Removal of recreational seasonal closure proposed; Improvements in data collection addressed
A broad range of federal fishery management measures were approved for submission to the Secretary of Commerce during last week’s meeting of the South Atlantic Fishery Management Council in St. Simons Island, Georgia. The following amendments were approved by the Council last week for submission to the Secretary of Commerce for final approval and implementation by NOAA Fisheries:
Vermilion Snapper and Red Porgy – Snapper Grouper Regulatory Amendment 18
The annual recreational closure of vermilion snapper from November through March may be a thing of the past if Regulatory Amendment 18 is approved by the Secretary of Commerce and implemented prior to November 2013. A recent stock assessment update for vermilion snapper shows the stock is no longer undergoing overfishing and is not overfished. As a result, the Council proposes: increasing the total Annual Catch Limit for vermilion snapper by 306,000 pounds (whole weight) to 1,372,000 pounds (ww) in 2013; eliminating the 4-month recreational seasonal closure originally implemented to help end overfishing; and reducing the vermilion trip limit in an effort to extend the split-season commercial fishery. The allocation for vermilion snapper is 68% commercial and 32% recreational. The amendment also includes a measure to reduce the Annual Catch Limit for red porgy following the recent assessment update.
For-Hire Bag Limits, Crew Limits, Blue Runner, and More – Snapper Grouper Amendment 27
Amendment 27 to the Snapper Grouper Fishery Management Plan includes measures to: allow dually-permitted (commercial and for-hire) snapper grouper vessels to increase crew size to four persons to address safety concerns while operating under the commercial permit; allow charter captain and crew to retain their bag limit of all snapper grouper species including vermilion snapper and shallow-water grouper (bag limit sale of all snapper grouper species is prohibited); extend the South Atlantic Council’s management jurisdiction for Nassau grouper into the Gulf of Mexico; and remove blue runner from the snapper grouper fishery management plan. In addition, the amendment includes important framework provisions to allow the Council to make timely adjustments to Acceptable Biological Catch levels, Annual Catch Limits, and Annual Catch Targets based on stock assessments and assessment updates.
Improvements to Data Collection – Joint South Atlantic and Gulf of Mexico Amendments
Council members also approved two joint amendments developed in conjunction with the Gulf of Mexico Fishery Management Council to improve reporting for both commercial and for-hire vessels fishing under federal permits. If approved by the Secretary of Commerce, the Joint South Atlantic and Gulf of Mexico Generic Dealer Reporting Amendment will require seafood dealers to submit reports electronically and increase the frequency of reporting. A Joint Charter/Headboat Reporting Amendment requires electronic reporting for headboats, and increases the frequency of reporting. The Joint Generic Dealer Reporting Amendment must be approved by the Gulf Council before final submission to the Secretary of Commerce.
Vessel Monitoring System Requirements
The Council continued work on Amendment 30 to the Snapper Grouper Fishery Management Plan that contains management alternatives to require vessels with a federal Commercial Snapper Grouper Permit to use vessel monitoring systems (VMS). After receiving a presentation from NOAA Fisheries Southeast Program Manager for VMS and discussing available funding, the Council revised alternatives in the draft amendment and approved the document for public hearings. A series of five public hearings will be held in the Southeast, beginning April 15, 2013 in Jacksonville, Florida. The specific dates and locations for all of the public hearings will be publicized as they become available.
NOAA Fisheries’ Southeast Fisheries Science Center provided the Council with an update on the estimated recreational landings of red snapper during the 2012 mini-season. Council members expressed concern about the estimates from the Marine Recreational Information Program when compared with those taken by state marine resource agencies during the same time period. NOAA Fisheries will continue to assess both the recreational and commercial data, including discards. Those estimates will be used by NOAA Fisheries to help determine if there will be a red snapper season during 2013. In January 2013, the Council submitted measures to the Secretary of Commerce in Amendment 28 to the Snapper Grouper Fishery Management Plan to address methods for specifying an Annual Catch Limit for red snapper and criteria for commercial and recreational red snapper fishing seasons based on the available ACL. The final decision regarding the opening of a red snapper season is determined by NOAA Fisheries.
Marine Protected Areas
The Council is considering the use of MPAs to help reduce bycatch of speckled hind and warsaw grouper. The Council received a report from the February 2013 meeting of the MPA Expert Workgroup that included recommendations for modifying existing deepwater MPAs as well as alternatives for new sites. The Council also received a minority report from fishermen who serve on the Workgroup. After much discussion, the Council decided to address the issue of MPAs again during its September 2013 meeting, focusing on the purpose and need as well as options to reconfigure existing MPAs and target spawning areas.
The next meeting of the South Atlantic Fishery Management Council is scheduled for June 10-14, 2013 in Stuart, Florida. Details for the meeting and meeting materials will be posted as they become available.