This week, researchers from the National Centers for Coastal Ocean Science are surveying fish populations in Flower Garden Banks National Marine Sanctuary prior to an experimental closure of certain areas to all fishing and diving.
When the sanctuary proposed the closure in its management plan last October, they noted a "perception by some long-time observers that the number and size of certain prominent fish species have declined in recent years." Because of this, sanctuary advisors recommended establishing temporary exclusion areas to compare with locations without restrictions to determine whether the ban benefits the fish populations, and ultimately, reward recreational anglers and commercial fishing operations with more and larger fish.
The public is engaged in this issue, with currently over 600 comments addressing Sanctuary's new plan in Regulations.gov. The Flower Garden Sanctuary, described as an 'ocean treasure,' has many passionate supporters in Texas and Louisiana, and proposals to restrict fishing and expand the area's boundaries are drawing opinions both for and against.
This work is funded in part by NOAA's Coral Reef Conservation Program.