At its scheduled meeting this month, the South Atlantic Fishery Management Council (SAFMC) will discuss adding additional Marine Protected Areas (MPAs) of the Carolinas as a means to help reduce the by-catch of speckled hind and warsaw grouper. These species, which are considered deepwater grouper, are listed as undergoing overfishing in the 2012 NOAA Fisheries Report to Congress. 

Eight MPAs already cover portions of the Atlantic Ocean between North Carolina and Florida – four of them off North Carolina and South Carolina and a fifth off the coast of Savannah, Ga., that is range of most boats out of South Carolina’s Lowcountry. Bottom-fishing is not allowed in these MPAs, but fishermen may troll across them. Indications are that the SAFMC is considering banning all fishing on future MPAs, even though early in the process of establishing MPAs, the Council said only fish in the snapper-grouper complex would be prohibited in these areas.

At its September meeting, the SAFMC voted to move forward with the development of an amendment to the Snapper Grouper Fishery Management Plan; options involve reconfiguring the eight existing MPAs, creating new one or a combination of the two.

In the draft amendment, the Snowy Grouper Wreck MPA off Cape Fear would be reconfigured into two MPAs, and seven additional MPAs would be established along the North Carolina coast across the Big Rock off Cape Lookout north to the Manuela and Malchace wrecks off Ocracoke and would increase the MPA count off the North Carolina coast from one to nine.

Off South Carolina, the Northern South Carolina, Edisto and Georgia MPAs would be reconfigured and extended into nine MPAs, and four new MPAs would be added. The Charleston Deep MPA would not be altered, leaving South Carolina with nine MPAs.

Dr. Michelle Duval, who is the Executive Assistant for Councils with the N.C. Division of Marine Fisheries, the Vice-Chair of the SAFMC and Chair of the SAFMC Snapper Grouper Committee, said, “I think there were some mis-statements in the media that the Council had chosen or was going to choose all of the sites recommended…. Right now, the timeline is for the Council to choose sites for additional analysis at its December meeting, take those out for public scoping in January 2014, complete/refine analyses and choose preferred alternatives by June 2014, and send out for formal public hearings in August 2014.” 

The South Atlantic Fishery Management Council will meet Dec. 2-6 at the Hilton Wilmington Riverside in Wilmington, N.C. The snapper-grouper work will take place on Tuesday and Wednesday, Dec. 3 and 4.  

Two opportunities for public input will be available during the SAFMC meeting: Wednesday, Dec. 4, at 5:30 p.m., and Thursday, Dec. 5, at 5:30 p.m.

The SAFMC meeting will be available live by webcast. For more information or to register for the webcast, visit the Meeting Information Page at www.safmc.net