The National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration's Fisheries Service announced an interim rule that will prohibit commercial and recreational fishing for red snapper in federal waters off North Carolina, South Carolina, Georgia and the Atlantic coast of Florida.
The move drew sharp criticism from the Recreational Fishing Alliance, which says it will seek an emergency injunction to prevent the ban from going into effect.
"We have ... filed a lawsuit in federal court in Jacksonville, Fla. and we feel confident that once a federal judge reviews the arbitrary and capricious methods used by the National Marine Fisheries Service, the closure will be overturned," RFA attorney Dave Heil said in a statement.
The six-month rule becomes effective Jan. 4 and can be extended an additional six months if necessary.
The most recent scientific assessment shows too many red snapper are being removed from the population, which indicates a need for protection under the Magnuson-Stevens Fishery Conservation and Management Act, NOAA said in a statement. Most of the remaining population consists of smaller, younger fish, which produce fewer eggs than older fish.
"The Magnuson-Stevens Act requires us to manage fish populations so they grow to a size that can sustain the largest average catch possible for the long term," said Roy Crabtree, southeast regional administrator for NOAA's Fisheries Service, in a statement. "Unfortunately, the red snapper population has not been able to reach that size; therefore, closing the fishery is the first step toward protecting this species, rebuilding the stock and ensuring fishing for generations to come."
Heil and the RFA say the South Atlantic Fishery Management Council and National Marine Fisheries Service are using improper data to drive their decision.
"NOAA continues to put nails into the coffin of the beleaguered recreational marine industry, while the preservationists over at Pew Environment Group are already dancing on our graves," RFA executive director Jim Donofrio said in a statement.