The Gulf of Mexico Fishery Management Council met in Key West, Florida, June 18-21, 2018. The following is a brief summary of the Council’s actions:
Coral and Habitat
After hearing a summary of the comments received during public hearings and listening to public testimony, the Council took final action on Coral Amendment 9. The Council chose to designate 21 new areas in the Gulf of Mexico as Habitat Areas of Particular Concern (HAPCs). Of those 21 areas, the Council selected to add fishing regulations to prohibit bottom-tending gear on 13 areas (Pulley Ridge South Portion A, West Florida Wall, Alabama Alps Reef, L&W Pinnacles and Scamp Reef, Mississippi Canyon 118, Roughtongue Reef, Viosca Knoll 826, Viosca Knoll 862/906, AT 047, AT 357, Green Canyon 852, Harte Bank, and Southern Bank). The Council decided to designate 8 of the remaining areas as HAPCs without adding fishing regulations (South Reed, Garden Banks 299, Garden Banks 535, Green Canyon 140/272, Green Canyon 234, Green Canyon 354, Mississippi Canyon 751, and Mississippi Canyon 885). The Council will transmit the Amendment to the Secretary of Commerce for approval and implementation and ask the Highly Migratory Species Division of NOAA Fisheries to implement consistent regulations. The Council also directed staff to develop a framework action to evaluate the definition of “fishing” in coral HAPCs.
The Council approved the South Atlantic’s preferred alternative for Coastal Migratory Pelagic (CMP) Amendment 31, which addresses the South Atlantic Fishery Management Council’s request to withdraw the Atlantic migratory group of cobia from the joint fishery management plan for coastal migratory pelagic resources. This will allow the Atlantic States Marine Fisheries Commission to manage Atlantic cobia in state waters, with those management measures reflected in federal waters by NMFS. The document will be transmitted to the Secretary of Commerce for approval and implementation.
The Council reviewed draft CMP Framework Amendment 7, which considers modifying the Gulf cobia minimum size and possession limits. The Council selected preferred alternatives that align with the State of Florida’s recent changes that would decrease the recreational and commercial possession limit to one fish per day and create a commercial and recreational vessel limit of two cobia per day. Staff will continue to develop the document and the Council will gather public comment on the proposed changes before taking final action.
Sea Turtle Release Gear
The Council took final action on Amendment 49, which considers modifying sea turtle release gear and framework procedure for the reef fish fishery. The Council chose to allow commercial and charter/headboat vessels to use a new collapsible hoop net, dehooking device, and small turtle hoist, and to set an 11-inch minimum size limit for long-nose or needle-nose pliers that are required to release incidentally hooked sea turtles. The Council also selected to modify the reef fish framework procedure to allow changes to release gear and handling requirements for protected species to be addressed through framework actions in the future. The document will be transmitted to the Secretary of Commerce for approval and implementation.
Carryover of Unharvested Quota
Staff presented a draft amendment that considers allowing the portion of allowable catch that isn’t harvested, due to an early quota closure, to be rolled over into the following year’s allowable catch. The Council removed Individual Fishing Quota-related alternatives and will address them in a different document. The Council will review an updated draft of the amendment at a future meeting.
The Council heard a summary of the most recent Gulf hogfish stock assessment. The update assessment shows that hogfish is not overfished and or undergoing overfishing. However, the assessment resulted in reduced Acceptable Biological Catch (ABC) levels for 2019-2021. Since the current Annual Catch Limit (ACL) is higher than the recommended ABC, the Council is required to initiate a framework action to adjust the ACLs. The Council chose not to include other management measures at this time because they had recently modified the minimum size limit and wanted to see the effect before making more adjustments.
The Council was presented with a summary of the first stock assessment ever conducted on gray snapper. The assessment found that, based on current default status determination criteria, the stock is both overfished and undergoing overfishing. Fortunately, the recommended ABCs that resulted from the assessment are only slightly lower than the current gray snapper ACL, and landings in recent years are lower than the newly recommended ABCs. The Council initiated a plan amendment to adjust ACLs and set status determination criteria that are biological reference points used to determine the overfished and overfishing thresholds.
The Council heard results from the most recent red snapper stock assessment. The assessment showed that the stock is neither overfished nor experiencing overfishing. The assessment also resulted in ABCs for the years 2019-2021 that are higher than the current ACLs. The Council initiated a framework action to increase red snapper catch levels.
The Council reviewed draft amendments for establishing state management programs for the recreational harvest of red snapper. The Council modified the alternatives that would allow states to manage the private angling component only, such that for those alternatives, the sunset on sector separation (currently set to occur in 2022) is also removed. The Council also selected a preferred alternative that would establish state allocations based on the allocations used in the state management exempted fishing permits, and selected the range of management alternatives that would be delegated to Texas. The Council will continue to work on an updated draft of the amendments at the next meeting.
The Council discussed a scoping document that considers reallocating red snapper among the commercial and recreational sectors as well as among the private and for-hire components of the recreational sector. At a subsequent meeting, staff will present the Council with a comparison of the Gulf Council’s allocation policy and NMFS procedural directive on allocation.
The Council examined a draft Framework Action that considers modifying the red snapper annual catch targets (ACTs) for the federal for-hire and private angling components of the recreational sector. An ACT is the level of harvest, set by the Council, below the ACL to account for management uncertainty and reduce the chance that the ACL is exceeded. The Council selected preferred alternatives that, through the end of 2019, would apply the ACL/ACT Control Rule to set the for-hire component ACT 9% below its ACL. The private angling component ACT would remain at 20% below its ACL. The total recreational sector ACT would be 15% below the recreational sector ACL. The Council will host a webinar public hearing on this document before taking final action in August.
The Council reviewed a public hearing draft of Spiny Lobster Amendment 13, which considers modifying gear requirements and the cooperative management procedures for spiny lobster. The Council selected preferred alternatives that would align federal regulations with Florida’s regulations and allow Florida to request changes to spiny lobster federal regulations through the NMFS rulemaking process. The Council also removed actions from the document that would modify requirements for degradable panels on traps and harvest on artificial habitat in the EEZ off Florida. The Council plans to host a public hearing via webinar over the summer.