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Outdoors

Red grouper seem to be on upswing

By TERRY TOMALIN, Times Outdoors Editor
© St. Petersburg Times
published January 19, 2003

ST. PETERSBURG -- Red grouper stocks are in better shape than first thought, and federal fishery managers might scale back proposed recreational and commercial restrictions.

"There have been some good recruitment years since the last stock assessment," said Roy Crabtree, the new administrator for the National Marine Fisheries Service southeast region. "So we are going to take another look at it."

The Gulf of Mexico Fishery Management Council proposed increasing the size limit from 20 inches to 22 for recreational and commercial fishermen.

The council also considered moving the commercial long-line fishery from 20 fathoms to 50.

But those measures might not be needed, Crabtree said Friday after returning from a council meeting in San Antonio, Texas.

"It looks now like we may be able to address the commercial issue with a trip limit," he said. "And as far as the recreational sector goes, we may reduce the bag limit for red grouper to two fish."

The overall recreational grouper limit, however, would remain at five (two of which may be red).

But the management of reef fish will be just one of the pressing issues facing Crabtree this week when he returns to St. Petersburg after a brief stint as executive director of the Florida Marine Fisheries Commission.

Crabtree, 48, is well-known to local fishermen because of his work with tarpon while a biologist with the Florida Marine Research Institute in St. Petersburg.

A native of Chapel Hill, N.C., Crabtree earned his bachelor's degree in biology from Furman in 1976, a masters degree in marine science from South Carolina in 1978 and a doctorate in marine science from William and Mary in 1984.

SEA GRASS INCREASE: Tampa Bay has gained more than 1,200 acres of sea grass since the El Nino of 1997-98 destroyed nearly 2,000 acres of the vital fisheries habitat.

According to data compiled by the Southwest Florida Water Management District and the Tampa Bay Estuary Program, the amount of sea grass in Tampa Bay increased by 5 percent, with the greatest gains in Hillsborough Bay, where 288 new acres was documented.

The last El Nino dumped record rainfall, and the subsequent nutrient-rich runoff turned parts of Tampa Bay into virtual freshwater lakes, killing large tracks of sea grass.

Scientists are pleased with the recent numbers but said another 640 acres, about 1 square mile, of sea grass must come back to reach pre-El Nino numbers.

The Tampa Bay Estuary program hopes to restore 12,000 acres baywide. From 1984-96, before El Nino, more than 5,000 acres of sea grass were added.

For more information, go to www.tbep.org. KINGFISH TOURNAMENT: Clearwater might host the West Coast's largest kingfish tournament this spring.

Clearwater restaurateur Frank Chivas has joined forces with the Southern Kingfish Association and Treasure Island Charities to put on the area's first 400-boat kingfish tournament, the Tournament of Champions.

Jack Holmes, the SKA's chief executive officer, met with Chivas, Clearwater Mayor Brian Aungst and the charity's Jon Willis and Sid Rice to discuss the $180,000-plus event.

Chivas hopes to hold a Corporate Cup, or a tournament within a tournament, and raise additional money for charity at the April 25-27 event.

For more information, keep an eye on these Web sites: treasureislandcharities.com and fishska.com.

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