Feds pull trigger on triggerfish

TINA HARBUCK
Triggerfish lined the boards Thursday afternoon on the docks, as word comes down that the fishery will soon close in federal waters and not reopen until Jan. 1, 2015.

Disappointment and devastation were just a couple of the words local charter boat captains used to describe their feelings about Thursday's news to close the recreational harvest of gray triggerfish in the Gulf of Mexico federal waters, effective May 1.

"It's just one more nail in the coffin," said Capt. Mike Graef of the charter boat Huntress.

In recent weeks the National Marine Fisheries Service has shortened the red snapper season from 40-plus days in federal waters to just 11 this year, starting June 1.

Now the charter boats will lose triggerfish in federal waters as well. Federal waters start at nine nautical miles and extend to about 200 nautical miles. Boats holding federal permits have to abide by federal rules.

"This closure is necessary to protect the gray triggerfish resource. This stock is considered overfished and undergoing overfishing," said a news release from the NMFS.

"It doesn't make sense," Graef said. Within the last five years, the triggerfish has gone from a 10-fish bag limit to a two fish, plus it increased in size limit from 12 to 14 inches.

"I'm disappointed, but it is what it is," said Capt. Stan Phillips of the Destination. "I was just thinking today that we had a good crop of triggerfish this year … I shouldn't have gone there."

Many of the boats that backed in at the docks Thursday afternoon had triggerfish on the racks.

"The charter boats are under a lot of pressure," said Capt. Tommy Carter of the Blue Runner II.

"It's going to make it a tough year," Carter said of losing the triggerfish.

"It makes it hard on the crew when you can't keep this and that. Triggers have kept us going through the spring. What are we going to fish for now? It seems like they were just making a good comeback."

Capt. Jim Green of the New Florida Girl's American Spirit is puzzled by the closure.

"Our management is so lacking," Green said.

He explained that the biomass of triggerfish is growing, but the TAC (total allowable catch) is not growing with it.

"With the weather we've had this spring, it's hard to believe that the quota has been caught," Green said.

"They're devastating us," he said.

"It's just another shot … nothing surprises me anymore," said Capt. Todd Allen of the Big John.