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Daily Fishing and Outdoor Report

Dec. 28, 09 -- Cold air moves in; Capt. John Larson dies; Florida grouper ban could impact our tog

Monday, December 28, 2009:
Canada is sending a frigid greeting southward in the form of a so-called Continental Polar air mass, shortened to C-P Air, since it’s so cold you can’t get out big words like “continental” without frostbite setting in. I know some folks were out there today trying for schoolies. I saw the rods being hauled about on buggies, however, no word on any striper successes. And effort for the rest of the week should include a couple layers of thermal underwear.
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John Larson, popular captain of the headboat Miss Barnegat Light and owner of a commercial fishing fleet, died on Dec. 23. Here’s his obit:
JOHN LARSON, 76, of Barnegat Light, NJ died on Dec 23rd at Deborah Hospital after complications from heart surgery. His wife, Marion and all 7 children were with him at his side. Born in Lakewood, NJ he was raised in Barnegat Light. After attending the Univ. of Virginia he worked for the Roebling Co. before taking over his father's party boat business in Barnegat Light. John is survived by his wife Marion Oliver Larson; 7 children Kirk, Karen, Kristine, Keith, Karter, Kathy of Barnegat Light and Kraig of Annapolis, MD; Daughter- in-laws Pamela Keane Larson, Cindy Hoyt Larson and Linda Hollander Larson; son-in-law Ernest Panacek. He leaves 11 grandchildren: Lori Malay, and husband Daniel Malay, Kirk Larson Jr, Lindsay Larson, Tyler Larson, Britt Larson, Sonja Panacek, Anna Lisa Panacek, John Panacek, Dylan Larson, Allison Larson, James Gutowski and 2 great grandchildren, Maddy Malay and Daniel Malay IV all of Barnegat Light. He has one brother in Tacoma, WA and many nieces and nephews.
John was a very large influence in the fishing industry on the whole east coast. He was owner or part owner of eight commercial fishing vessels and one party boat, "Miss Barnegat Light". He was a partner in Viking Village docks and Barnegat Light Yacht Basin. He was a member of Zion Lutheran Church, The Sextant Mason's Lodge and Barnegat Light Historical Society where he enjoyed being a docent in the summer telling tales of attending school there the first six years of his schooling. Services will be held Saturday January 2 at 11 A.M. at the Kynett Methodist Church in Beach Haven followed by a celebration of his life at the Barnegat Light Firehouse. His ashes will be spread at his request in the ocean, from which he made a living, at a warmer time of the year. In lieu of flowers a donation to the Barnegat Light Historical Society would be appreciated. Arrangements under the care of MAXWELL FUNERAL HOME, MANAHAWKIN, NJ.

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The following is news story out of Miami concerning an imminent ban of grouper fishing in Florida waters. It’s interesting in light of that state’s sudden crackdown on any and all perceived overfishing. Had state authorities simply toed the conservational line years ago, it wouldn’t have come to yet another ban of an entire fishery for Sunshine State anglers and commercialites.
I also want to bring this issue up since I was told that the closest menu fill-in for grouper is our very own tog. I have some finely tuned taste buds when it comes to seafood and I sure don’t see many similarities – from taste to texture. However, I’m told by an expert – familiar with seafood both here and in Florida – that demand for tog will skyrocket with the grouper ban. He is also sure that already-established underground methods for transporting tog will keep the flow of blackfish under wraps. That’s bad for the economy and worse for the fishery, as it's hard to figure out what the actual catch is when some sinister folks are hiding (fudging) numbers -- along with recreational anglers selling their catches on the sly.

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December 28, 2009 - MIAMI, In the next few months, customers of Chef Lupe's restaurants in the Florida Keys won't be able to order his signature sandwich: local crunchy grouper made with corn flakes.

On Jan. 1, a new four-month ban on grouper fishing goes into effect to protect the species during its primary spawning season. Fishery managers and ocean conservancy groups say several types of grouper have been overfished for decades and need protection.

Unfortunately for many in the Keys, the ban also coincides with the island chain's peak tourist season. Charter boat captains, as well as commercial fishermen, say the regulations are 'Draconian' and economically devastating.

'It's a bitter choice between sustaining the fishery or sustaining someone's livelihood,' said Andy McDonald, the wholesale manager at the Islamorada Fish Co. 'But if you don't sustain the fishery, there will be no livelihood.'

During the ban, which runs through April 30, commercial and recreational fishermen will not be allowed to keep shallow-water grouper - including gag, black, red and yellowfin - that is caught in federal and state Atlantic waters from North Carolina to Key West. The ban also extends into state waters in the Gulf of Mexico.

'This couldn't come at a worse time,' said Andy Griffiths, who owns a three-boat charter operation near Key West. 'My business already is off 80 percent because of the economy.'

Griffiths, who has downsized from six boats, said he is now offering trips at 1990 prices-just enough to pay the captain and mate and keep the boats running to prevent deterioration. His clients, hearty fishermen who book overnight trips, come to the Keys primarily to catch grouper.

Charter boat captain Bill Kelly, who served on the South Atlantic fishing council, said he's been in business 30 years and 2009 was his worst season.

He's not alone. Skip Bradeen, who is well known in the Keys for his twice-a-day radio fishing reports, said his business was so bad in 2009 that he opened a piano bar. Both say the ban will keep away some clients when they need them most.

The ban also couldn't come at a worse time for the Keys' commercial fishermen, who are reeling from low demand and low prices for their big ticket items: spiny lobster and stone crabs. Hal Osburn, executive director of the Florida Keys Commercial Fishermen's Association, said many commercial boats had been supplementing their dwindling incomes by catching fish such as grouper to stay afloat.

The ban's ripple effects are expected to reach consumers, restaurants, seafood retailers, tourist-related businesses and state coffers.

The price of grouper, already $17.99 per pound at several grocery chain stores in the Keys, could go higher when the supply goes down.

The grouper ban was triggered in 2007, when the National Marine Fisheries Service said gag grouper was being harvested too fast to sustain the stock.

Due to a beefed-up federal law, the reauthorization of the 1976 Magnuson Stevens Fishery Conservation and Management Act, fishery managers had to take action to protect the species identified as overfished.

Originally, the grouper ban was supposed to go into effect on Jan. 1, 2009, but it was put on hold for further analysis after fishermen and others against the ban put up a fight. This time around, there will be no reprieve.

'This ban will put people out of business using bad science and no complete economic studies,' Griffiths said.

'It is Draconian.'

Those in the Keys argued that gag grouper is not common in waters off the tropical island chain, making up only about 1 to 2 percent of the entire grouper catch.

Doug Gregory, a fisheries ecologist with the Florida Sea Grant Extension Program, agreed: 'I think the closure in the Keys is unnecessary, and will not do much to restore the gag fishery.'

Rodney Barreto, chairman of the Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission, said he agrees that the data collection that led to the closure is 'antiquated.' He has asked Florida's two senators, Bill Nelson and George LeMieux, to help the state get funding for better data collection of fish stocks, especially as several more federal closures of fisheries are in the works that could devastate Florida's fishing industry.

But despite some objections, Barreto said the FWC instituted a state ban on grouper consistent with the federal ban on Dec. 10 to prevent law enforcement problems. 'And,' he added, 'if we were to oppose the feds, they actually could impose harder restrictions and more lengthy closures.'

Barreto, who owns a home in Key Largo and is an avid angler, 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. We want to do the right thing, and hopefully the closure will speed up the recovery effort of grouper.'

The ban will run annually until the stock has recovered.

Tom Hill, owner of Key Largo Fisheries, said the government should put more effort into stopping 'overpolluting' as opposed to 'overfishing' of the oceans.

But McDonald of the Islamorada Fish Co. said he sees a need for the grouper ban in the Keys, as painful as it may be to the local fishermen who sell him their catch.

(c) 2009, The Miami Herald. Distributed by Mclatchy-Tribune News Service.

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