boating huge numbers of red snapper and grouper. “The fishing has been unreal,” he said.

He expects a lot of griping from his charter and party boat clients when he forces them to toss back their grouper and red snapper catches. They’ll still have a wide variety of jacks, black sea bass, king mackerel, cobia and trigger fish to catch. “But everybody wants to catch the grouper and red snapper,” said Amick, whose charter boats are based at Lazaretto Creek.

The grouper restrictions apply to gag, black grouper, red grouper, scamp, rock hind, red hind, coney, graysby, yellowfin grouper, yellowmouth grouper and tiger grouper.

The National Fisheries Service says the Magnuson-Stevens Act’s requirement to end overfishing forbids the agency from delaying the restrictions regardless of economic consequences.  “The Magnuson-Stevens Act specifies that overfishing must be ended immediately while minimizing, to the greatest extent practicable, negative economic and social impacts,” the agency says.

Part 1: Ban on Grouper, Red Snapper Fishing Hurting Local Industry

Part 3: New Year Off to Dismal Start for Charter Fishing Business

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