State agency seeks emergency fishery declaration

The Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission is asking Gov. Charlie Crist to seek federal aid to help the long-line fishing industry in Florida cope with proposed emergency federal regulations.

Long-line fishing uses numerous hooks extending from fishing lines that are hundreds of yards or several miles in length. In Florida, commercial long-line fishing boats provide grouper for restaurants and grocery stores, but environmental groups have criticized long-line fishing as harmful to threatened and endangered sea turtles that are unintentionally killed.

A proposed emergency federal rule would shift long-line fishing to deeper Florida waters to reduce the killing of sea turtles protected under the Endangered Species Act.

On Wednesday, a group of conservation organizations said they are suing the National Marine Fisheries Service to take additional actions including possibly shutting down deep-water long-line fishing.

On Thursday, the Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission said the emergency rule already proposed would force the fishing fleet to covert to a different type of gear, creating “serious economic hardships” for the industry.

The commission adopted a resolution requesting the governor to seek a federal declaration of a “commercial fishery failure” eligible for federal aid. A spokesman for the governor said the resolution is being reviewed to determine what action is appropriate.

Federal data shows 861 sea turtles were caught by reef commercial fishermen between 2006 and 2008, with at least half being released alive. The environmental groups said the agency in 2005 determined that 114 sea turtles could be captured during a three-year period without violating the Endangered Species Act.

Moving the long-line fishing to deeper waters is not enough, said Marydele Donnelly, director of international policy for the Caribbean Conservation Corp. in Gainesville.

“What we are saying is we want them to close (the bottom long-line fishery) until they can figure out how to fix it,” she said.

Copyrighted by Bruce Ritchie and Do not redistribute without permission.