On behalf of the Last Stand, I would like to address the multi-species spawning aggregation site in the vicinity of Western Dry Rocks. We support Alternative 4 which establishes a Western Dry Rocks Conservation Area as a transit only zone.
We realize that it is not practical to protect each and every site along the reef edge where all fish spawn and lobster release their eggs, as that would more than likely include the entire reef line. However, it is practical (and essential) to give special protection to unique areas of the reef line where multiple species aggregate to spawn. The Western Dry Rocks site is such an area and a classic example of what fisheries biologists and managers refer to as a multi-species spawning aggregation site. The only other known multi-species spawning aggregation site protected to date in the Florida Keys is Riley’s Hump in the Tortugas area. That site is completely protected with limited access for research purposes.
Some of the reef fish species documented to spawn at the Western Dry Rocks site are: Black Grouper, spawning year round, with peaks from Dec.-March, Mutton Snapper (May-June); Gray Snapper (July-August), Permit (May-July) ; Hogfish (Feb.-March); and Yellowtail Snapper (April-August). Lobsters release eggs April-June. Other reef fish that have either been observed to spawn at or collected for life history work in spawning condition from the Western Dry Rocks site are Queen, French, Gray and Blue Angelfish, Surgeonfish, and numerous other marine life fish species.
The board of Last Stand is fully aware of arguments brought forth by many that there are other areas of the Florida Keys where commercially- and recreationally-important species such as Mutton Snapper, Gray Snapper, Black Grouper and Permit spawn. However, these are single-species spawning sites and not multi-species spawning aggregation sites such as Western Dry Rocks.
Please note that this list is by no means a complete list of spawning times and all species that spawn at the Western Dry Rocks site.
In conclusion, this list demonstrates why the Western Dry Rocks site is an important multi-species spawning aggregation site which deserves special year-round protection from all fishing, both extractive and catch-and-release.