NOAA closes yellowtail season

By Steve Estes

The National Fisheries Council is ending the sale of fresh, local-caught yellowtail snapper in the Florida Keys, and other south Atlantic coastal communities Sept. 10.

What that serves to do, says Fanci Seafood owner Bobby Holloway, is force local wholesale and retail seafood outlets to import the popular local fish from areas out of country that don’t close the fishery.

Yellowtail is one of the more popular local species both in a finished product at local restaurants and in raw form from the various fish houses in the area.

The closure affects only commercial license holders and lasts until Jan. 1, 2013.

“At least the product can be back in the case for snowbird and tourist season,” said Holloway.

But that’s small consolation for some small commercial operations that supplement their lobster and stone crab catches during those two seasons with a recurring sale of yellowtail.

NOAA Fisheries has established an annual catch limit on yellowtail snapper for the fishery, but the recreational fishermen, including charter boats, are allowed to land nearly 50 percent of the annual 2.2 million pounds.

In addition to yellowtail, NOAA is also closing what is called the deepwater complex, which includes yellowedge grouper, blueline tilefish, silk snapper, misty grouper, queen snapper, sand tilefish, black snapper and blackfin snapper. Also shut down for the next four months is commercial harvest of gray triggerfish and porgies.

Fishermen with a valid saltwater license are allowed to have daily bag limits of legal size, but the sale or purchase of any of the affected species is prohibited for those four months.

Many commercial fishermen have told NOAA during a recent Marine Sanctuary public input session that the federal agency exercises too much control over the local fisheries, forcing seafood lovers to buy their product from foreign markets because the local fisheries are being over-managed. The loss of revenue will dip into reserves for local fishermen as the current lobster season hasn’t been what many had hoped for with smaller catches and now days spent relocating traps scattered around by Tropical Storm Isaac.

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