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'Extremely Vulnerable' South Atlantic Grouper Need Protection Now

David Newman

Posted June 8, 2012

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A year and a half ago, the National Marine Fisheries Service concluded that two species of deepwater grouper – speckled hind and warsaw grouper – were both so “extremely vulnerable” that banning their harvest alone “would not be sufficient to end overfishing” because of the amount of fish that are still incidentally caught and thrown back dead (this is known as “bycatch”). Not only are these fish still undergoing overfishing, but they are listed as “Species of Concern” by the Fisheries Service (one step short of Endangered Species Act listing) and as “critically endangered” by the International Union for the Conservation of Nature. To account for this, the Fisheries Service decided it was necessary to close fishing for other deepwater species that inhabit the same waters. As I wrote a month ago, the Fisheries Service has now reversed itself and removed the entire protected area after bowing to pressure from some fishing interests. In response, NRDC and Ocean Conservancy filed a lawsuit in federal court today alleging that the Service has unlawfully allowed overfishing and has failed to account for and minimize wasteful bycatch of these vulnerable species.

The decision to allow overfishing in the South Atlantic is out of step with the progress being made nationally. The Magnuson-Stevens Fishery Conservation and Management Act is making progress in addressing the problem of overfishing and has had growing success in rebuilding fish species that were once severely depleted. According to a recent Fisheries Service report, the law has already helped to rebuild more than 27 different species across the country since 2000, including summer flounder, bluefish, haddock, and sea scallop.

Protecting species from overfishing and depletion is critical to preserving the future of the fishing industry. Without stable fish populations, there will be shorter or nonexistent fishing seasons—a huge blow to the commercial and recreational fishing industries and the jobs they support. Taking action to preserve populations before it’s too late is critical to the long-term health of the fishing industry and coastal economy.

In addition to seeking immediate protection for speckled hind and warsaw grouper, we are urging the South Atlantic Fishery Management Council to follow through on their previously announced plans to establish spawning and habitat protections for these species. If implemented correctly, these measures could protect these depleted fish and permit increased fishing for other species at the same time. But, these efforts must be comprehensive and should have been put in place before the deepwater closure was removed. The Council is meeting next week to shape the path forward on these vital measures. We urge them not to further backtrack on this important issue.

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