Gulf Coast fishermen file complaint over new red grouper quotas

The federal government will soon impose new limits on the amount of red grouper that commercial fishermen can catch in the Gulf of Mexico and local business owners say it will impact the industry and their customers.

“It will certainly cost you more today. And it will probably cost you more tomorrow because there will be less allowance,” said Frank Chivas, owner of Baystar Restaurant Group, which operates 12 restaurants in the greater Tampa Bay area.

“Which is basically the grouper capital of the world,” he said. “And believe it or not, people come here from all over to eat fresh red grouper.”

Karen Bell, owner of AP Bell Fishing Company in Cortez agrees the price of grouper is likely to rise.

“It limits what we can sell to the public,” she said. “When supply is reduced, the price increases because there is less available.”

Earlier this month, the government announced an amendment to the National Marine Fisheries Service management plan. The quota for recreational fishing would increase from 24% to 40.7%, while the commercial share would decrease from 76% to 59.3%.

Bell has signed a federal lawsuit challenging the red grouper harvest diversion.

“I don’t hate the recreational sector,” she said. “We actually pack bait for them and I think it’s important that they have quality time on the water like we do, but move it around to give it to someone else. when we provide it to the non-fishing public, it’s a tough pill to swallow.

The plaintiffs say that under the new plan, commercial fishing families will lose millions of dollars in lost income.

“It’s been very hard to see any kind of reduction because for God Covid was a mess all these restaurants are gone it’s really a struggle because when people come back online with restaurants across the country, they call to fish and I can’t help them,” Bell said.

According to the National Oceanographic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA), the cause of the change is a revision to the estimate of historical recreational landings which reveals much higher recreational landings than previously known.

But the commercial sector argues that the government’s reasoning to reallocate red grouper is based on faulty data, as recreational anglers are not required to obtain a federal license and do not have to report the number of fish they catch.

“The big problem with the leisure industry is that they have a tremendous amount of release,” Chivas said.

“When they catch a fish and throw it back, they often don’t live. But on the commercial side, we keep that fish, because it’s marketed in so many different ways. The problem is that recreational anglers are only allowed to catch a certain number of fish, which they should, like the commercial sector, let them catch X pounds, be it small fish, big fish, at least instead of having a limit fish. We need to find a way to regulate the recreational sectors. And we don’t have that right now.

WUSF requested comment from NOAA Fisheries’ Southeast Regional Office, but did not receive a response.

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