New rules for snowy grouper, a deep-water species caught by long-line fisherman off the NC coast go into effect on October 23rd. These are powerful rules, so puissant that they have apparently reached back in time and idled a fishery before they even go into effect.
A line of fishing boats stood empty one recent sunny morning at the dock of one of Hatteras Village’s last fish houses, each vessel swaying gently on the swells of the Pamlico Sound, moored for want of work.
No one can say what will happen to the boats.
Not when life-altering federal rules changes can alter the very fabric of space and time, obviously. But enough of the lazy journalism.
The new rules would affect a subset of fishermen throughout North Carolina, including those who hunt for vermillion snapper and black sea bass. But perhaps no group will be hit as hard as the snowy grouper fishermen who make their living out of Hatteras.
Gray and the other fishermen usually go out overnight, dropping baited lines 600 feet into the Atlantic. When he pulls fish from such depths, they’re usually dead, their gills blown out by the sudden pressure change. Up come snowy grouper, a delicate whitefish worth up to $3.50 a pound. Up come amberjack and tilefish – less valuable, but saleable.
Oden caught 1,000 pounds on a recent day. The next day, he couldn’t catch a bite.
“I’m in agreement that snowy grouper needs help. No problem there,” Oden said. But he favors more lenient rules.
The rule – known as Amendment 13C – would eventually prohibit fishermen from catching more than 100 pounds of snowy grouper per trip. That could mean just three or four fish – down from a current trip limit of 2,500 pounds.
That’s a big reduction, but stocks of snowy grouper are considered overfished, as are many of the other species targeted by the rules change, so the change itself shouldn’t come as much of a shock, though the degree might be, and from a recreational fisherman’s perspective, the change might be seen as too little, too late, though there will always be debate about numbers.
Rhode said snowy grouper, an offshore reef fish, “are gone” and the fishery is almost non-existent. Snowy grouper are concentrated in deep water, as much as 600 feet, and commercial operators used “bandit” (heavy electric) reels to fish for them.
Rhode said because snowies are so difficult to fish for, he suspects data about their actual numbers may be shaky — there may be more snowy grouper than show up in commercial and recreational catches.
Sucks to be a commercial fisherman nowadays, but to be one requires facing the fact that federal regulations are going to err on the side of the fish stocks for the indefinite future. Not too would increase the chance that other fisheries would go the way of the cod fishery, and a slow decline in comemrcial fisherman is far better than throwing them all out of work at once.