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Gulf Plan Allegedly Favors Industrial Fishers

(CN) - An amendment to a Gulf of Mexico fishing plan catered to industrial fishers while netting out smaller commercial and sport fishermen, a marine conservation group claims in Federal Court in Fort Myers, Fla.

The Coastal Conservation Alliance claims that Amendment 29 to the Gulf of Mexico Reef Fish Fishery cut 70 percent of the commercial sector out of the decision-making process by considering only operators with an average annual catch of more than 10,000 pounds of grouper and tilefish, and entirely disregarding recreational fishers.

The Houston-based alliance says that 7,000 of its 90,000 members live in Florida and could be harmed by the amendment affecting the Gulf, "one of the premiere sport and recreational fishing locations in the world."

A 2008 referendum organized to retool fishery management involved only the fishers big enough to require permits, and the resulting amendment arbitrarily redefines the entire Reef Fish Fishery as "commercial," the lawsuit says.

This allegedly violates the Magnusen-Stevens Fishery Conservation Act, intended to prevent overfishing while maximizing extraction. Leaving out recreational and non-permitted commercial fishing sectors discriminates against some fishermen, treats interrelated stocks as separate and does not reflect the best available science, the group claims.

The amendment to the fishing quota system allows percentage catch shares to be bought and sold, but only among commercial, permitted fishers.

The Coastal Conservation Alliance, represented by Matthew Belcastro of Henderson, Franklin, Starnes & Holt in Fort Meyers, Fla., seeks an injunction preventing implementation of Amendment 29 and a new analysis under the National Environmental Policy Act.


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