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Grouper stock issue hits decisive phase

By TERRY TOMALIN, Times Outdoors Editor
© St. Petersburg Times
published May 12, 2002

Anglers have one more chance to weigh in on pending grouper regulations.

Federal fishery managers know red grouper stocks are in trouble and they plan to take drastic measures.

At a meeting next week in Destin, the Gulf of Mexico Fishery Management Council will hear public testimony on several regulatory options, including shutting down the recreational harvest for several months.

Fishery managers must reduce the recreational and commercial harvests by 45 percent to return red grouper stocks to healthy levels. How that is done will be determined in July when the council meets again in Sarasota.

To reduce the commercial catch, fishery managers could impose trip limits or move anglers farther offshore. But to reduce the recreational catch, the only tools available are closed seasons or bag-limit adjustments.

The most likely options for recreational anglers are:

Establishing an August-to-November closed season and requiring that only two of the five-grouper bag limit may be reds.

Establishing an October-to-December closed season and requiring that only one of the five-grouper bag limit may be a red.

Establish a June-to-August closed season and leave the bag limit alone.

Many recreational anglers (the Times has received dozens of e-mails, letters and telephone calls on the subject) believe the best way to rebuild red grouper stocks is to move commercial longline boats beyond the 50-fathom line (300 feet).

Commercial fishing boats use miles of monofilament line with thousands of baited hooks that do not discriminate between legal and undersized fish. Commercial anglers who use rod and reel or spear guns, however, can choose which fish they kill.

The Gulf Council could move the longliners to deeper water. The Gulf Coast of Florida is the only place in the United States where longlines are allowed in 120 feet of water, which anglers refer to as the 20-fathom line.

For more information on this issue, contact the council at (813) 228-2815 or go to gulfcouncil.org.

WRECK UPDATE: After months of delay, cleanup work on the 510-foot Spiegel Grove is complete and the ship is on its way to a new home in the Florida Keys.

The retired Navy ship left Norfolk, Va., on Wednesday and is expected to arrive off Key Largo by Tuesday. The ship then will be scuttled, creating a massive artificial reef in the Florida Keys National Marine Sanctuary.

The Spiegel Grove will be the largest ship in the world intentionally sunk to create an artificial marine habitat.

The effort to acquire and clean the Spiegel Grove lasted almost eight years. Project backers had to overcome numerous hurdles to convince federal, state and local officials that the project was environmentally sound.

The Spiegel Grove will be sunk about 5 miles off Key Largo within the boundaries of the Florida Keys National Marine Sanctuary. The ship will rest in 130 feet of water with the superstructure 40 feet below the surface.

Named for the Fremont, Ohio, estate of U.S. President Rutherford B. Hayes, the steel, steam turbine-powered Spiegel Grove was launched in 1955 to transport landing craft that carried combat troops to shore.

The following year, it sailed from Norfolk, Va., to Guantanamo Bay, Cuba, and later that year participated in amphibious exercises that ultimately would comprise the greatest part of her active service. The ship was decommissioned in 1989.

Key Largo Chamber of Commerce officials expect at least 70,000 divers a year will come to the Keys specifically to experience the ship, providing an annual economic impact of $14-million for the region.

Project costs are expected to exceed $1.1-million, with about half of the money coming from the Monroe County Tourist Development Council and the balance from sales of commemorative dive medallions.

For more information, go to www.fla-keys.com.

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