Byline: STEVE PATTERSON
A federal plan to shut down bottom fishing in a large area off Florida's east coast has won a final approval, raising fears of lost work among fishermen in Northeast Florida and Southeast Georgia.
"It's not good. It's probably going to put all the party boats out of business for sure," said Benny Hendrix, a charter boat operator in Fernandina Beach.
The closure of about 4,800 square miles of ocean bottom is part of a package of steps to protect red snapper from overfishing.
Although U.S. Commerce Secretary Gary Locke formally approved that plan this week, his agency must still finalize a set of rules to implement the new limits.
That's expected to happen next month, said Kim Amendola, a spokeswoman for the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration, an arm of Commerce.
'WE DON'T HAVE THE CLOUT'
The plan is forecast to cost area fishermen millions of dollars in lost catch, not only in snapper but grouper, sea bass and other harvests from dozens of species commonly caught through bottom fishing.
"You catch them all in the same areas," Hendrix said. "There's no way to drop down [a fishing line] and say 'I'm fishing for a grouper,' because you're going to catch a snapper."
The closure would affect areas with depths between 98 and 240 feet from around Cape Canaveral to Southeast Georgia.
A blanket ban on catching red snapper, which was adopted as a temporary measure last year, would remain in effect in a 200-nautical mile zone off the entire Southeast coast.
Advocates have said the restrictions are needed because red snapper populations are rapidly declining, particularly in older age brackets that are important for reproduction.
Critics, including many commercial and recreational fishermen, have ridiculed the government's research on fish numbers. …