For Immediate Release

April 23, 2018


The Gulf of Mexico Fishery Management Council met in Gulfport, Mississippi, April 16 – 20, 2018. The following is a summary of the Councils actions:


Recreational Red Snapper Season

The Council received an update from NOAA Fisheries on the recreational red snapper season for 2018.

  • Federally permitted for-hire season: The federally permitted for-hire season will be open for 51 days in 2018. The season will open at 12:01 AM local time on June 1 and remain open until 12:01 local time on July 22, 2018.
  • Private angler season: NOAA Fisheries has issued exempted fishing permits which allow each of the five Gulf States to set their own season for red snapper in state and federal waters during 2018 and 2019. When fishing for red snapper in federal waters, private anglers will need a permit or license for the state in which they wish to land and that state’s season in federal waters must be open. Anglers can fish anywhere in federal waters, including in federal waters off a state with a closed season, if the state where they intend to land is open. Private anglers must abide by all other requirements for landing in the state and follow the federal bag limit of two fish per person and minimum size limit of 16 inches total length. State license for-hire vessels without a federal Gulf Charter/Heaboat Permit for Reef Fish may not fish for or possess red snapper in or from federal waters. For information on state regulations:

State Management Program for Recreational Red Snapper

The Council continued work on a series of documents that would enable each Gulf state to manage recreational harvest of red snapper in federal waters. The Council removed all allocation alternatives with time series that terminate in the year 2009 and added a new alternative that would establish state management allocations for private anglers only, based on the allocations set in the five exempted fishing permits for recreational red snapper fishing in 2018 and 2019. The Council also modified language in the post-season accountability measure for all five individual state amendments to ensure that in the case of a quota overage or underage, state specific annual catch limits would be adjusted by the amount of the overage or underage in the following year. The Council also selected preferred alternatives for the Alabama, Louisiana, and Mississippi documents that would allow them to set the bag limit, minimum size limit (within the rage of 14-18 inches), and maximum size limit, and to remove the prohibition on for-hire crew from retaining a bag limit. The Council plans to continue work on these documents at its next meeting in June.



The Council reviewed a Public Hearing Draft of Coral Amendment 9 which considers creating protections for 15 areas in the Gulf that are known to have an abundance or high diversity of corals that make them unique and sensitive to human impacts. The Amendment also considers designating an additional eight new areas for Habitat Area of Particular Concern (HAPC) status with fishing regulations and prohibiting dredge fishing in all existing HAPCs with regulations.


The Council heard recommendations from its scientific advisors, the Scientific and Statistical Committee, and added a new preferred alternative that would establish a HAPC without fishing regulations named the West Florida Wall. The Council plans to host public hearings on Coral Amendment 9 before taking final action in June.



The Council heard the updated stock assessments for pink, brown, and white shrimp. All stocks are healthy and are not overfished nor experiencing overfishing.


The Council approved the annual Texas shrimp closure for 2018. The closure is part of a cooperative seasonal closure with the State of Texas and runs concurrent with its mid-season closure. The shrimp fishery is closed annually off Texas to allow shrimp to reach a larger and more valuable size prior to harvest.


The Council also decided to host a joint meeting of the Shrimp and Coral Advisory Panels and Scientific and Statistical Committees as it begins to discuss Coral Amendment 10 which will consider additional areas that have been recommended for Habitat Area of Particular Concern status.



The Gulf and South Atlantic Fishery Management Councils jointly manage cobia in the Coastal Migratory Pelagics Fishery Management Plan. The South Atlantic Council has requested to remove the Atlantic migratory group of cobia from the management plan, as federal management does not appear to be constraining landings below the annual catch limit.  The South Atlantic Council would like to allow the Atlantic States Marine Fisheries Commission to manage cobia in state waters and in federal waters in the absence of federal regulations. The Gulf Council selected the same preferred alternative as the South Atlantic Council that would remove the Atlantic migratory group of cobia from the federal management plan. The South Atlantic Council plans to take final action on Amendment 31 at its June 2018 meeting in Ft. Lauderdale, Florida.


After hearing concern from fishermen that the cobia population is in decline, the Council directed staff to begin working on a Framework Action that will consider reducing the possession limit and increase the minimum size limit for cobia in federal waters.


Commercial Individual Fishing Quota (IFQ) Programs

Staff presented the Council with the grouper tilefish IFQ program 5-year review. After reviewing the recommendations provided by the Scientific and Statistical Committee and the Council’s Ad Hoc Red Snapper/Grouper Tilefish IFQ Advisory Panel, the Council recommended to accept the review and suggested that in the future red snapper and grouper-tilefish IFQ program reviews could be conducted jointly.


The Council continued work on Amendment 36B which considers modifications to commercial IFQ programs. The Council passed a motion supporting the creation of a quota set-aside from non-activated accounts to run a NMFS quota bank for addressing commercial discards. The Council will use an advisory panel to advise in the administration of the program. The Council also removed further consideration of a lease-to-own provision and added an action to the amendment to consider ways to increase the accuracy of landings estimates provided in advanced landing notifications. The Council plans to review a revised draft of this amendment in a subsequent meeting.


Status Determination Criteria and Optimum Yield for Reef Fish and Red Drum

The Council reviewed a public hearing draft of Reef Fish Amendment 48/Red Drum Amendment 5 which considers establishing measurable reference points that can be used for setting management targets and determining the status of the stocks. The document considers the Maximum Sustainable Yield Proxies, Minimum Stock Size Threshold, Maximum Fishing Mortality Threshold, and Optimum Yield for all managed stocks. The Council discussed the document at length and chose to remove an action that considers changing the Maximum Sustainable Yield proxy for red snapper. The Council plans to review an updated draft of the document at a subsequent meeting.


Policy Statement on the Use of Descending Tools and Venting Devices

The Council reviewed revisions to a draft policy statement and strengthened the language to strongly encourage the use of descending devices and/or venting tools as appropriate when releasing reef fish to decrease fishing morality and lead to increased fish population abundance. The Council also asked staff to include a table that summarizes discard mortality estimates used in current stock assessments and outline discards by sector for red snapper and other key reef fish species. Finally, the Council asked staff to provide preliminary estimates of the reduction in morality for these species that may occur if descending and venting tools are actively used in the fishery.


Exempted Fishing Permits

The Council was presented with two exempted fishing permits. The first, requested authorization for exploratory fishing for two years to test if a small-scale fishery for golden crab would be viable in the Gulf of Mexico. The Council chose to recommend that NOAA Fisheries service approve the permit and requested that traps not be set near corals and that traps be placed in depths that won’t impact royal red shrimping. The second permit request sought authorization to test the viability of a small-scale aquaculture cage array to raise almaco jack for two years. The Council chose to recommend that NOAA Fisheries service approve the permit and asked that Council recommendations relative to the impact of hurricanes, cage lighting, baseline benthic substrate assessment, genetic testing, and potential for biofouling be considered.