Golden Tilefish Closure! What do I tell Eddie?
By Capt. Marlin Scott
as seen in the Keynoter, Saturday June 7, 2014
"There's always someone waiting to rain on your parade" or "If it seems too good to be true it probably is" are a couple of sayings that came to mind when I read the emails from the South Atlantic Fisheries Council. The headlines read "Recreational Harvest of Golden Tilefish and Snowy Grouper Closing in the South Atlantic on June 7th, 2014”. Further into the notification it read, "The re-opening will be January 1st, 2015". So until we see confetti, this fishery is effectively shut down as of June 7th. The TOTAL fish count allowed for the South Atlantic Federal Waters from South Carolina to the Dry Tortugas is 523 snowy grouper for ALL of the recreational fishing sector combined. The total number allowed for golden tilefish in the same area is 3,019 and "NOAA Fisheries expects landings to reach or exceed the annual catch limit". Now I wonder What do I tell Eddie?
Angler and Lower Keys resident Eddie Moore has found a new love, a few new loves actually. A brand spanking new 37' SeaHunter with all of the bells and whistles with deep drop fishing capabilities factory installed in each gunnel, and outlets for electric reels. He says to me, "Captain Marlin, I want you to teach me how to catch fish in deep water. Come to my house at 6:45am and we'll go, bring what we need.” Teaching is a favorite for me but teaching how to deep drop is a passion. Up early and loaded with the deep dropping gear I headed to his dock knowing we would be successful.
We finished loading our ice at the Wharf on Summerland Key and then motored back into Niles Channel. Eddie asked if I had some GPS numbers to go to. I stared silently at the GPS chart and put my finger on a spot that looked good and said "There". He stared in disbelief and asked "You didn't bring any numbers?" I shook my head and said, "We're going to find some spots of your very own. We’re on a Lewis and Clark type expedition". He didn't seem convinced as he pressed the throttles to the pins of the SeaHunter Rocketship. At 40 miles an hour we were already almost there.
The search was simple, all we did was look for deviations in the bottom around the 550-650 foot deep areas I call the "650 Break". The new Garmin electronics confirmed broken bottom. For thousands of years, the Gulf Stream current and strong storms have chewed away the deep lime rock forming structure for snowy grouper to inhabit. This would be one of Eddie’s new snowy grouper spots. Too simple really. Drop the 6 lb. weighted chicken rig baited with large bonito strips and keep the line perpendicular to the hull. These were the only technical instructions needed for Eddie. He, after years of boating knew exactly what I meant and did it perfectly. The second drift paid off with an 8 lb. snowy grouper. The one snowy grouper per vessel allowance meant we were done. Golden tilefish were next.
Our next stop would be in an area known as the "Wall" offshore of the Lower Keys. On arrival, we found it was almost too rough for what we wanted to do. Deep dropping in 3-5 foot seas is not easy, especially with a current that was pulsing at 2-3 knots to the northeast. However, the first drift was all we needed before the rod twitched and tapped. This was followed by a reel stopping tail kick from a full-sized golden tilefish. Bringing the fish up from 1100 feet would take 3 minutes or more. Eddie looked over at me and said "This is easy!" As the reel finished the final powered revolutions, Eddie manually reeled in the rest of the leader exposing a beautiful golden tilefish over 20 pounds. We were now complete. Eddie just shook his head in disbelief.
Deep dropping in the Florida Keys is for all intents and purposes now effectively closed. There are two ways to insure that full-sized snowy grouper and golden tilefish are not caught. The first is to either downsize your hooks dramatically in hopes of the hooks straightening. The second is even worse, don’t fish at all. Bringing them up from these depths usually means instant expiration for the fish and is wasteful because you can’t keep them.
Unfortunately, here is the economic hit to our local economy if the second option is taken:
Locally spent dollars for Eddie Moore's big day deep dropping for golden tilefish and snowy grouper are listed below. We only brought one deep drop rod with us on the boat (seriously). Our focus was deep dropping with no distractions.
Captains fees-$300.00 plus $100.00 tip
Total- $745.00 divided by 28 pounds of fish equals $26.60 per pound of recreational fishing value not including wear and tear to the SeaHunter. That's $26.60 per pound WHOLE FISH. Also not included in this figure is the potential for our local tackle shops to sell deep drop gear ranging from $1000.00 - $3,000.00 dollars per outfit. Not only is the closure an economic negative for our local economy but what do I tell Eddie?
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