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By: Jamie Deonas

Amelia Island has experienced a banner year for fishing both offshore and inshore. Earlier in the season the trout, red fish and puppy drum arrived in huge numbers and in decent sizes. These fall and winter migratory fish continue to please both shore fishermen and those angling boats alike with no sign of relocating anytime soon.

The fall offshore scene got off to a rather slow start but was in full swing by December. Legal grouper, snapper and sea bass have been caught from all the inshore local hot spots. Many offshore fishermen in the past made the longer runs to the ledge some 70 nautical miles from the St. Mary’s inlet to target big grouper and snapper but found these same fish in less than 20 miles from shore. This was a huge bonus for the offshore guy as fuel prices prohibited these expensive trips when pump prices topped $5.00 per gallon. These extensive trips often took over 12 hours and cost 100’s of gallons in fuel. With the bigger fish in closer, the trips were more economical and catch levels were back to normal.

With gas prices back down to affordable prices, and the sizes and quantities of fish on the rise what could possible stop a recreational fishermen from enjoying his passion for the water? How about a Federal mandated closure to the ocean starting on February 12, 2009? The National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration have published amendment 14 ending bottom fishing for both recreational and commercial fishermen beginning on the February date and will remain in effect until the counsel decides to re-open it. The areas affected are some 60 NM offshore beginning at the continental shelf and reaches 100 Sq. miles. We are not the only geographic area with these ocean closures; many more are located all along the East coast skirting the continental shelf in the 80-300’ of water range.

In a telephone conversation with the Fisheries division in Seattle Washington I learned this amendment has been heavily scrutinized and debated extensively before the final decision was made. This amendment includes some 70 species of bottom fish and affecting some 529 square miles of ocean in total. Many wonder if this law has the ability to be regulated, since there is much ocean and only a handful of Wildlife officers to enforce it. Questions like “what happens if quietly I sneak out and catch a few bottom fish is there really a chance of being caught”? My answer to that question is simple, this is a Federal law with a legal system that could make your life miserable for many months should you get caught.

In the end I think all of us would ponder these questions the second the line went in the water, “can anyone see what we’re doing?” and “what are we going to do if we’re caught?” You might as well be at work as try to fish under stressful circumstances. In the end, it’s better to follow the law than to chance it. My recommendations are to enjoy these great spots and take advantage of any day that allows you to make it offshore. Remember when February 12 comes this will no longer be an option.

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