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Subject: Gulf Grouper Spawning Closures on Chopping Block
From: Alexander Stone <[log in to unmask]>
Reply-To:Scientific forum on fish and fisheries <[log in to unmask]>
Date:Wed, 9 Apr 2003 23:21:09 -0400

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For Immediate Release:
April 12, 2003

*    Gulf of Mexico Regulators Propose End to Spawning Closures   *
* conservationists insist spawning protections vital for groupers *

Miami, Florida – The Gulf of Mexico Fishery Management Council is
planning to roll back existing one-month spawning season closures for 3
grouper species in order to allow year-round fishing for all groupers.
Conversely, the conservation group ReefKeeper International has formally
petitioned the Council for Gulfwide two-month spawning season staggered
closures for shallow-water and deep-water grouper stocks in order to
ensure the sustainability of 11 Gulf grouper species designated as
vulnerable to risk of extinction by the American Fisheries Society. The
Council instead is responding to industry concerns that any closures
would result in lost local markets to foreign imports.  To counter
fishing industry pressure, ReefKeeper is conducting a web-based Save Our
Groupers petition campaign at

At a time when the South Atlantic Fishery Management Council and the
U.S. Caribbean Fishery Management Council are making spawning season
closures a key component of grouper fishery management, the Gulf Council
is planning to terminate the current Feburary 15th to March 15th
spawning season closures for black, gag, and red grouper stocks.  Beyond
that, the Gulf Council is making no plans to provide any regional
spawning season protection to any of the 15 grouper species it is
responsible for managing.  Critics such as ReefKeeper International
contend that year-round-fishing of grouper stocks is contributing to
their rapid decline.

Several different information sources indicate that almost all grouper
stocks in the Gulf of Mexico are in jeopardy.  In 1997, warsaw grouper
and speckled hind were added to the Endangered Species Act Candidate
Species List by the National Marine Fisheries Service Office of
Protected Resources.  In 2000, 11 of the Gulf's 15 managed grouper
species were officially identified as "vulnerable to risk of extinction"
by the American Fisheries Society.  And the National Marine Fisheries
Service has identified red grouper, Nassau grouper, and goliath grouper
as overfished.  “The best scientific information available uniformly
indicates that grouper stocks in the Gulf of Mexico are at serious risk
of collapse,” commented ReefKeeper International Director Alexander
Stone. "If the fish are not allowed to reproduce, then eventually there
won't be enough new fish to replenish the grouper populations, let alone
sustain the fisheries," Stone said.

A driving force behind the Gulf Council’s present intent to allow
year-round-fishing of grouper stocks is a fear that closures might harm
the domestic fishing industry.  Many fishers insist that any
interruption in access to Gulf grouper would result in market loss to
less expensive grouper produced by the Mexican fishing industry.  They
argue that, during the brief periods fishers would not be allowed to
catch or sell grouper from U.S. waters, local markets would turn to
lesser quality
imports to satisfy market demand.  Fishers contend the result would be a
sustained drop in market prices against which Gulf fishers could not

Even though the grouper fishery is just as important in the South
Atlantic and Caribbean, neither of the regional councils for those areas
have been persuaded by the loss-of-market argument. Instead, both the
South Atlantic and U.S. Caribbean Councils are relying on grouper
spawning season closures as an essential management tool benefiting the
domestic fishery.  The loss-of-market argument against seasonal closures
continues to influence only the Gulf Council.

Offering a solution intended to protect both fishers and fish,
ReefKeeper has proposed a system of  staggered grouper spawning season
closures.  The ReefKeeper proposal would combine a Spring shallow-water
grouper closure, from March 1st to April 30th, with a Fall deep-water
grouper closure, from July 15th to September 14th. "These closures would
protect each and every grouper species during some part of its spawning
season, which would lead to greater reproductive success and increases
in grouper populations," declared ReefKeeper Director Stone.  "And,
because the shallow-water and deep-water closed seasons would be
staggered, this also would allow continued commercial and recreational
fishing for some groupers during every month of the year," he said.
ReefKeeper argues that this would provide a continuous year-round supply
of Gulf grouper to local markets and solve the alleged loss-of-market

The Gulf of Mexico Fishery Management Council is currently revising
grouper fishing regulations through Amendment 18 to its Reef Fish
Fishery Management Plan. ReefKeeper continues to seek public support for
inclusion of grouper spawning season closures in Amendment 18 through a
website Save Our Groupers petition at “The Gulf
Council seems to have lost sight of the big picture.  If spawning
grouper are not protected, these vulnerable-to-extinction stocks may
very well crash and then there will be no grouper fishing industry to
worry about,” Stone concluded.

                            #      #      #
For more information:

ReefKeeper International / Alexander Stone, Director / (305) 358-4600
or [log in to unmask]

Gulf of Mexico Fishery Mgmt Council / Wayne Swingle, Executive Director
(813) 228-2815
or [log in to unmask]

ReefKeeper International / 2829 Bird Ave #5, PMB 162 / Miami, FL 33133

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