The South Atlantic Fishery Management Council voted unanimously in a special meeting on Aug. 10 to reopen bottom fishing in waters 240 feet deep out to 200 miles after being closed since January.

The decision will next go to the U.S. Secretary of Commerce for review, and upon approval, it will become law.

Fishermen in the Carolinas were thrilled by the decision, having complained that it unnecessarily shut down fisheries for several species of bottom fish whose status was not threatened like the speckled hind and Warsaw grouper the closure was aimed at protecting.

During the closure, fishermen have been denied access to golden tilefish, snowy grouper and wreckfish, the latter primarily a commercial fishery.

Capt. Bobby Freeman, who operates Sunrise Charters out of Morehead City hopes reopening the fishery will bring back some of his lost business.

"During the hearings, before it was implemented, we told them (SAFMC members) the closure was not necessary and would hurt us badly, but they didn't listen," Freeman said. "I don't know how it hurt other folks, but I have long-time customers who quit coming because they couldn't catch enough fish to make the trip worthwhile.

"If this is approved, we will be able to go back to deeper water and catch some tilefish and snowies, and maybe some of those folks will start coming again. It's a little step, but it's a step in the right direction."

Also at the meeting, the SAFMC set annual catch limits for members of the snapper-grouper complex and other pelagic species, along with allocations between commercial and recreational fishermen.

The ACL for wreckfish was dramatically reduced from 2 million to 250,000 pounds, with commercials getting 95 percent of the allocation.

After reviewing public comment, the SAFMC also voted to modify include management of several species that had been slated for removal from the Snapper Grouper Management Complex, establishing additional "groupings" where species with similar characteristics would be grouped and aggregate ACLs applied.

The SAFMC set the allocation for dolphin at 14,596,216 pounds, 92.7 percent of that recreational. The allocation for wahoo will be 1,481,785 pounds, with recreational fishermen getting 95.7 percent of the allocation.

No changes were made to bag limits of either species, although a minimum size of 20 inches (fork length) for dolphin (already in effect off Florida and Georgia) will be extended to include South Carolina.

The ACL for king mackerel will be 10.46 million pounds, up from 10 million a year ago, with recreational fishermen getting 62.9 percent of the allowance. Spanish mackerel will be capped at 5.69 million pounds, a 20-percent decrease from 2010 limits.

The proposed ACL for cobia will be 1,571,399 pounds, with an allocation of 92 percent recreational and 8 percent commercial. 

Creel and size limits will not change for either mackerel species or cobia under the new allocations.