Florida closes black sea bass fishing starting February 12

Eastern United States bottom fishermen, and in particular those along the Florida coast took another blow to an already struggling fishery when the NOAA's National Marine Fisheries Service announced yesterday that recreational anglers may not harvest any black sea bass from federal waters of the South Atlantic region beginning at 12:01 a.m. Feb. 12. The ruling means no anglers can keep a black sea bass while fishing from private boats, charter boats or head boats.The South Atlantic region stretches in western Atlantic waters from the North Carolina-Virginia border to Key West. Off Florida, federal waters extend from three miles offshore to 200 miles except in the Florida Straits where it is equidistant between Florida and the Bahamas.According to NOAA Fisheries Service  the overall population of black sea bass have been identified as being overfished, a term used to define when a population of a fish species is too low. Increased pressure has been put on the species by recent bottom fishing closures for more targeted fish like nearshore grouper and red snapper.Annual Catch Limits (ACL), have been established for black sea bass of 309,000 pounds gutted weight per year for the commercial fishing sector and at 409,000 pounds gutted weight per year for recreational anglers. In Florida, recreational anglers are permitted to catch and keep 15 black sea bass per person, per day, with a minimum length of 12 inches. The closure will last until the new federal fishing calendar year begins June 1. The commercial fishery for black sea bass closed Oct. 7, 2010.This closure comes at a time when Florida charter and party boats are already suffering through closures of  red snapper (indefinitely), vermilion snapper (Nov. 1 through March 31) and shallow water grouper ? gag, black, red and scamp among them (Jan. 1 through April 30)?all species that were primary angler targets.The ruling is outlined in Amendment 17B to the Snapper-Grouper Fishery Management Plan for the South Atlantic Region. Those documents can be found at the web site for the South Atlantic Fishery Management Council at www.safmc.net.
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