Dave Moseley, better known as “Captain Dave” to his clients, runs a fishing charter business out of St. Petersburg, Fla. On a warm March morning, he packs his bait, tackle, rods, and even some fish spread for lunch, and gets out on the water early. Sure enough, he snags some red snapper and a gag grouper, some of the most popular and tastiest fish in the Gulf of Mexico. But snapper and grouper seasons are closed and therefore Moseley and his clients have to throw them back.
“People are in arms about it,” he said.
With fishing closures expanding throughout the southern United States, the types and amounts of fish recreational fishermen can catch are drastically limited. The NOAA Fisheries Service has instituted several bans on fish, mainly snapper and grouper, in order to protect them during their spawning season and to keep their populations from becoming overfished.
But many charter and recreational fishermen are worried that the closures could have a harmful affect on their businesses that depend on catching these creatures. They argue that it’s unfair to institute such regulations that are detrimental to their livelihood, and that it’s the commercial fishing industry that should be more strictly regulated.
Many of the recreational fishermen survive off tourists and local sports fishermen that not only love to fish, but also love to have a fresh grouper sandwich or a snapper filet for dinner.
Dave Mistretta, a recreational fisherman and charter guide from Indian Rocks Beach, Fla., has been reeling in fish from the Gulf of Mexico for over 30 years. Mistretta believes that the closures have the potential to slow down his business because people don’t want to go out and work to catch fish that they can’t enjoy as dinner later on.
“People want to eat fish,” Mistretta said. “And when they can’t eat it, they don’t want to go out and fish.”
Despite the closures, both Moseley and Mistretta are trying to look at the silver lining. A great deal of Moseley’s business comes from tourists that don’t always mind if they can’t keep the fish they catch as long as they get to enjoy a nice day on the water.
Mistretta is not happy about the bans, but thinks they can have the potential to work in his favor at certain times during the fishing season. His business will increase when a certain fish is opened.
“Right now we’re booked solid for the next two weeks because grouper is opening up and everyone wants to catch it,” he said.
Despite recreational fishermen’s views on the closures, the NOAA Fisheries Service insists that they’re necessary in order to save dwindling fish populations. Many types of fish are off limits to recreational fishermen during their mating season because their populations gather in abundance in certain areas of the ocean.
“Fishermen know where they spawn and then they go and overfish them, so we like to protect them,” said Dr. Jack McGovern, a fishery biologist.
But Mistretta has been on the water long enough to formulate a rebuttal to scientists’ argument.
“There’s just a lot of misinformation about what happens,” he said. “They close them down for spawning, but the spawning only happens 50-200 miles out in the Gulf. It doesn’t happen closer in so we could actually fish there.”
Spawning is only one of the many reasons to close fishing according to scientists. Many different types of fish are extremely overfished and their stocks are dwindling.
Fishery biologist, Dr. Steve Branstetter, explained that sometimes not even closures help protect the fish. Often times, fish are caught accidentally and thrown back, but then they die.
“Recreational fishermen still continue to fish even when snapper are closed so it’s a trade off,” he said. “They go out and fish and catch snapper and throw them back, so there’s discard mortality.”
Mistretta believes that recreational fishermen should be open to catch the snapper as long as they keep their limits down to one or two fish.
As if the conflict between recreational fishermen and government agencies wasn’t enough to make the situation complex, recreational fishermen have a bone to pick with commercial fishermen, who they believe are the real cause of overfishing and hence, closures.
Mistretta believes commercial fishermen have developed just the right technology to allow them to catch great deals of fish in short amounts of time.
“We’ve gotten so technologically advanced in fishing- commercial boats especially, that we can go out and get all this stuff,” said Moseley. “We’re good at it.”
Mistretta, who fished commercially before switching to charters, described the closure as “lopsided” and cited that commercial fishermen are the ones who should have had closures imposed