This is a publication of the Gulf of Mexico Fishery Management Council pursuant to National Oceanic and Atmospheric Award No. NA03NMF4410028.

NOAA logoNEWS RELEASE
RELEASE: IMMEDIATELY
CONTACT: STEVEN ATRAN

PUBLIC HEARING SCHEDULED ON REEF FISH AMENDMENT 21, CONTINUATION OF MADISON-SWANSON AND STEAMBOAT LUMPS MARINE RESERVES

Tampa, Florida - March 17, 2003 - The Gulf of Mexico Fishery Management Council (Council) will hold a public hearing on the Councilís proposed Amendment 21 to the Reef Fish Fishery Management Plan (FMP) to extend the time period for the Madison/Swanson and Steamboat Lumps marine reserves beyond their June 16, 2004 expiration date. The public hearing will be held from 7:00 p.m. to 10:00 p.m. at the following location and date:

Wednesday, April 9, 2003
Tampa Airport Hilton
2225 Lois Avenue
Tampa, Florida
813-877-6688

In addition, public testimony will be taken at the May 12-15, 2003 Council meeting at the Edgewater Beach Resort, 11212 Front Beach Road, Panama City Beach, Florida. (The exact date and time for public testimony at the May Council meeting will be announced at a later time.)

The Madison/Swanson and Steamboat Lumps marine reserves were implemented on June 19, 2000 with a 4-year sunset provision. The Madison/Swanson site is approximately 115 square nautical miles in size and is located about 40 nautical miles southwest of Apalachicola City, Florida. Steamboat Lumps is approximately 104 square nautical miles in size and is located about 95 nautical miles west of Tarpon Springs, Florida. Within each area, fishing is prohibited for all species except for highly migratory species, i.e., tunas, marlin, oceanic sharks, sailfishes, and swordfish. These marine reserves were created primarily to protect a portion of the gag spawning aggregations and to protect a portion of the offshore population of male gag. The areas are also suitable habitat and provide protection for many other species, such as scamp, red grouper, warsaw grouper, speckled hind, red snapper, red porgy, and others.

It was the Council's intent to prohibit the use of any fishing gear within the closed areas in order to maximize enforceability of the closed area as well as minimize the negative impact from incidental catch and release of reef fish while targeting other species. For this reason, the Council asked that the NMFS Highly Migratory Species (HMS) Division implement compatible closed area regulations for the species under their management jurisdiction (tunas, swordfish, oceanic sharks, and billfishes). This led to a legal challenge from a recreational fishing organization. The recreational organization felt that restrictions on fishing for migratory species higher up in the water column were unwarranted because they would have no impact on the bottom reef fish species. As part of a

settlement to the legal challenge, NMFS agreed to hold the Council's request to implement an HMS closure in abeyance while research is conducted into the impact of the no-take areas, the effect of pelagic trolling on and ability to reach reef fish species, and the impact on enforceability by allowing pelagic trolling in the no-take areas. Reports on the results of the research into these areas are scheduled to be presented at the May 12-15, 2003 Council meeting, where final action is to be taken. No action will result in the two reserves expiring on June 16, 2004, and the areas re-opening to all fishing.

Copies of the public hearing document for these meetings can be obtained by calling the Council office at 813-228-2815 (toll-free 888-833-1844), or can be downloaded from the Council website (http://www.gulfcouncil.org). These meetings are open to the public and are physically accessible to people with disabilities. Requests for sign language interpretation or other auxiliary aids should be directed to the Council office by April 2, 2003.

The Gulf of Mexico Fishery Management Council is 1 of 8 regional fishery management councils that were established by the Magnuson-Stevens Fishery Conservation and Management Act of 1976. The Council prepares fishery management plans that are designed to manage fishery resources in the Exclusive Economic Zone (EEZ) of the U.S. Gulf of Mexico.

This news release, and other Council news releases, can be viewed at the Councilís web site at http://www.gulfcouncil.org. In addition, Council press releases may be received via e-mail by sending a blank e-mail message to pressreleases@gulfcouncil.org with SUBSCRIBE as the subject.

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