For Immediate Release
April 10, 2019
The Gulf of Mexico Fishery Management Council met last week in Biloxi, Mississippi. The following is a brief overview of what was accomplished:
State Management of Private Recreational Red Snapper
The Council took final action on Reef Fish Amendment 50: State Management for Recreational Red Snapper. The Council chose to delegate management authority of the private angling component for recreational red snapper fishing to each state. Each state will be allocated the portion of the recreational quota it initially requested in the 2018-2019 exempted fishing permit application, with the remaining 3.78% distributed between Florida and Alabama. Those values are as follows:
The Council also elected to delegate authority for establishing or modifying the bag limit, minimum size limit within 14-18 inches total length, and maximum size limit. Finally, the Council selected to allow a state to close areas of federal waters adjacent to the state by requesting that NMFS implement the closure. These suggested management changes will be transmitted to the Secretary of Commerce for approval and implementation.
The Council took final action to modify the red grouper annual catch limits and annual catch targets. The Council chose to set the red grouper annual catch limits and annual catch targets based on landings from the 2017 fishing season as follows:
*Values expressed in pounds, gutted weight.
Last fall, the Council was presented with results from an interim analysis that could be used to provide harvest recommendations for red grouper while awaiting the results of the stock assessment that is currently underway. Landings in recent years have been significantly below the annual catch limits, indicating that the stock may not be large enough to sustain current harvest levels.
NOAA Fisheries is currently working to implement the emergency rule, and has withheld a portion of commercial quota equal to the proposed reduction to the commercial ACL in anticipation of the reduced catch levels. This framework amendment will continue catch limit reductions beyond the expiration of the emergency rule and in anticipation of stock assessment results that will inform longer-term management decisions. This document will be transmitted to the Secretary of Commerce for approval and implementation.
After hearing a summary of public comments, the Council took final action on Shrimp Amendment 18, which considers increasing the amount of shrimp effort allowed in the special area that is monitored for juvenile red snapper bycatch. The Council decided to reduce the allowable shrimp effort to 60% below the baseline years and revise the framework procedure to allow future changes to shrimp effort thresholds to be accomplished through the standard open framework documentation process. The amendment will be transmitted to the Secretary of Commerce for approval and implementation.
The Council heard the updated stock assessments for pink, brown, and white shrimp. None of the stocks are considered to be overfished nor experiencing overfishing.
The Council approved the annual Texas shrimp closure for 2019. 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.
Historical Captain Permits
Council took final action to allow people with historical captain permits the option to replace them with standard for-hire permits. Each newly issued for-hire permit will have the same permit capacity as the historical captain permit it would replace. Only valid historical captain permits as of October 25, 2018 (last day of the October Council meeting) would be eligible for replacement with standard permits. Outstanding letters of eligibility will be invalid as of the implementation date of this action. These suggested management changes will be transmitted to the Secretary of Commerce for approval and implementation. NOAA Fisheries will contact historical captain permit holders and notify them of their eligibility for a standard for-hire permit.
Carryover of Unharvested Quota
The Council heard a summary of comments on a draft amendment that considers carrying over uncaught quota from one year to the next when harvest has not reached the annual catch limit. The Council delayed final action and requested further analysis on how species, and specifically those in rebuilding plans, would be affected by instances of carryover and overharvest. The Southeast Fisheries Science Center will produce simulations to show these effects, which will be reviewed by the Council’s Scientific and Statistical Committee at the earliest available opportunity.
Modifications to the Individual Fishing Quota Programs
The Council reviewed draft actions for Amendment 36B, which considers modifying the commercial individual fishing quota programs. The proposed actions include requiring shareholders to have a federal permit, distributing shares that have been reclaimed by NMFS, establishing a quota bank, and requiring accuracy in the weight estimates provided in advance landing notifications. The Council requested that the Chair of the Law Enforcement Technical Committee attend the next Council meeting to discuss law enforcement’s concerns regarding estimated weights in advance landing notifications. The Council also specified that the program goal to address issues with derby fishing has been achieved.
Greater Amberjack Commercial Trip Limits
The Council reviewed a draft Framework Action that considers reducing the commercial greater amberjack trip limit. In recent years, the commercial sector has regularly exceeded its quota and as a result, the season has closed prematurely year after year. The Council selected a preferred alternative that would reduce the commercial trip limit from 1,500 pounds gutted weight to 500 pounds gutted weight. The Council also decided to add an alternative that would decrease the trip limit to 250 pounds once 75% of the annual catch target is projected to be harvested. The Council will solicit public comments before taking final action on this amendment at it’s next meeting in June.
Allocation Review Triggers
In response to NOAA Fisheries Fishery Allocation Review Policy, the Council finalized a letter outlining criteria that would trigger allocation reviews in the Gulf of Mexico. Time-based triggers would serve as the primary triggers, and public interest-based triggers identified through the Council’s public comment process would serve as secondary triggers. The Council also directed staff to convene a working group that would assist in developing the methods and procedures for allocation reviews.
Red Snapper Reallocation
The Council reviewed an amendment that considers reallocating the red snapper annual catch limit between commercial and recreational fishing sectors. The Council decided to postpone further action on this document until August 2019 in hopes that by then, the Modern Fish Act and revised MRIP recreational landings will provide further insight on how to move forward with reallocation.
Modifications to the Red Snapper ACT
The Council directed staff to begin work on a document that would consider reducing the buffer between the red snapper annual catch limit and annual catch target for the for-hire component of the recreational sector. In a previous amendment, the Council reduced the buffer between the annual catch limit and annual catch target from 20% to 9% for the 2019 fishing year. This document would consider modifying the buffer on a more permanent basis. The Council will be presented with a draft document at its next meeting in June.
Golden Crab Exempted Fishing Permit
The Council reviewed and Exempted Fishing Permit that would explore the viability of a golden crab fishery in an area of the Gulf of Mexico adjacent to the West Florida wall. After reviewing known coral areas, shrimping, and long-lining activity, the Council recommended that NOAA Fisheries approve the Exempted Fishing Permit.