Monday, January 23, 2012

A long-simmering debate over federal fishing quotas and their economic impact on Florida and other coastal states could reach a boiling point this year as Congress considers changes to a landmark marine conservation law.

The fishing industry is pressuring Congress to ease annual catch limits for summer flounder, red snapper, and other species, saying quotas are squeezing commercial and recreational fishing businesses and depriving coastal communities of billions in revenue.

The issue is particularly emotional along the Gulf Coast of Florida, where catch limits on grouper and red snapper and other federally managed fish have ravaged industry-dependent businesses, including restaurants, hotels and charter boat operations.

Ron Crum, a former commercial fisherman who owns a bait and tackle shop in Panacea, said the local fishing industry is disappearing because of high fuel costs and federal restrictions.
“People come by my door (who have) been with me 10 or 15 years … and they’re going back to 

Tennessee, North Georgia and to other places,” he said. “We’re creatures of habit. You manipulate these people around (by cutting) the season, and they will quit.”

Critics like Crum accuse the government of using outdated science to set the catch limits under the Magnuson-Stevens Fishery Conservation and Management Act. They can’t understand why such severe restrictions are in effect when they see so many snapper and other fish swimming under their boats.

And, they say, the Obama administration has not properly implemented the law because economic consequences such as the effect on coastal businesses are not being taken into consideration. Crum said recently imposed limits on gag grouper will sting the Gulf Coast this year.

The administration and environmentalists are pushing back, saying catch limits must remain in place to prevent overfishing of species that were decimated before Congress adopted the law in 1976 and began to rebound only in the past 15 years or so.

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