01/16/09 — NOAA establishes protected areas

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NOAA establishes protected areas

By Ryan Hanchett
Published in Sports on January 16, 2009 1:46 PM

Sport fishermen trolling the seas off North Carolina's southern coast have another piece of legislation to keep in mind.

The National Oceanic Atmospheric Administration established eight separate marine protected areas on Wednesday. The newly-pegged protected areas encompass a total of 529 square nautical miles in South Atlantic federal waters and are meant to shield deep-water species and their habitats from fishing.

All fishing for snappers, groupers, tilefish, grunts, porgies and sea bass is prohibited throughout the protected areas, which are located between North Carolina and Florida.

The South Atlantic Fishery Management Council proposed the action to the NOAA as part of a larger management plan to further protect these South Atlantic fish populations.

"I applaud the hard work of the council and the strong spirit of cooperative conservation among commercial and recreational fisherman to take decisive action to conserve habitat in order to sustain healthy fisheries for generations to come," said James L. Connaughton, chairman of Council on Environmental Quality.

The protected area off the North Carolina coast is known as Snowy Grouper Wreck and is located approximately 62 miles off the coast near Wilmington.

"Marine protected areas are designed to provide long-term protection for our nation's natural resources," said Jim Balsiger, acting NOAA assistant administrator. "These areas of the South Atlantic were chosen because they feature known spawning grounds and nursery habitats for deep-water fish -- especially for snappers and groupers."

The marine protected areas are intended to increase the survival of over 70 species of deep-water fish susceptible to fishing pressure. These fish are not good candidates for catch-and-release practices because they often suffer trauma when reeled up from great depths.

In addition, some species such as snowy grouper can live longer than 50 years and are productive spawners. It is important to protect large fish so they can spawn to their maximum potential and equally important to protect young fish so they reach maturity.

The new designated protected areas range in size from 21- to 150-square nautical miles. In addition to the Snowy Grouper Wreck, there are three areas off South Carolina, one off Georgia and three protected areas off Florida.

Commercial shark bottom longline gear is prohibited in these areas because the deep-water fish species are likely to be caught accidentally. All other types of legal fishing, such as trolling for tunas and marlins, are allowed because those gear types are not likely to accidentally catch the species warranting protection.