By STEPHEN NOHLGREN, Times Staff Writer
Published January 31, 2008
ST. PETERSBURG - Congress requires federal regulators to protect fishing stocks they think are in trouble, and that's what the Gulf of Mexico Fishery Management Council intends to do with gag grouper.
The council must also consider public opinion, and on Wednesday several hundred anglers, charter boat captains and marine supply store owners gave them an earful. Proposed cutbacks are designed to cut recreational and commercial gag fishing by 45 percent. Gag are the favorite target of offshore recreational fishermen.
Speaker after speaker predicted economic disaster, claimed the gulf is teeming with gag and said that high fuel prices have already reduced the gag catch because people can't afford to go fishing offshore.
"We had to close gag fishing two years ago for three months because of (Hurricanes) Katrina and Wilma. I lost 98 percent of my business in those three months. You are basically closing down my business. I will have to let people go."
Bill Hardman, owner of Aquatic Obsessions, a St. Petersburg dive shop.
"I like to go out 30 or 40 miles. With the cost as it is now, limiting my grouper to one gag will shut me down. I won't spend that much money to go offshore for one fish."
Mike Weinard, Tampa fisherman.
"If you take my grouper, there is no reason for me to stay here. I'll move away. I make $44,000 a year. I can't afford to go out every day of the week. Please don't take my grouper."
Brandon Wilson, fisherman.
"No group of people is going to pay $3,000 to go out and harvest one grouper. I have a federal (charter) license. Pay me $1.99 for it and I'll throw in a couple of tilapia fillets from Publix in as well."
Armando Suarez, spearfishing guide.