NOAA 99-R167
FOR IMMEDIATE RELEASE
Contact: Stephanie Dorezas
12/15/99

NOAA FISHERIES PROPOSES CLOSURES OF FEDERAL WATERS TO PROTECT SWORDFISH, BILLFISH, AND OTHER HIGHLY MIGRATORY SPECIES

To enhance rebuilding of depleted stocks of Atlantic swordfish and billfish, the National Marine Fisheries Service is proposing a year-round closed area in the Atlantic Ocean and a seasonal closure in the western Gulf of Mexico, together totaling approximately 196,370 square miles, the Commerce Department's National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration announced today.

The proposal would establish a year-round closed area in the southeastern Atlantic, and a seasonal closure in the western Gulf of Mexico from March 1 through Sept. 30. Fishery managers believe closing these areas will reduce bycatch of unwanted and/or undersized fish and will also help rebuild other overfished species such as bluefin tuna and some large coastal shark populations by reducing fishing for them. Managers are seeking input on the proposal from the commercial and recreational fishing industries, conservationists and the public.

"Commercial and recreational fishermen and the conservation community all support our goal to rebuild swordfish and other highly migratory species. In closing certain fishing areas where bycatch is highest, this rebuilding effort is enhanced," said Penny Dalton, assistant administrator for NOAA, and director of NOAA Fisheries.

The proposal reflects input from meetings with two advisory panels held earlier this year to discuss alternatives for the time and area closures. Members of the Highly Migratory Species and Billfish Advisory Panels supported the time/area management strategy.

The proposed Atlantic closed area (see map) encompasses waters from Wilmington Beach, N.C., to Key West, Fla. The proposed Gulf of Mexico area includes waters within the EEZ and encompassing 26 degrees N lat. (Isabel, Texas), and 90 degrees W long. (Grand Isle, La.), to the coast.

The proposed time/area closures are similar to those in recently proposed federal legislation, with the exception of a larger area around Charleston, S.C. Fisheries managers are requesting public comment specifically on whether the boundary and size of the various closed areas will accomplish the bycatch reduction goals. Recognizing the significant economic impacts of this proposed rule on fishermen, managers are also seeking input on ways to mitigate that impact, including vessel or permit buyouts.

The agency will be holding a series of hearings on the proposal from New Jersey to Texas. Details on the time and location of these hearings will be made available by Jan. 1, 2000.

A copy of the proposed rule is available on the Internet at: http://www.nmfs.gov/sfa/hmspg.html. Comments on the proposal should be sent to Rebecca Lent, Chief, Highly Migratory Species Management Division, 1315 East-West Highway, Silver Spring, Md., 20910. The closing date for comments is Feb. 11, 2000.