From Biscayne Bay to Bluefin Tuna

On September 27, the Congressional Sportsmen’s Foundation (CSF) joined several other sportsmen-conservation organizations with in the sportfishing community in support of improved angler access opportunities to better managed fisheries by submitting letters concerning management decisions impacting Biscayne Bay, Gulf of Mexico red snapper, and bluefin tuna.

In Biscayne Bay, despite the opposition from the recreational angling community and the Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission (FWC) in 2015, the National Park Service issued a final General Management Plan (GMP) that contained a large marine reserve zone (MRZ) where no fishing of any kind would be allowed.  Fortunately, the overly restrictive MRZ has yet to be implemented and the FWC has released a new fisheries management plan for the park based on sound science and seeks to balance angling access with increasing targeted fish and invertebrate abundance by 20 percent. The letter requests that the FWC proceed without delay in approving the proposed science-based plan that includes Park-specific bag and size limits for important fish species and that the Park give the plan sufficient time for evaluation of its effectiveness once implemented before considering any other management alternatives.

In the Gulf of Mexico, state-based management of red snapper in 2018 and 2019 under temporary exempted fishing permits (EFP) for each state has been highly successful, allowing states the ability to have much longer seasons while keeping red snapper harvest at or below the established Gulf-wide recreational quota. However, the EFP’s expire at the end of 2019. Amendment 50 to the Fishery Management Plan for the Reef Fish Resources of the Gulf of Mexico would make state-based management of private recreational anglers permanent in the Gulf. The letter requests that the FWC proceed without delay in approving the proposed science-based plan that includes Park-specific bag and size limits for important fish species, and that the Park give the plan sufficient time for evaluation of its effectiveness, once implemented, before considering any other management alternatives.

Lastly, the recreational fishing community also submitted a letter regarding the Draft Regulatory Amendment to Modify Pelagic Longline Bluefin Tuna Area-Based and Weak Hook Management’s Measures. The community’s primary concern is the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration's (NOAA) Preferred Alternative C3 that would allow longline fishing in Gulf of Mexico Gear Restricted Areas (GRAs) enacted by Amendment 7 to the 2006 Consolidated Highly Migratory Species Management Plan and urged the agency to adopt Alternative C1: No Action for Gulf GRAs. These GRA’s for pelagic longlining have proven highly successful in reducing bluefin tuna mortality. Conversely, the community did support the NOAA’s Preferred Alternative D2 for the seasonal requirement of weak hooks in the Gulf of Mexico. While weak hooks are a conservation tool for bluefin tuna, they are effective at catching important non-target species, like white marlin. By only requiring the seasonal use of weak hooks from January to June when bluefin are most abundant, and a return to the use of traditional circle hooks during the rest of the year coinciding with the highest white marlin catch rates, seasonal use of weak hooks can be an effective conservation tool for both species.

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