When tourists return to the area this spring and begin booking fishing charters, they might not be able to go after one of their favorite catches.
Federal fisheries managers are expected to vote today whether to halt all red snapper fishing for six months from North Carolina to Florida to allow the species a chance to recover from over-fishing. During that time, a long-term plan would be developed to protect the popular game fish.
Recent assessments by federal agencies show the red snapper has been over-fished since 1945. In 2006, a total of about 150,000 pounds of snapper were caught by commercial fishermen. That number is down from a 1966-high of nearly 900,000 pounds.
The South Atlantic Fishery Management Council is responsible for all fish stocks off the coasts of the Carolinas, Georgia and Florida.The council's Web site says it received notification of over-fishing in July 2008. Congress requires the council, which meets today on Jekyll Island, Ga., to propose regulations to end over-fishing within a year.
The nonprofit Pew Environment Group is urging the council to close the fishery for six months to give the fish a break and scientists and fishery managers time to develop ways to rebuild the population.
Capt. Bill Parker of Runaway Fishing Charters on Hilton Head Island is against halting red snapper fishing because it would hurt his business.
He fishes for the game fish from about the end of April through December and said catches over the summer were plentiful, yielding fish of all sizes.
Catch limits adopted about eight years ago restrict recreational fishermen to two fish per person. Those catches must bea minimum of 20 inches long, Parker said. The limits have worked well in maintaining the population, he said.
But the Pew's Holly Binns said that if nothing is done, the population might drop to a point where the fishery is no longer viable, commercially or recreationally.
"The long-term goal is to restore the red snapper fishery so the population is healthy, and it can provide jobs and food and recreation opportunities for years to come," she said.