When the state shuts down shrimping in its waters because of cold weather, lack of abundance or both, that has an effect in federal waters, as well.

How shrimpers move through the 25 miles of federal ocean closest to state waters is, believe it or not, a specially regulated matter, and the South Atlantic Fishery Management Council is looking at ways the regulations can better accomplish their goal without being unduly burdensome to shrimpers.

What is called Shrimp Amendment 11 is presently out for public scoping, which is where the SAFMC alerts the public that it’s looking at changing the fishery management plan and allows for public comment, along with time for experts to analyze proposed actions and alternatives, which will get presented back to the council at its December meeting.

The present regulations mandate shrimp trawl gear has to be stowed below deck when traveling through that 25-mile zone, when state waters are closed because of cold weather. However, numerous fishers have said they can’t store their gear below deck.

The SAFMC held one of its two online public scoping meetings Tuesday night. In going through the presentation, fishery biologist Chip Collier showed a photo of shrimp boats in port.

“As you can see pictured here on the fishing boat, most vessels actually store their shrimp trawl doors above the deck of the boat, just above the deck of the boat,” Collier said. “So, they can’t store their gear below deck and that needs to be addressed.”

For instance, regarding requirements for door storage, the council is asking people whether the doors should be below deck, secured on the deck or in the rack, simply out of the water, have no requirement, or something different.

“One thing to consider as we’re talking about these different requirement, is the regulations should protect overwintering white shrimp while considering safety at sea and enforceability,” Collier said. “Right now, we’d like to consider all that at once and try to make a regulation that works for the stakeholders and is enforceable.”

The same questions exist for net storage, and whether a vessel should maintain a certain speed through the area or not.

Mike Merrifield, who owns a Florida shrimp company and who participated in the Tuesday scoping, pointed out some of the practical issues shrimpers can face while in transit.

“When you showed the picture of the shrimp boat at the dock with the doors on the rack, it’s my understanding that the doors are on the rack when they leave the dock, but the minute they get out into open water the outriggers come down for stability,” Merrifield said. “So, the outriggers would be down, and I guess the doors would remain on the rack until they set gear, and after they’ve set gear, the doors would most likely remain at the end of the outriggers, rather than bringing them back on board, if they are going to continue the trip.”

He also asked about the penalties for violating the regulations, which Collier didn’t immediately have on hand. Collier did say the usual procedure is a penalty based on a type of ticket.

Merrifield said, “Because I know we have some issues in Florida with some of the closed areas during the springtime, and the penalties just are not enough to deter activity.”

A second online public scoping meeting is scheduled for tonight at 7 p.m. Those who wish to participate should go to safmc.net/safmc-meetings/public-hearings-scoping-meetings and register for the webinar. Also available on the site is the scoping summary document and the presentation PDF and a presentation video for those who don’t want to participate in the live event.

Public comment is open until 5 p.m. Friday, and can also be submitted through a link on the website.

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