Nelson wades into fisheries debate

In advance of a protest in Washington by recreational and commercial fishermen, U.S. Senator Bill Nelson said today he will file legislation to address red snapper fishing restrictions.

The restrictions are being imposed under the Magnuson-Stevens Fishery Conservation and Management Act, which was amended in 2007 to mandate the use of catch limits to end overfishing.

Some anglers say the restrictions are causing economic harm and are not based on good science. Environmental groups say the restrictions will allow anglers to catch more fish in the near future as species recover.

In a letter to the Senate Commerce Committee members, Nelson said he intends to file legislation to address red snapper restrictions in the South Atlantic and Gulf of Mexico but he did not offer more details.

“While I strongly support curbs to overfishing and responsible management of our fisheries, I believe we must examine how to achieve that laudable goal without unduly harming coastal communities,” he wrote.

In Tallahassee last week, the House General Government Policy Council passed HM 553 asking Congress to consider the economic impact of fishing restrictions.

“In these economic times we are facing, our fishing industry has suffered — and these changes will make it even worse,” said Rep. Marti Coley, R-Marianna and sponsor of the House memorial.

Jerry Sansom, executive director of Organized Fishermen of Florida, told the council that the problem with Magnuson-Stevens is that it requires overfishing to end within 10 years. He said overfishing for some species is defined as having a significant number of 20- and 30-year-old fish. The group represents commercial fishermen.

“No matter what Congress says you can’t make 20-year-old fish in 10 years,” Sansom said. “It just can’t be done — even in their wisdom.”

In an interview, Libby Fetherston, representing The Ocean Conservancy in St. Petersburg, said that fisheries councils recognize that fishing won’t end within 10 years for several of the species. She said reducing overfishing now for red snapper will allow fishermen to take more in the near future.

“There is a light at the end of the tunnel and the tunnel isn’t even that long,” said Fetherston, the group’s southeast fisheries program manager. “You begin to see the benefit of this kind of managment rather quickly.”

(Story copyrighted by Bruce Ritchie and Do not copy or redistribute without permission.)