In an effort to protect and boost the numbers and quality of fish in the snapper-grouper complex, the South Atlantic Fisheries Management Council will close South Cape Lookout to bottom fishing. The 5.1 square mile area is a popular spot for anglers fishing on the bottom.

Anchoring will also be banned in the area, but trolling for pelagic species will be allowed. 

Three other areas of interest to North Carolina anglers include the Georgetown Hole, which is off the coast of South Carolina’s northern coast, and two areas known as Area 51 and Area 53 which are also off of the Palmetto State’s coast.

Florida’s Warsaw Hole, also known as the 50 Fathom Hole, will also close under the measure.

While no date has been set for the closure, it is expected to happen by 2017, and still needs final approval from the Secretary of Commerce, which is thought to be a mere formality at this point.

These areas are part of what the SAFMC has determined are Spawning Special Management Zones, or spawning grounds for fish in the snapper-grouper complex such as warsaw grouper and speckled hind grouper. These fish need such protected areas to rebound in numbers, said the SAFMC. Warsaw and speckled hind grouper have been staples as candidates for listing as threatened under the Endangered Species Act.

“The selection of the Spawning SMZs has been a long and deliberative process, focusing on sites that are most beneficial for spawning snapper grouper species while balancing impacts to fishermen,” said Council Chair Dr. Michelle Duval.

The areas were carefully chosen based on a host of information gathered by the SAFMC, and the decision was not reached lightly.

“The Council chose these areas based on scientific recommendations, input from its advisory panel, a great deal of public input, and the results from cooperative research with fishermen familiar with the unique habitat attracting species at selected sites,” Duval said.

The closure will only impact anglers fishing on the bottom. Trolling for pelagic species like billfish, tuna, and dolphin will remain legal.