For Immediate Release
June 28, 2022
The Gulf of Mexico Fishery Management Council (Council) met in Ft. Myers, Florida June 21-24, 2022. The Council heard presentations on NOAA’s Aquaculture Opportunity Area Atlas and the Notice of Intent to Prepare a Programmatic Environmental Impact Statement for Aquaculture; NOAA’s Fisheries’ Equity and Environmental Justice Strategy; and the Bureau of Ocean Energy Management’s Development of Wind Energy. The following is a brief description of the issues that were addressed during the meeting:
The Gulf of Mexico Fishery Management Council took final action on Framework Amendment 11 to Modify Gulf group king mackerel overfishing limit (OFL), acceptable biological catch (ABC) and annual catch limits (ACL). The Council chose to reduce Gulf king mackerel catch limits from the current catch limits through the 2023/2024 fishing year. Although the recent SEDAR 38 Update stock assessment determined that Gulf king mackerel is not overfished and is not experiencing overfishing, the stock assessment determined recruitment (i.e., young fish becoming available to harvest) was down from the previous stock assessment. The update assessment also used new recreational catch and effort estimates from the Marine Recreational Information Program’s (MRIP) Fishing Effort Survey (FES). The new catch limits in pounds landed weight, expressed in MRIP-FES data currency are as follows:
The Council also worked on Amendment 33: Modifications to the Gulf of Mexico Migratory Group King Mackerel Sector Allocation. Currently, 32% of the king mackerel ACL is allocated to the commercial sector and 68% is allocated to the recreational sector. The Council is considering modifications to these allocations in light of the new estimates of recreational landings and because the recreational sector has historically harvested only a fraction of its ACL, while the commercial sector has historically harvested all or most of its ACL. The Council plans to continue work on this document at a future meeting.
Modification to For-Hire Location Reporting Requirements
The Gulf of Mexico Fishery Management Council took final action on a Framework Action to ensure that for-hire trips are not delayed or canceled in the event of vessel monitoring system (VMS) equipment failures. The Council chose to create an exemption to VMS requirements that would allow federally permitted for-hire vessels to continue to operate, while addressing position-reporting equipment failures. Each vessel would be allowed to request 2 exemptions per calendar year and each exemption would be valid for up to 10 calendar days to allow for repairs to VMS equipment. This Framework Action will be transmitted to the Secretary of Commerce for approval and implementation as soon as practicable.
The Council also began work on a Framework Action to modify for-hire trip declaration requirements. This document aims to reduce the burden on federally permitted for-hire vessels making multiple trip declarations (hail-outs) when moving for non-fishing trips. The Council decided to develop time-limited options that would allow captains on non-fishing trips to move their vessels within the allotted time without making declarations. The Council will continue work on this issue during its August meeting.
The most recent greater amberjack stock assessment (SEDAR 70 2020) determined that greater amberjack is both overfished and experiencing overfishing. Additionally, new recreational catch estimates collected using the Marine Recreational Information Programs (MRIP) Fishing Effort Survey (FES) indicated that recreational landings are greater than previously estimated. The Council is obligated to end overfishing and revise the rebuilding plan for greater amberjack. During this meeting, the Council continued work on Amendment 54 which considers modifying greater amberjack catch levels and allocations. The amendment is expected to be completed in fall of 2022 with implementation anticipated in 2023.
The Council is concerned that the recreational sector could overharvest the recreational greater amberjack annual catch target in the fall 2022 season. This could result in a total closure for the 2023/2024 recreational fishing year. Thus, the Council requested that NOAA Fisheries implement an Emergency Rule to modify the 2022/2023 recreational fishing season to reduce the chances of recreational overharvest this year and subsequent paybacks in the 2023/2024 recreational fishing season. The Council requested that the greater amberjack recreational season be modified so that it is open in September and October of 2022. If the Secretary of Commerce approves this request, the recreational sector will not open for greater amberjack harvest in August 2022.
The Council began work on a framework action to update red snapper catch limits. These recommendations are based on new catch advice generated using updated estimates of absolute abundance of red snapper derived from the Great Red Snapper Count (Florida, Alabama, Mississippi, and Texas) and by LGL Ecological Associates, Inc. (Louisiana). The Council selected a preferred alternative that would modify red snapper catch limits based on the recommendations of its Scientific and Statistical Committee (SSC). The Council plans to gather public comment on this framework action before taking final action during its August 2022 meeting.
The Council also directed its SSC to review updated recreational red snapper calibration ratios using the most recent state survey data when they are available from the NOAA Office of Science and Technology. Since each state has developed its own recreational red snapper data collection program, NOAA’s Office of Science and Technology, in conjunction with the Gulf States, developed calibration ratios to ensure that the data used to monitor harvest can be compared to the data used to set annual catch limits.
The most recent stock assessment (SEDAR 72 2021), which included new recreational catch and effort data and an ecosystem-based red tide analysis, determined that gag grouper is overfished and experiencing overfishing. Additionally, the assessment identified that the proportion of males in the gag grouper population is less than 2%, which negatively impacts the stock’s ability to reproduce. The Council is obligated to end overfishing and develop a rebuilding plan for gag grouper, which will dramatically reduce catch limits during the rebuilding period. This rebuilding plan will need to consider revised catch limits, sector allocations, accountability measures, and other management measures. Since this plan amendment likely won’t be in place until 2024, NOAA Fisheries presented the Council with an interim rule that aims to reduce harvest and end overfishing beginning January 1, 2023. The Council reviewed management options and supported the following interim management measures while it works to complete the gag rebuilding plan, Amendment 56:
- Retention of the current 61% recreational, 39% commercial allocations
- Reduction of the stock annual catch limit in pounds whole weight as follows:
- Modify the recreational season to open on September 1 and remain open through November 10.
The Council requested NOAA Fisheries move forward and implement the interim rule as soon as practicable.
Coral, Data collection, and Spiny Lobster Advisory Panels
The Council populated its Coral, Data Collection, and Spiny Lobster Advisory Panels (AP). These Aps are comprised of people who are knowledgeable about a particular fishery and advise the Council on issues related to their expertise. The list of people who have been selected to serve for a three-year term can be found here.
Essential Fish Habitat
Essential Fish Habitat (EFH) are those waters and substrates necessary for fish to spawn, breed, feed, and grow to maturity. The Council is required to describe and identify EFH for all managed species by life stage, and perform reviews of EFH every 5 years. During this meeting, the Council reviewed the proposed methods described in the draft Essential Fish Habitat Generic Amendment being developed to update EFH descriptions. The Council and the Scientific and Statistical Committee will review a decision support tool and continue work on this document at a future meeting.
The Council was presented with the results of a contracted assessment of mesophotic and deep-sea coral reefs in the Gulf of Mexico (Gulf) that aimed to identify areas that could potentially benefit from protections. The Council decided to convene a special working group populated by coral experts to review the study and guide the development of Coral Amendment 10, which will consider creating protections and designations for ecologically significant coral habitat in the Gulf.
The Council continued work on the Framework Action that aims to transition the federally-permitted Gulf shrimp fleet to a new platform for vessel position data collection and transmission. The Council decided to continue work on this document after pilot testing of cellular vessel monitoring system units and research on P-Sea WindPlot software’s ability to collect and transmit data for use in the shrimp effort algorithm is completed.
The Council was presented with results of NOAA’s Aquaculture Opportunity Atlas which lists nine potential Aquaculture Opportunity Areas in the Gulf of Mexico. NOAA Fisheries published a Notice of Intent to prepare a Programmatic Environmental Impact Statement for those Aquaculture Opportunity Areas and announced its public comment period which will remain open through August 1, 2022. The Council does not have jurisdiction over aquaculture activities but decided to write a comment letter on the proposed Aquaculture Opportunity Areas and share concerns expressed by constituents. Additionally, comments can be submitted directly to NOAA Fisheries through comment opportunities highlighted on this webpage.
Florida Keys National Marine Sanctuary
The Florida Keys National Marine Sanctuary is expected to release a draft rule in July 2022 with a 100-day comment period. The Council decided to ask for an extension of the public comment period to allow for at least two Council meetings and the Shrimp and other appropriate Advisory Panels to meet and review the draft rule to inform the Council’s comments.
Workgroup to Consider Annual Catch Limits for Species Closed to Harvest
The Council decided to add five representatives from its Scientific and Statistical Committee (SSC) to a South Atlantic SSC Workgroup that was established to develop a method for evaluating catch limits for federally managed species that are currently closed to harvest. This workgroup plans to begin with work on goliath grouper in the Southeastern United States.
Research Set Aside
The Council heard presentations from the New England and Mid-Atlantic Councils on their research set-aside (RSA) programs that raise funds for research that supports stock assessments and helps to inform management decisions through the sale of a proportion of a fishery’s catch limits. The Council has decided to evaluate the potential for establishing its own RSA using New England and Mid-Atlantic region activities as a basis.