The South Atlantic Fishery Management Council has proposed increasing the commercial sector allocation for dolphin from 7.54 percent, or 1.1 million pounds, to 10 percent, or 1.5 million pounds. Currently, the recreational fishery allocation is about 92 percent, or 14.1 million pounds. Under the proposal, the recreational catch would drop to 90 percent, or 13.8 pounds.
Federal fishery managers announced this week that it will take public comment on the proposal through Oct. 29. Public hearings will be held in mid-November via webinar and listening stations. The council’s intent is to approve the amendment during its December meeting and get the new trip limits in place by next spring, South Atlantic spokeswoman Kim Iverson said.
The proposal comes after National Marine Fisheries Service shut down the commercial harvest of the dolphin in July, after ruling that commercial fishermen met the commercial quota. The shutdown came when the highly migratory dolphin were at their peak in the Florida Keys and are targeted heavily by both recreational and commercial fishermen. The commercial season will reopen Jan. 1.
“The council wants to help ensure that the catch limit is not exceeded and the season remains open,” Iverson said. “Implementing a trip limit after a percentage of the ACL (annual catch limit) has been met will still allow harvest by the larger pelagic longline vessels and also allow the season to be extended for vessels with smaller landings. … The new trip limit along with the increase in the commercial ACL by changing the allocation should extend the season and hopefully prevent another commercial closure.”
Florida Keys Commercial Fishermen’s Association executive director Bill Kelly contended the proposed allocation is not enough. He argued that the recreational sector only catches about half of its 14 million-pound allocation. Kelly proposed federal fishery managers increase the commercial catch in 5, 10 or 20 percent increases a year, depending on how much the recreational side of the fishery harvests the previous year, he said. The South Atlantic and National Marine Fisheries Service could look at the harvest data each year and make adjustments. “The fishery was closed at the peak time in the Keys, and the Keys are the dolphin capital of the South Atlantic,” Kelly said.
Upper Keys restaurant owner and fisherman Mike Forster said the dolphin fishery issue shows that there needs to be greater Florida Keys representation on federal fishery councils. “We have a dog in the fight, but not a seat at the table,” Forster said.
Electronic or hard copies of the proposed rule may be obtained from National Marine Fisheries Service website.