NOAA Fisheries is implementing a Temporary Rule that is intended to reduce overfishing of gag under the Fishery Management Plan for the Reef Fish Resources of the Gulf of Mexico (Gulf). These changes are based on the results of the most recent stock assessment and the recommendations of the Gulf of Mexico Fishery Management Council’s (Council) Scientific and Statistical Committee.
The stock assessment used updated data, including data from the Marine Recreational Information Program (MRIP) Fishing Effort Survey (FES), which replaced the MRIP Coastal Household Telephone Survey (CHTS). The stock assessment concluded that the population of Gulf gag is too low (overfished) and that too many gag are being caught (overfishing is occurring).
When Rule Will Take Effect:
These interim measures will become effective today, May 3, 2023.
Summary Of Changes:
This temporary rule reduces the current catch limits for Gulf gag as specified in Table 1:
Table 1: Current and new annual catch limits (ACL) and annual catch targets (ACT) for Gulf gag. All numbers are in pounds gutted weight.
*Note that the “Current” and “New” catch limits cannot be directly compared. This is due to the fact that “Current” recreational catch is estimated using MRIP-CHTS, while the “New” recreational catch limits are estimated using MRIP-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 “new” catch limits, the commercial and recreational ACLs do not add up to the stock ACL.
The temporary rule changes the dates of the gag recreational fishing season as follows:
The 2023 gag season will open on September 1 rather than June 1.
The gag season closes on November 10, 2023, unless NOAA Fisheries projects that the gag recreational ACL will be harvested prior to that date, in which case, NOAA Fisheries would close the fishery to recreational gag harvest as of the projected date.
This temporary rule is effective for 180 days (until October 30, 2023). NOAA Fisheries is expecting to extend the rule for up to an additional 186 days (366 days total).
The reduction in harvest and modification of the recreational fishing season is necessary to reduce overfishing of gag in 2023 while maximizing the amount of fishing days. This is being done while a rebuilding plan for the Gulf gag stock is developed by the Council. The rebuilding plan would reduce the gag overfishing limit, acceptable biological catch, ACLs, and ACTs, and is anticipated to be implemented in early 2024.
Formal Federal Register Name/Number:88 FR 27701, published May 3, 2023.
This bulletin serves as a Small Entity Compliance Guide, complying with section 212 of the Small Business Regulatory Enforcement Fairness Act of 1996.
Frequently Asked Questions
What is NOAA Fisheries announcing today?
NOAA Fisheries is announcing a temporary rule that will reduce overfishing of Gulf gag.
The Council asked NOAA Fisheries to put in place temporary regulations to reduce overfishing (catching too many fish) of Gulf gag by reducing catch limits and changing the dates and duration of the fishing season.
This action will reduce the gag annual catch limits and annual catch targets for both the commercial and recreational sectors, and will change the dates of the recreational fishing season such that it opens on September 1 and closes on November 10 or when NOAA projects that the recreational catch target has been captured, whichever occurs first.
What is the status of the gag stock?
A 2021 population assessment of Gulf gag indicated there were too few fish (overfished) and that too many fish were being caught (overfishing taking place).
In January 2022, NOAA Fisheries sent a letter to the Council stating that gag were overfished, and that a plan to rebuild the gag stock needed to be developed and implemented within two years of the notification (i.e. by January 26, 2024).
Why are 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 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.
The 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 (in this case, 22 years). The Southeast Fishery Science Center calculated that the catch limit should be reduced in 2023 to 661,901 lb in order to meet the timeframe for rebuilding that the Council is considering in Amendment 56.
Allowing harvest to continue at a higher level than specified in this rule would be expected to prolong the rebuilding timeframe for the gag stock and result in more prolonged and negative effects to both the gag population and the fishing communities that rely on them.
How is recreational gag catch estimated in this temporary rule?
The most recent stock assessment for gag in the Gulf used the MRIP-FES to estimate recreational gag harvest. MRIP-FES uses a mail-based survey to estimate effort, and uses angler license and registration information as one way to identify and contact anglers. Because MRIP-FES was used in the stock assessment survey to estimate harvest, it is also used in this temporary rule to ensure consistency among estimates of harvest and stock size.
Why are the new management measures temporary?
The Council is working on Amendment 56 to the Reef Fish Fishery Management Plan, which is a long-term plan to rebuild the Gulf gag stock.
This long-term plan is under development, but will not be in effect until early in 2024.
At the Council’s request, NOAA Fisheries will implement temporary regulations that would be in place for up to 366 days, which is expected to be until the rebuilding plan in Amendment 56 is implemented.
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?