NOAA Fisheries is extending Interim Measures intended to reduce overfishing of gag under the Fishery Management Plan for the Reef Fish Resources of the Gulf of Mexico (Gulf). The Gulf of Mexico Fishery Management Council (Gulf Council) requested these Interim Measures.
How Long are the Interim Measures Effective?
The extension of Interim Measures will be effective through May 2, 2024, or until the final rule for Amendment 56 to the Fishery Management Plan for the Reef Fish Resources of the Gulf of Mexico (Amendment 56) is effective, whichever comes first.
Summary of Interim Measures:
This temporary rule for Interim Measures reduced the catch limits for Gulf gag as specified in Table 1:
Table 1: Previous and current annual catch limits (ACL) and annual catch targets (ACT) for Gulf gag. All numbers are in pounds gutted weight.
*Note that the “Previous” and “Current” catch limits cannot be directly compared. This is because “Previous” recreational catch is estimated using the Marine Recreational Information Program (MRIP)-Coastal Household Telephone Survey (CHTS), while the “Current” recreational catch limits are estimated using MRIP-Fishing Effort Survey (FES). MRIP-FES estimates of effort and catch are substantially higher than MRIP-CHTS estimates. In addition, since the commercial catch limits are rounded in the “Current” catch limits, the commercial and recreational ACLs do not add up to the stock ACL.
The temporary rule for Interim Measures changed the dates of the recreational season for gag such that it opened on September 1, 2023. NOAA Fisheries recently announced that the federal recreational season will close on October 19, 2023, and will not reopen until the 2024 recreational gag season begins.
The reduction in harvest and modification of the recreational fishing season was implemented to reduce overfishing of gag in 2023 while maximizing the amount of fishing days.
This was being done while Amendment 56, which includes a rebuilding plan for the Gulf gag stock, was developed by the Gulf Council. Amendment 56, if approved and implemented, would reduce the gag overfishing limit, acceptable biological catch, annual catch limits, and annual catch targets.
Formal Federal Register Name/Number:88 FR 69553, published October 6, 2023.
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Frequently Asked Questions (FAQs):
Why were the reductions in this temporary rule so drastic?
Based on the 2021 stock assessment, Gulf gag are overfished, and overfishing is occurring. This means that the abundance of the gag population is very low compared to historic levels, and that too many fish are being caught to allow the population to sustain itself. For this reason, gag catch limits need to be reduced.
NOAA Fisheries Southeast Fishery Science Center calculated the reduction in harvest necessary to ensure that the gag stock was able to rebuild in an appropriate time frame. The Southeast Fishery Science Center calculated that the catch limit should be reduced in 2023 to 661,901 pounds. This reduction in harvest would allow for the stock to rebuild consistent with the timeframe the Gulf Council considered in Amendment 56.
Allowing harvest to continue at a higher level than specified in this temporary rule would be expected to prolong the rebuilding timeframe for the gag stock and result in negative effects to both the gag population and the fishing communities that rely on them.
What are the next steps?
NOAA Fisheries is required to implement Amendment 56, including a rebuilding plan for the gag stock, by January 26, 2024. These interim measures would no longer be effective upon implementation of Amendment 56.
Where can I find more information on the Gag Interim Measures?