NOAA puts limit on red grouper harvest for commercial fishermen, prices may soon soar

CORTEZ, Fla. (WFLA) — At the Star Fish Company fish market in Cortez in Manatee County, the price for a pound of red grouper is $24.95 – which may seem a bit pricey, but could be a bargain in the near future.

Karen Bell owns the market and is president of her family’s business, A.P. Bell Fish Company. It’s a commercial fishing company that’s been around for more than 80 years.

NOAA Fisheries recently announced it is reducing the number of fish that commercial fishermen can bring in, due to the increasing number of fish recreational fishermen are harvesting.

Bell says that new limit will no doubt impact the price of the fish.

“What this does is push prices even higher,” Bell said. “Grouper already is a really high-end product and the prices are crazy high.”

Karen Bell, president of A.P. Bell Fish Company, says she and other commercial fishermen are exploring their options.

Andy Strelcheck, the regional administrator for NOAA, knows the decision to limit catches is not popular with everyone.

“This has been a very controversial action,” said Strelcheck. “The commercial harvest is being reduced by approximately 20 percent from the previous catch levels. Today, ironically, we just published another rule that will increase red grouper catch levels if that rule goes through.”

Eric Brazer, the deputy director of the Gulf of Mexico Reef Fish Shareholders’ Alliance, calls the move unfair.

“Because of this rule, commercial fishermen now get a smaller slice of a smaller pie when it comes to red grouper,” Brazer said.

Bell says she is frustrated by the entire situation and, along with others in the commercial fishing industry, are exploring their legal options. In the meantime, she has a suggestion if you don’t want to pay sky high prices for grouper.

“My normal thing to tell the public is to please support commercial fisherman,” said Bell. “But it sounds like now I better tell them to go out and buy a recreational boat and go fishing.”