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The Ocean Conservancy Challenges Amendment 21

04 June 2004

by Anai Rhoads

AnaiRhoads.org - The Ocean Conservancy filed a suit in federal court Friday, challenging Amendment 21 to the Gulf of Mexico Reef Fish Resources Fishery Management Plan. The Amendment considerably jeopardises reef fish and populations of gag grouper by allowing surface trolling in the eastern Gulf of Mexico.

Gag grouper are unique, as they change from female to male as they mature. Since fishermen normally target larger fish, the number of males caught appear to undermine the reproduction of the entire gag grouper population.

The practice of surface trolling is performed six months per year. Surface trolling for pelagic species can snag reef fish along the way, carrying away the mostly- male gag groupers.

"Allowing fishing in these critical spawning areas threatens to wipe out much of the conservation gains made by the creation of these fishery reserves in the first place," said David White, Director of the Southeastern Atlantic and Gulf of Mexico Regional Office with The Ocean Conservancy.

"This management decision makes it all but impossible to monitor and enforce the very protections that the reserves were designed to implement. Creating ineffective fishery recovery zones that can't be monitored and enforced is like taking one step forward, and two steps backward."

The marine reserves were developed in 2000 to protect spawning, and consist of 219 square nautical miles. In addition to preserving the reef fish and gag grouper population, the programme was designed to help evaluate the effectiveness of marine reserves as a management tool.

The U.S. Commission on Ocean Policy and Pew Oceans Commission released reports that detail the impact overfishing has on fish populations in their natural habitat. Some claim poor management is partly to blame.

"Fishery management decisions -- especially for species at risk, like gag grouper -- must be based on the best scientific evidence available. The science is clear in this case, but like in so many other cases, the managers have decided to ignore it," said White.

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