Fisheries council decides to limit long-line grouper fishing

SARASOTA, Fla. (AP) _ A fishery panel has voted to end long-line fishing in the Gulf of Mexico within 80 miles of the Florida coast to help the recovery of the red grouper.

The Gulf of Mexico Fishery Management Council approved the policy 13-3 on Thursday July 11th. It is expected to take effect in six months with approval from federal agencies.

The new regulation requires longliners to fish in deeper water beyond 300 feet. The existing requirement is 120 feet. ``We're putting these guys out of business,'' said council member Karen Bell of A.P. Bell Fish Co. in Cortez. ``I know that's what the intent here is to do _ just get rid of them _ but it's wrong.''

The changes are intended to reduce the catch of the Gulf's red grouper by 45 percent, allowing the species to recover from overfishing. The council also lifted a monthlong seasonal ban against commercial grouper fishing.

Other changes approved by the council include:

_ Changing the minimum size of keeper fish from 20 inches to 22 inches; _

Limiting recreational fishermen to two red grouper per person per trip; _

Setting the annual quota limit of shallow-water grouper at 7.08 million pounds per year and red grouper to about 2.78 million pounds;

_ Capping allowable catch for deep water grouper at 1.02 million pounds and tilefish at 440,000 pounds.