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No change to gag grouper regulations, panel says

TAMPA — Fishing rights groups scored a major victory Tuesday when an advisory panel to the Gulf of Mexico Fishery Management Council said there is no scientific need to change gag grouper regulations.

In a 13-1 vote, the council's reef fish advisory panel recommended no action be taken on gag grouper. The National Marine Fisheries Service, the federal agency that regulates this deepwater species, had proposed a three-month closed season and lower bag limit to stop overfishing.

But Canadian marine biologist Dr. Trevor Kenchington, hired by recreational and commercial fishing groups to review the data, pointed out errors in the government's stock assessments.

"He basically showed that the overfishing had ended," said Charlene Ponce, spokeswoman for the Gulf Council. "He is scheduled to make a presentation to the full council in April, at which time final action will be taken."

A sport fishing group, the Fishing Rights Association, and a commercial organization, the Southern Offshore Fishermen's Association, pooled their resources to hire Kenchington.

"This is a big day for us," said the FRA's Dennis O'Hern, who has led the fight against the proposal. "The numbers were there all along."

Citizens can sound off about the proposed grouper rules today at a public hearing at the Radisson Hotel on Roosevelt Boulevard in St. Petersburg.

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No change to gag grouper regulations, panel says 03/18/08 [Last modified: Friday, March 21, 2008 3:09pm]
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