For Immediate Release
April 12, 2023
The Gulf of Mexico Fishery Management Council met in Gulfport, Mississippi from April 3 – 6, 2023. The Council heard an update on Wind Energy Development in the Gulf of Mexico from the Bureau of Ocean Energy Management and received a report from NOAA Fisheries on its Equity and Environmental Justice Strategy and regional implementation process. The Council filled the recently vacated Economist position on the Standing Scientific and Statistical Committee (SSC) and appointed Dr. Daniel Petrolia to the SSC. He will serve on the Standing SSC effective immediately until 2024, when the Council will be considering all the Standing and Special SSC member appointments. The Council also named Officer Chancelor (Chance) Mancuso, from the Alabama Department of Marine Resources, as the Law Enforcement Officer of the Year. Officer Mancuso will be honored during the June 2023 Council meeting in Mobile, Alabama. The following is a summary of the other issues addressed during the meeting:
The Council took final action on Framework Amendment 12, to eliminate the weekend closure for the commercial king mackerel gillnet season in the Southern Zone of the Gulf of Mexico. Originally, weekend closures were put in place to ensure that the gillnetters didn’t exceed their quota over the weekend when federal offices were closed. However, the gillnet fishermen have worked closely with NOAA Fisheries to monitor landings and voluntarily stop fishing when the quota is close to being met. The Council decided to remove the weekend fishing restriction for the gillnet component of the commercial king mackerel fishery to ensure that their king mackerel quota can be harvested as efficiently as possible. Framework Amendment 12 will be transmitted to the Secretary of Commerce for approval and implementation as soon as practicable.
The Council continued to work on Reef Fish Amendment 56: Modifications to Catch Limits, Sector Allocation, and Fishing Seasons for Gulf of Mexico Gag. 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 is overfished and experiencing overfishing. Additionally, the assessment identified that the proportion of males in the 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. During this meeting, the Council selected a preferred alternative that will revise the criteria used to determine whether gag is overfished and/or experiencing overfishing based on results of SEDAR 72. The Council also chose preferred alternatives that will revise the sector allocation to account for the change in recreational harvest monitoring data. The current preferred alternative would modify the sector allocations to 65% recreational and 35% commercial using average landings from 1986-2005 (as estimated by the Florida State Reef Fish Survey [SRFS]), establish a rebuilding timeline of 18 years, and set corresponding catch limits at 75% of the fishing mortality associated with a 40% spawning potential ratio (75% of F40%SPR). The Council added a new alternative and selected it as preferred. This new alternative would create a 20% buffer between the recreational annual catch limit and annual catch target and selected a preferred alternative that will set the commercial annual catch target 5% below the annual catch limit. Finally, the Council selected a preferred alternative that will open the gag recreational fishing season on September 1 which, under the other selected preferred alternatives, is expected to remain open for about two months. The Council plans to host a series of public hearings along the west coast of Florida as well as virtual hearings before taking final action on this document during the June 2023 meeting.
The Council discussed concerns about the potential sale of recreationally caught cobia, which is prohibited by each of the Gulf States. The Council decided to remove a proposed Framework Amendment to prohibit the sale of recreationally caught cobia from the Council’s schedule because development of a Council document is not expected to further reduce the illegal practice. The Council will ask its Law Enforcement Technical committee to discuss the topic and will encourage the development of outreach efforts that strive to reduce illegal sale of recreationally harvested cobia.
The Council approved the annual Texas federal closure for shrimp in 2023. The closure is part of a cooperative seasonal closure with the State of Texas that aims to allow shrimp to reach a larger and more valuable size prior to harvest.
The Council heard updates on the testing of devices that could potentially be used to collect and transmit federal shrimp vessel position data in the Gulf of Mexico for generating effort estimates. It was concluded that P-Sea WindPlot, a software program that is used for navigation, cannot properly collect and transmit vessel position data that is useful for management. Additionally, the two cellular vessel monitoring system units that were tested by National Marine Fisheries Service (NMFS) onboard shrimp vessels did not provide results that would meet requirements for management purposes.
The Council decided to bring the draft Framework Action: Modification of the Vessel Position Data Collection Program for the Gulf Shrimp Fishery back to the Council after NMFS has performed additional testing with a wider variety of cellular vessel monitoring system units. The Council also decided to convene its Shrimp Advisory Panel to consult with NMFS on its proposed plan to continue the development and implementation of an electronic logbook program for the shrimp fleet using Congressional funding allocated for this effort.
The Council also heard an update on the new shrimp effort estimation model that is being developed, and requested that NOAA’s Southeast Fisheries Science Center develop species specific effort estimates for brown, white, and pink shrimp for consideration in the stock assessment, in addition to the combined effort estimates that are currently being generated.
Red Snapper Data Calibration Ratios
The Council began work on a framework action to update the private recreational red snapper data calibration ratios for Florida, Alabama, and Mississippi. Private recreational red snapper seasons are monitored using MRIP in concert with landings data collected from Gulf state data collection programs. The state-specific annual catch limits were set using calibration ratios developed by the Gulf States and NOAA’s Office of Science and Technology. The Council selected a preferred alternative which will update the calibrations using the most recent years of data. The Council plans to take final action on this issue during its June meeting in a framework action that also considers gray snapper catch limits.
The Council also decided to initiate work on a separate document that will consider updating the state red snapper allocations that were established in Reef Fish Amendment 50A: State Management for Recreational Red Snapper.
Gray Snapper Catch Limits
The Council reviewed a document that considers increasing gray snapper catch limits. The most recent Gray Snapper Stock Assessment (SEDAR 75 2022), which incorporates new recreational landings data, shows that gray snapper is neither overfished nor experiencing overfishing. The Council selected a preferred alternative that sets catch limits using the 5-year average of projected yield at the fishing mortality associated with 26% of spawning potential ratio (F26%SPR). The Council plans to take final action on this issue during its June meeting in a framework document that also considers red snapper data calibration ratios.
The shallow-water grouper complex is comprised of scamp, black, yellowfin, and yellowmouth grouper. All four species are managed with a shared annual catch limit. During this meeting, the Council heard results of a recent stock assessment (SEDAR 68) for scamp and yellowmouth grouper. The assessment found that both species are healthy (not overfished and not experiencing overfishing). The Council’s Scientific and Statistical Committee recommended new catch advice for scamp and yellowmouth and asked for more information on black and yellowfin groupers so that catch recommendations can be considered for the shallow-water grouper complex as a whole. The Council expects to receive updated catch advice from its SSC for black and yellowfin grouper for the June 2023 Council meeting, at which time it will consider updating the shallow-water grouper complex annual catch limit.
Wenchman snapper is part of the mid-water snapper complex which also includes queen, blackfin, and silk snappers. All four species are managed with a shared annual catch limit. In 2020 and 2021, wenchman landings increased significantly and the annual catch limit for the mid-water snapper complex was exceeded. This resulted in early season closure of the entire complex in 2021. Wenchman is a bycatch to the directed butterfish fishery and are infrequently harvested otherwise. The Council initiated work to evaluate whether wenchman snapper should be removed from the mid-water snapper complex and managed on its own or if it qualified to be removed from federal management all together.
After hearing a presentation on the different factors that could be considered when determining whether a species needs federal conservation and management, the Council decided to remove tripletail from further consideration for inclusion in federal management.
The Council was presented with an update on the 5th Circuit Court of Appeals Ruling that set aside the Southeast For-Hire Integrated Electronic Reporting Program (SEFHIER). Based on the ruling, vessels with federal Gulf of Mexico for-hire Reef Fish and/or Coastal Migratory Pelagic permits are no longer required to submit trip declarations, complete trip reports, or have Vessel Monitoring Systems onboard. NOAA Fisheries has not yet determined whether it will appeal the ruling, but a decision will be made before the June Council meeting. After hearing public testimony, the Council initiated a document that will consider establishing a charter for-hire data collection program to replace the SEFHIER program.
Private Angling License
The Council received a presentation on the federal recreational data collection program and discussed how to improve private recreational effort and catch estimates for federal waters. The Council elected to work collaboratively with National Marine Fisheries Service and the Gulf States Marine Fishery Commission to provide support to the five Gulf state fishery agencies to develop a universal, state managed recreational saltwater angler landing permit. That permit will be developed with the goal of providing more precise private recreational fishing effort information for use in the federal management and assessment process.
Commercial Electronic Logbook Reporting
The Council continued to work on a joint amendment with the South Atlantic Fishery Management Council that considers requiring federal commercial reef fish and coastal migratory pelagic permit holders to submit logbooks electronically, rather than mailing paper logbooks. The Council chose a preferred alternative that will transition the commercial fleet to electronic reporting. The Council plans to work with the South Atlantic Council to conduct a mailout to permit holders followed by virtual public hearings before taking final action in the fall.
After receiving an overview of a white paper on potential ways to streamline the regulatory process, the Council initiated work on an amendment that will consider mechanisms for establishing catch advice for a limited number of species that have successful interim analysis. Essentially, this would shorten the time it takes to modify catch limits. The Council expects to begin work on regulatory streamlining at a future meeting.
Coastal Migratory Pelagics Advisory Panel
The Council made preliminary appointments to its Coastal Migratory Pelagics Advisory Panel. Selected members will undergo fishery violation background checks before final appointments are announced during the June meeting.