But federal and state fisheries officials say there’s a good chance the yellowtail closure may not stay in effect through the end of the year because of a new yellowtail stock assessment just completed by the Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission’s Fish and Wildlife Research Institute.
The stock assessment says basically that yellowtail are in good shape and in no immediate danger of being overfished. FWC saltwater fisheries administrator Jessica McCawley will ask the South Atlantic Council, meeting next week in Charleston, S.C., to quickly convene its scientific and statistical committee to review the new report. If the committee concurs that yellowtail can support continued harvest, then the council can adopt an emergency rule to reopen it. The reopening would have to get the blessing of NOAA Fisheries, which is likely to happen if the stock numbers look good, according to Roy Crabtree, NOAA Fisheries’ southeast regional administrator.
“Sometime in the second half of October is about as good as we could do,” Crabtree said. “We have a process to go through. We’re going to do everything we can to make sure the catch limit is set at the appropriate level.”
In the meantime, the price of yellowtail probably will rise by $1 to $2 per pound, said Gary Graves, vice president of Keys Fisheries, a wholesaler, retailer and restaurant in Marathon.
And also in the meantime, fishermen will lose their jobs, according to captain Bill Kelly, executive director of the Florida Keys Commercial Fishermen’s Association.
Said Kelly: “Here, for the sake of a couple of months, we’re taking one of the healthiest fisheries in the nation and shutting it down, resulting in significant and irreparable financial harm to our local economy.”