Protected Areas for Grouper Move Forward

Wilmington, NC – Attempts to reverse the declining populations of grouper and snapper along the Carolina coast got a boost Thursday.

The South Atlantic Regional Fishery Council voted to create eight permanent protected areas for the fish, stretching from North Carolina to Florida. The largest refugee is 55 nautical miles offshore from Southport and covers about 127,000 acres. A shipwreck in that area is a rich location for breeding-age grouper.

Dan Whittle with the group Environmental Defense helped create the preservation plan. He says this is the first interstate system of marine refuges.

They're not focused so much on habitat, like some marine protected areas are, are designed to protect beautiful coral reefs, but more on the fish themselves. This is where the fish congregate.

The protected areas will still allow boating, diving and mid-level fishing, such as for tuna. Only bottom lines, the kind that catch the deep-dwelling grouper, are banned.

It took the Fishery Council more than a decade to develop these protected areas for grouper. Many fishermen have opposed their creation, raising questions about enforcement and the lack of a sunset clause.

The south Atlantic Marine Protected Areas plan must still get final approval from the US Secretary of Commerce. That decision is expected in the fall.

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