NACO

National Association of Charterboat Operators

Red Snapper Management Measures

NMFS issues this final rule to implement management measures described in a framework action to the Fishery Management Plan for the Reef Fish Resources of the Gulf of Mexico (FMP) prepared by the Gulf of Mexico Fishery Management Council (Council). This rule revises the commercial and recreational quotas for red snapper in the Gulf of Mexico (Gulf) reef fish fishery for the 2013 fishing year and announces the quota closure dates in the exclusive economic zone (EEZ) off each Gulf state for the 2013 red snapper recreational fishing season. This final rule is intended to help achieve optimum yield for the Gulf red snapper resource without increasing the risk of red snapper experiencing overfishing.

This rule is effective May 29, 2013.

ADDRESSES: Electronic copies of the framework action, which includes an
environmental assessment and a regulatory impact review, may be
obtained from the Southeast Regional Office Web site at http://sero.nmfs.noaa.gov/sf/GrouperSnapperandReefFish.htm.

 

FOR FURTHER INFORMATION CONTACT: Cynthia Meyer, Southeast Regional
Office, NMFS, telephone 727-824-5305; email: This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it..

SUPPLEMENTARY INFORMATION: NMFS and the Council manage the Gulf reef
fish fishery under the FMP. The Council prepared the FMP and NMFS
implements the FMP through regulations at 50 CFR part 622 under the
authority of the Magnuson-Stevens Fishery Conservation and Management
Act (Magnuson-Stevens Act).
    On April 4, 2013, NMFS published a proposed rule for the framework
action and requested public comment (78 FR 20292). The proposed rule
and the framework action outline the rationale for the actions
contained in this final rule. A summary of the actions implemented by
this final rule is provided below.
    Through this final rule, NMFS sets the 2013 commercial quota at
4.315 million lb (1.957 million kg), round weight, and the 2013
recreational quota at 4.145 million lb (1.880 million kg), round
weight. NMFS also sets the 2013 red snapper recreational fishing season
for Gulf Federal waters through this final rule.
    Under 50 CFR 622.34(b), the red snapper recreational fishing season
opens each year on June 1 and closes when the recreational quota is
projected to be reached. The bag limit for red snapper in Gulf
exclusive economic zone (EEZ) is 2 fish, as specified in 50 CFR 622.38(b)(3). On March 25,
2013, NMFS implemented an emergency rule to authorize NMFS to set the
closure date of the red snapper recreational fishing season in the EEZ
off individual states (78 FR 17882). The closure dates off each Gulf
state in that emergency rule were based on the recreational quota
revision contained in this final rule and any state's inconsistent
regulations. For 2013, Texas established a year-round season with a 4-
fish bag limit, Louisiana established an 88-day season with a 3-fish
bag limit, and Florida established a 44-day season with a 2-fish bag
limit. Mississippi and Alabama did not implement inconsistent
regulations in their state waters.
    On May 7, 2013, the NMFS Southeast Fisheries Science Center
provided the NMFS Southeast Regional Office with updated landings data
for monitoring quotas and annual catch limits using data from the
Marine Recreational Information Program (MRIP). These landings data
included 2012 landings converted from the Marine Recreational Fisheries
Statistics Survey Program (MRFSS) to MRIP. Prior to May 7, 2013, these
data were not available for use in NMFS Southeast Regional Office's
calculations, so MRFSS landings data were used to calculate the season
lengths identified in the proposed rule. Because the new data are now
available, NMFS re-calculated the projected 2013 red snapper
recreational season lengths off each Gulf state using the 2012 landings
data from MRIP instead of from MRFSS.
    NMFS now uses MRIP to monitor landings and is considered to be the
best scientific information available, consistent with National
Standard 2 of the Magnuson-Stevens Act. National Standard 2 states that
``conservation and management measures shall be based upon the best
scientific information available.'' MRIP has slowly been integrated
into NMFS's recreational data monitoring program and has now replaced
MRFSS completely.
    In addition to using MRIP data, new information from Louisiana and
Texas was used to calculate the red snapper recreational season closure
dates. Louisiana provided in-season catch estimates from their quota
monitoring program and Texas provided final landings for 2012. The
previous closure estimates were based on projected Texas landings for
2012. This re-calculation of the red snapper recreational seasons
results in additional fishing days for all 5 Gulf States compared to
the tentative red snapper recreational seasons previously discussed in
the proposed rule. Based on the regulations established by Texas,
Louisiana, and Florida; landings data from MRIP; the new information
provided by Louisiana and Texas; and the recreational quota being set
by this rulemaking, the closure dates for the EEZ off each state,
effective at 12:01 a.m., local time, are set as follows: Texas, June
18, 2013; Louisiana, June 25, 2013; Mississippi, July 5, 2013; Alabama,
July 5, 2013; and Florida, June 27, 2013.
    To determine these closure dates, NMFS analyzed the catch rates for
each state. The method for calculating these dates can be found in
SERO-LAPP-2013-02 at http://sero.nmfs.noaa.gov/sustainable_fisheries/gulf_fisheries/red_snapper/documents/pdfs/2013_red_snapper_emergency_regs.pdf. The amount each state's Federal season is
shortened is contingent on estimates of landings when the Federal
season is closed. The more a state exceeds its apportionment of the
annual recreational quota, the more the Federal recreational season
must be reduced in the Federal waters off that state to compensate for
the overage. NMFS estimates catch rates on the order of 1.5 to 3 times
greater than the current state water catch rates due to factors such as
increasing catch rates and fish size, higher bag limits, weekend
fishing, peak season fishing, increases in stock abundance, potentially
significant levels of deliberate or accidental non-compliance by
constituents with state/Federal boundaries during incompatible
regulatory periods, and the fact that some for-hire vessels are not
federally permitted and contribute to landings when the Federal season
is closed. For the season projections, NMFS used 2 times the catch rate
because using 1.5 times the catch rate would potentially be an
underestimate and using 3 times the catch rate could be too
conservative.

Comments and Responses

    During the comment period, NMFS received 43 comments, including 36
from private citizens, 2 from recreational fishing organizations, 3
from a commercial fishing organization and 2 from environmental groups.
Comments pertinent to the rule unanimously supported increasing the red
snapper quota and did not raise any additional issues within the scope
of this rulemaking. NMFS agrees with the commenters that the quota
increases are appropriate actions, and are in accordance with the red
snapper rebuilding plan.
    Many of these same commenters provided additional observations and
suggestions for alternative strategies to manage the recreational red
snapper harvest, including changes to the bag limit and size limits,
slot limits, alternative seasons, regional management, separate
allocations for private anglers and the for-hire fleet, and
reallocation of the quotas between the recreational and commercial
sector. The Council has considered many of the suggested options in the
past, and continues to consider alternative management options for the
recreational harvest of red snapper. NMFS agrees that alternative
recreational management strategies may prove to be viable options for
the management of red snapper in the future; however, these comments
and suggestions are beyond the scope of this rulemaking to increase the
commercial and recreational quotas for red snapper for the 2013 fishing
year, and thus will not be further addressed in this rule.

Changes From the Proposed Rule

    On April 17, 2013, NMFS published in the Federal Register an
interim final rule to reorganize the regulations in 50 CFR part 622 for
the Gulf of Mexico, South Atlantic, and the Caribbean (78 FR 22950).
That interim final rule did not create any new rights or obligations;
it reorganized the existing regulatory requirements in the Code of
Federal Regulations into a new format. This final rule incorporates
this new format into the regulatory text. Therefore, the commercial and
recreational quotas for red snapper previously located in the
regulatory text at Sec.  622.42(a)(1)(i) and (a)(2)(i), respectively,
are now located at Sec.  622.39(a)(1)(i) and (a)(2)(i), respectively.

Classification

    The Regional Administrator, Southeast Region, NMFS determined that
this final rule and the framework action are necessary for the
conservation and management of the Gulf reef fish fishery and are
consistent with the Magnuson-Stevens Act and other applicable law.
    This final rule has been determined to be not significant for
purposes of Executive Order 12866.
    The Chief Counsel for Regulation of the Department of Commerce
certified to the Chief Counsel for Advocacy of the Small Business
Administration during the proposed rule stage that this action would
not have a significant economic impact on a substantial number of small
entities. The factual basis for this determination was published in the
proposed rule and is not repeated here. No comments were received
regarding the certification and NMFS has not received any new
information that would affect its determination. As a

[[Page 32181]]

result, a regulatory flexibility analysis was not required and none was
prepared.
    The NOAA Assistant Administrator for Fisheries (AA) finds good
cause under 5 U.S.C. 553(d)(3) to waive the 30-day delay in
effectiveness of the management measures contained in this final rule.
A 30-day delay in effectiveness of the final rule is impracticable
because the recreational fishing season for red snapper begins on June
1, and therefore, there is not enough time for NMFS to provide both
notice and comment on the proposed rule and a 30-day delay in
effectiveness on the final rule, before the season starts. This final
rule implements increased commercial and recreational quotas for Gulf
red snapper based on the increase in the acceptable biological catch
(ABC) from 8.08 million lb (3.67 million kg) to 8.46 million lb (3.83
million kg), round weight, as recommended by the Council's Science and
Statistical Committee (SSC). The SSC met in November 2012 to review new
scientific information and recommended an increased ABC for 2013. At
its February 2013 Council meeting, the Council voted to implement
commercial and recreational quota increases in 2013 based on the ABC
recommended by the SSC. Increased quotas will allow additional harvest
of red snapper and will provide the opportunity for the fishery to
achieve optimum yield. Additionally, NMFS received new scientific
information on May 7, 2013, to use to update and extend the red snapper
recreational seasons. The new data included 2012 landings converted
from MRFSS to MRIP. Prior to May 7, 2013, these data were not
available, so MRFSS landings data were used to calculate the season
lengths identified in the proposed rule. Because the new data are now
available, NMFS re-calculated the projected 2013 red snapper
recreational season lengths off each Gulf state using the 2012 landings
data from MRIP instead of from MRFSS, which is the best scientific
information now available. Because the recreational fishing season
begins on June 1, there isn't enough time for NMFS to provide both
notice and comment on the proposed rule and a 30-day delay in
effectiveness on the final rule. Therefore, NMFS provided the
opportunity for notice and comment on the proposed rule, but is waiving
the 30-day delay in effectiveness on this final rule.
    In addition, a 30-day delay in effectiveness of this final rule
would be contrary to the public interest. If this rule is not effective
immediately, and the recreational fishing season closure dates cannot
be implemented immediately, the recreational ACL could be exceeded and
overfishing of the red snapper resource could occur. The recreational
closure date off Texas has been set for 12:01 a.m., local time, June
18, 2013; the recreational closure date off Louisiana has been set for
12:01 a.m., local time, June 25, 2013; and the recreational closure
date off Florida has been set for 12:01 a.m., local time, June 27,
2013. If this rule were effective 30 days after publication, these
closure dates could not be implemented and recreational fishing off
these states would continue to occur. Additional fishing off these
states could lead to the recreational ACL being exceeded which could
lead to an overfishing situation. This would be in violation of
National Standard 1 of the Magnuson-Stevens Act. National Standard 1
states that ``management measures shall prevent overfishing while
achieving, on a continuing basis, the optimum yield from each fishery .
. .'' The red snapper stock is still overfished and under a rebuilding
plan through 2032. The next SEDAR benchmark stock assessment is
currently undergoing. To keep red snapper on the rebuilding plan and
prevent overfishing from occurring, this rule needs to take effect
immediately.
    For these reasons, the AA waives the 30-day delay in effectiveness
of this final rule.

 

Print Email