The South Atlantic Fishery Management Council (SAFMC) voted last Friday to close a 3.1 square mile area of Georgetown Hole to bottom fishing. This area is known far and wide as a magnet for bottom-fishing enthusiasts. The closure is expected to take place by the end of this year. Anchoring will also be off-limits.

Two other areas off the coast of the Palmetto State will also be closed to bottom fishing. Area 51 and Area 53, which are listed as experimental artificial reef areas by the SCDNR, fall under the same bottom-fishing ban. These areas are each approximately 3 square miles in size.

While no date has been set for the closure, it is expected to happen by 2017, and still needs final approval from the Secretary of Commerce, which is thought to be a mere formality at this point.

The three areas are part of what the SAFMC has determined are Spawning Special Management Zones, or spawning grounds for fish in the snapper-grouper complex such as warsaw grouper and speckled hind grouper. These fish need such protected areas to rebound in numbers, said the SAFMC. Warsaw and speckled hind grouper have been staples as candidates for listing as threatened under the Endangered Species Act.

Two other areas off the east coast face the same closures. South Cape Lookout, A 5.1 square mile area off the coast of North Carolina, and a 3.6 square mile area off the east coast of the Florida Keys known as the Warsaw Hole, or 50 Fathom hole, will also be off limits to bottom fishing.

“The selection of the Spawning SMZs has been a long and deliberative process, focusing on sites that are most beneficial for spawning snapper grouper species while balancing impacts to fishermen,” said Council Chair Dr. Michelle Duval.

The areas were carefully chosen based on a host of information gathered by the SAFMC, and the decision was not reached lightly.

“The Council chose these areas based on scientific recommendations, input from its advisory panel, a great deal of public input, and the results from cooperative research with fishermen familiar with the unique habitat attracting species at selected sites,” Duval said.

The closure will only impact anglers fishing on the bottom. Trolling for pelagic species like billfish, tuna, and dolphin will remain legal.