February 26, 2021
Photo: Dr. Jiangang Luo
The Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission (FWC) voted today to establish a four-month no fishing closure at Western Dry Rocks, the most important permit spawning site in the Lower Keys. Conservation organizations celebrated the vote, which capped a year-long effort to protect spawning fish that aggregate at the site.
“We thank FWC for taking this decisive action at Western Dry Rocks,” said Jim McDuffie, President of Bonefish & Tarpon Trust (BTT). “It continues the agency’s long record of science-based fisheries management and, in this case, will help ensure the sustainability of our valuable inshore fishery for permit and offshore fishery for mutton snapper.”
Guided by science and supported by a broad coalition of fishing and conservation organizations, the closure spans the months of April through July, the heart of spawning season for permit and mutton snapper, and addresses the increasing threat of shark predation in this 1.3-square-mile area.
Research by BTT identified Western Dry Rocks as a critically important spawning site for permit in the Lower Florida Keys, attracting approximately 70 percent of tagged permit that live on Lower Keys flats. Subsequent studies also found that more than one-third of hooked permit at the site were lost to shark predation. Though harvest for permit is prohibited in the Keys during the spawning season, the loss of hooked permit at this scale is impacting the larger Keys permit fishery.
“FWC agreed today that this is not a sustainable level of mortality, especially since it is occurring at a critical spawning site,” McDuffie said. “This four-month closure will ultimately provide anglers and guides with more fishing opportunities throughout the Lower Keys.”
BTT acknowledges the coalition of organizations that supported the closure, including Lower Keys Guides Association, IGFA, Florida Keys Fishing Guides Association, American Sportfishing Association, Coastal Conservation Association, Congressional Sportsmen’s Foundation, Fly Fishers International, and Guy Harvey Ocean Foundation.
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