SAFMC Approves Spawning Special Management Zones

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The South Atlantic Fishery Management Council has approved the designation of five offshore areas as Spawning Special Management Zones (SMZs) to help protect spawning fish and unique habitat associated with spawning activities in the South Atlantic, including portions of an elbow-shaped ledge off the coast of South Carolina and a deep sinkhole in the ocean floor just off the Florida Keys.

The designation, through Amendment 36 to the Snapper Grouper Fishery Management Plan, would protect important spawning habitat and associated species of fish within the Council’s snapper grouper management complex by limiting specific fishing and anchoring activity within the sites.

If approved by the Secretary of Commerce, the five areas ranging in size from three square miles to five square miles, would be the first such Spawning SMZs designated in federal waters off the South Atlantic coast.

The five Spawning SMZs approved by the Council are: a 5.1 square mile area off the coast of North Carolina known as the South Cape Lookout site; a 3.03 square mile area off the coast of Georgetown, South Carolina within an area called “Devil’s Hole” or “Georgetown Hole”; two experimental artificial reef areas established by the South Carolina Department of Natural Resources known as “Area 51” and “Area 53”, each approximately 3 square miles in size off the coast of South Carolina; and a 3.6 square mile area off the east coast of the Florida Keys referred to as the “Warsaw Hole” (50 Fathom Hole) for the number of warsaw grouper associated with the area.

Fishing for species in the snapper grouper fishery management complex and anchoring would be prohibited within the proposed Spawning SMZs; anchoring is allowed in the experimental artificial reef areas. Fishermen would be allowed to troll for pelagic species such as dolphin, tuna, and billfish in the areas.

In addition to designating the Spawning SMZs, the amendment includes a sunset provision that would require the areas be reauthorized after a period of 10 years, based on their effectiveness.

A System Management Plan for the Spawning SMZs was approved in conjunction with Amendment 36, outlining research/monitoring, law enforcement, and outreach needs. The amendment would also move the existing Charleston Deep Artificial Reef Marine Protected Area to match the boundary of the currently permitted site.

source: South Atlantic Fishery Management Council