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Grouper fishing ban in Florida Keys is a hot-button issue

A temporary ban on grouper fishing in the Florida Keys goes into effect on Jan. 1, and commercial fishermen are worried it will decimate their business ventures.

The four-month ban is an effort to protect shallow-water grouper -- including black, gag, red and yellowfin -- during their primary spawning season.

Area charter fishing outfits contend the ban may all but kill their industry, already devastated by the economic downturn.

"This ban will put people out of business. It is draconian," Andy Griffiths, who owns a charter-boat company near Key West, told the Miami Herald.

"This couldn't come at a worse time," Griffiths added. "My business is already off 80% because of the economy."

Griffiths has had to downsize his fleet by half, and has lowered his prices to what he charged two decades ago, which is just enough to pay each boat's crew.

Ocean conservancy groups and fishery managers contend that the grouper has been overfished for decades and that the species cannot sustain itself unless something is done.

"We want to do the right thing, and hopefully the closure will speed up the recovery effort of the grouper," Rodney Barreto, Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission chairman, said. "We want to remain the fishing capital of the world, but it's not going to be any fun to go out and not catch anything."

The ban will run annually until grouper stock has recovered, and is being instituted to conform to a federal grouper fishing ban.

"Despite some objections, if we were to oppose the feds, they actually could impose harder restrictions and more lengthy closures," Barreto said.
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