CHARLESTON — Federal regulators decided on Wednesday they want more information before adding another 300 square miles to areas where bottom fishing is banned along the Southeast coast.
A proposal before a committee of the South Atlantic Fishery Management Council would have established 12 new Marine Protected Areas, to go with eight existing ones, in waters along the coast between the Carolinas and Florida.
In all, the new areas would have expanded areas closed to bottom fishing to about 1,100 square miles. The move has been proposed to help rebuild stocks of speckled hind and warsaw grouper.
Before taking action, the committee requested additional reports from the National Marine Fisheries Service on monitoring and law enforcement in the existing protected areas, said Kim Iverson, a spokeswoman for the council. Those reports will be reviewed at the council’s December meeting in Wilmington, N.C.
The committee, however, agreed with the goal of helping the species recover through the use of protected areas. It decided to consider later the matter of adding new protected areas or modifying existing ones.
If the entire council decides to move forward on the proposal, there would be public hearings in August of 2014, she said.
A panel of 16 scientists and fishermen proposed the additional protected areas in addition to making changes to four of the existing ones. Originally there were plans for 30 new protected areas but that number was reduced to 12.
Leda Dunmire, from the Pew Charitable Trusts, said earlier that scientific research indicates that between 20 percent and 40 percent of habitat needs to be preserved to assure the recovery of fish species. The proposal to expand the protected areas would include 23 percent of the hind and warsaw grouper habitat, she said.
The protected areas are along the continental shelf where the water tends to be about 200 feet deep. There is no fishing for popular snapper and grouper species in the protected areas, one of which is an artificial reef off the South Carolina coast.
The areas are designed to protect some of the deep-water snapper-grouper species such as snowy grouper, speckled hind, and blueline tilefish. While fishermen are still able to fish on the surface in the protected areas but may not use tackle for bottom fishing.