No more federal quotas for stone crabs
BY TIMOTHY O’HARA
Annual catch limits for commercially harvested fish have been a controversial issue bitterly opposed by local commercial fishermen. They soon will not have to worry about federally imposed quotas, however, for one popular species caught off the Florida Keys — stone crab.
The Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission (FWC) board on Thursday approved rules that extend its stone crab management to federal waters beyond state waters. The rule amendments are expected to take effect Aug. 31.
The news was welcomed by local commercial fishermen and the Florida Keys Commercial Fishermen’s Association, as it means stone crab would not be subject to federal quotas.
“The state of Florida does a wonderful job managing wildlife,” association President Bill Kelly said. “We are very comfortable with the FWC having sole jurisdiction.”
Kelly argued the move would remove the fishery from the jurisdiction of the Magnuson-Stevens Fishery Conservation and Management Act, which he said places unnecessary quotas on fishermen and arbitrarily closes fishing seasons.
Stone crab is an important fishery in the Keys, with Monroe County fishermen accounting for the bulk of the annual harvest, roughly 3.5 million pounds, Kelly said.
Currently, the Gulf of Mexico Fishery Management Council has a federal fishery management plan in place for stone crabs. The council recently voted to recommend the repeal of this plan to the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA) Fisheries Service.
The NOAA secretary has not signed off on it yet, but is expected to soon. At that time, the final rule likely will be published in late August or early September. It probably will be in effect before the fishing season starts Oct. 15, said Carrie Simmons, a fishery biologist with the Gulf Council.
NOAA Fisheries Service intends to repeal the federal stone crab fishery management plan before the season opens.
The stone crab fishery is centered in Florida and the FWC already plays a leading role in stone crab stock assessments and management. Most of the stone crab fishery occurs in state waters off Florida, and existing federal rules for stone crabs are the same as the FWC’s rules.
The FWC board wrapped up its monthly two-day meetings Thursday. The board approved a series of changes for permit, Florida pompano and African pompano, and expanded fishing rules to offshore federal waters beyond state waters, where they aren’t protected, and created separate conservation-management strategies for these species.
Some of the key changes for permit include creating a special South Florida Permit Management Zone that includes a three-month closed season, and adjusting size and bag limits.