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Charter boats to be surveyed weekly!

In response to requests from recreational fishermen, NOAA Fisheries Service has agreed to fund additional data collection of Gulf red snapper catches this season to see if there is a need to adjust or extend the season because of decreased effort due to the BP oil spill.

Although the Deepwater Horizon Oil Spill has caused a closure of some waters in the northwestern Gulf, most federal waters have not been affected by the spill.

The Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission (FWC) reminds Floridians and visitors that the state’s recreational and commercial fisheries remain open.

The FWC and NOAA Fisheries Service continue to monitor the Deepwater Horizon oil spill, but as of press time, the only impacts off Florida’s Gulf coast have been fishing closures well offshore in federal waters where oil has been spotted.

For more information on the current status of the closure, visit the Southeast Regional Office’s Web page: http://sero.nmfs.noaa.gov.

NOAA Fisheries also recently announced it will provide additional funding to the FWC to increase monitoring to give fisheries managers information needed to possibly adjust the recreational Gulf red snapper season.

Thanks to the federal support, the FWC will be able to hire and train more people in Florida to survey fishing activity in the Gulf and to do the surveys on a weekly basis.

“Gulf charter fishermen have raised concerns to us that they are likely to lose customers this spring and summer due to public perception that fishing will be affected by the oil spill,” said Steve Murawski, Chief Scientist for NOAA Fisheries Service.

“If that happens, there would likely be fewer red snapper and other reef fish caught in the Gulf, and collecting data more quickly might allow fisheries managers to extend some fishing seasons if angler fishing effort decreases because of the oil spill.”

With the additional federal funds, the FWC was expected to be ready by June 1 – when the Gulf recreational red snapper season reopened – to survey Gulf charter boat catches each week during the 53-day season to see if catch rates are lower than previously anticipated.

If so, state and federal fisheries managers could use that information to determine if the season can be extended or if an additional period of harvest can be allowed later in the year.

Results from the proposed sampling would also be used to evaluate fishery closures for species such as greater amberjack. If sampling indicates quotas are not being met prior to each closure, NOAA would increase the season length if warranted.

The 2010 Gulf of Mexico red snapper season is scheduled to remain open June 1 - July 24. Other regulations for the recreational red snapper fishery, (such as the two-fish per person daily bag limit, prohibition of the bag limit for captain and crew of for-hire vessels when under charter and 16-inch total length minimum size limit) remain unchanged.

Recreational fisheries for other reef fish species also remain open. These include gag and red grouper, other snapper, gray triggerfish and greater amberjack. Coastal migratory species, including king and Spanish mackerel, cobia, and dolphin (mahi mahi) are also open.

For more information on red snapper management rules and research efforts, go to MyFWC.com/Rules; click on “Fishing – Saltwater.” Florida saltwater fishing regulations remain in effect as usual and are available online at MyFWC.com/Fishing.