Regional Management of Red Snapper in the Gulf of the Mexico?

In Amendment 39, the Council is considering management measures to modify and facilitate management of the recreational red snapper component of the reef fish fishery by reorganizing the Federal fishery management strategy to better account for biological, social, and economic differences among the regions of the Gulf of Mexico (Gulf). Regional management of recreational red snapper in the Gulf would enable regions and their associated communities to specify the optimal management parameters that best meet the needs of their local constituents thereby addressing regional socio-economic concerns. These alternatives will consider regional management for the recreational harvest of red snapper in the Gulf including the delegation of management to the regions and accountability measures necessary to prevent overfishing.

NMFS, Southeast Region, in collaboration with the Gulf of Mexico Fishery Management Council (Council) intends to prepare a DEIS to describe and analyze a range of alternatives for management actions to be included in Amendment 39 to the Fishery Management Plan (FMP) for the Reef Fish Resources of the Gulf of Mexico (Amendment 39). The purpose of this NOI is to inform the public of upcoming opportunities to provide comments on the actions to be addressed in the DEIS, as specified in this notice.

Written comments on the scope of issues to be addressed in the DEIS must be received by NMFS by June 12, 2013.

ADDRESSES: You may submit comments on this document, identified by
``NOAA-NMFS-2013-0078'', by any of the following methods:
     Electronic Submission: Submit all electronic public
comments via the Federal e-Rulemaking Portal. Go to
www.regulations.gov/#!docketDetail;D=NOAA-NMFS-2013-0078, click the
``Comment Now!'' icon, complete the required fields, and enter or
attach your comments.
     Mail: Submit written comments to Cynthia Meyer, Southeast
Regional Office, NMFS, 263 13th Avenue South, St., Petersburg, FL
33701.
    Instructions: Comments sent by any other method, to any other
address or individual, or received after the end of the comment period,
may not be considered by NMFS. All comments received are a part of the
public record and will generally be posted for public viewing on
www.regulations.gov without change. All personal identifying
information (e.g., name, address, etc.), confidential business
information, or otherwise sensitive information submitted voluntarily
by the sender will be publicly accessible. NMFS will accept anonymous
comments (enter ``N/A'' in the required fields if you wish to remain
anonymous). Attachments to electronic comments will be accepted in
Microsoft Word, Excel, or Adobe PDF file formats only.

 

FOR FURTHER INFORMATION CONTACT: Cynthia Meyer; phone: (727) 824-5305;
email: Cynthia.Meyer@noaa.gov.

SUPPLEMENTARY INFORMATION: Currently, Federal management measures for
the recreational harvest of red snapper are consistent for the entire
Gulf exclusive economic zone (EEZ). These management measures include a
fishing season, bag limit, and minimum size limit. Since 1996, the
recreational fishing season for red snapper has become progressively
shorter. Shorter seasons have continued despite an annual increase in
the quota since 2010, because the quota continues to be harvested in a
shorter amount of time.
    In Amendment 39, the Council is considering management measures to
modify and facilitate management of the recreational red snapper
component of the reef fish fishery by reorganizing the Federal fishery
management strategy to better account for biological, social, and
economic differences among the regions of the Gulf of Mexico (Gulf).
Regional management of recreational red snapper in the Gulf would enable regions
and their associated communities to specify the optimal management
parameters that best meet the needs of their local constituents thereby
addressing regional socio-economic concerns. These alternatives will
consider regional management for the recreational harvest of red
snapper in the Gulf including the delegation of management to the
regions and accountability measures necessary to prevent overfishing.
    In Amendment 39, the Council is considering regional management as
a way to provide greater flexibility in management of recreational red
snapper fishing in the Gulf. Regional management refers to allowing
regulations to be different for identified regions of the Gulf, in
contrast to uniform regulations applied to the entire EEZ. Regionally
specific regulations may be more appropriate to the fishing preferences
of local fishermen. For example, regulations could be designed to
accommodate various tourist seasons or rough weather conditions,
thereby optimizing fishing opportunities regionally around the Gulf.
    The intent behind regional management is that participating states
or regions could design management options to better fit their needs.
However, the proposed options must achieve the same conservation goals
as the Federal management measures in existence at a given time (i.e.,
constrain the catches of participating fishermen to the region's
allocation of the total recreational quota). Red snapper would remain a
federally managed species. The Council and NMFS would continue to
oversee management of the stock. This includes continuing to comply
with the Magnuson-Stevens Fishery Conservation and Management Act
(Magnuson-Stevens Act) and the mandate to ensure the red snapper annual
recreational quota is not exceeded and that conservation objectives are
achieved. The Council's Scientific and Statistical Committee (SSC)
would continue to determine the acceptable biological catch (ABC) for
red snapper, and the Council and NMFS would determine the total
recreational red snapper quota that could be allocated among regions.
    NMFS, in collaboration with the Council, will develop a DEIS to
describe and analyze management alternatives to address the management
needs described above. For the actions and alternatives, the Council
would need to identify the regions, apportion the recreational red
snapper quota among the identified regions, and define the management
measures that may be modified at the regional level. The regional
management measures that are most likely to be modified include the
timing (season start and end dates) of the fishing season, structure
(e.g., continuous or weekends only) of the fishing season, and closed
areas. Modifications to the bag limit and minimum and/or maximum size
limits, including options for a slot limit could also be considered. A
recreational quota would remain for the entire Gulf and regional
accountability measures (AMs) will need to be established. At the
regional level, when a regional quota is projected to be reached, red
snapper fishing would be closed according to the guiding regional
recreational AMs. At the Gulf-wide level, the total recreational quota
would also need to be monitored, and when the recreational quota is
reached or projected to be reached, red snapper fishing could be closed
for the entire Gulf even if a region has remaining quota.
    NMFS, in collaboration with the Council, will develop a DEIS to
describe and analyze alternatives to address the management needs
described above. Those alternatives will include a ``no action''
alternative for each action.
    In accordance with NOAA's Administrative Order 216-6, Section
5.02(c), Scoping Process, NMFS, in collaboration with the Council, has
identified preliminary environmental issues as a means to initiate
discussion for scoping purposes only. These preliminary issues may not
represent the full range of issues that eventually will be evaluated in
the DEIS.
    After the DEIS associated with Amendment 39 is completed, it will
be filed with the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA). After filing,
the EPA will publish a notice of availability (NOA) of the DEIS for
public comment in the Federal Register. The DEIS will have a 45-day
comment period. This procedure is pursuant to regulations issued by the
Council on Environmental Quality (CEQ) for implementing the procedural
provisions of the National Environmental Policy Act (NEPA; 40 CFR parts
1500-1508) and to NOAA's Administrative Order 216-6 regarding NOAA's
compliance with NEPA and the CEQ regulations.
    The Council and NMFS will consider public comments received on the
DEIS in developing the final environmental impact statement (FEIS) and
before voting to submit the final amendment to NMFS for Secretarial
review, approval, and implementation. NMFS will announce in the Federal
Register the availability of the final amendment and FEIS for public
review during the Secretarial review period, and will consider all
public comments prior to final agency action to approve, disapprove, or
partially approve the amendment. During Secretarial review, NMFS will
also file the FEIS with the EPA and the EPA will publish a NOA for the
FEIS in the Federal Register.
    NMFS will announce, through a notice published in the Federal
Register, all public comment periods on the final amendment, its
proposed implementing regulations, and the availability of its
associated FEIS. NMFS will consider all public comments received during
the Secretarial review period, whether they are on the final amendment,
the proposed regulations, or the FEIS, prior to final agency action.

Public Hearings, Times, and Locations

    Public comment will be taken at the Council meetings in Pensacola,
FL, on June 17-21, 2013, and in San Antonio, TX, on August 26-30, 2013.
In addition, public comments will be solicited at Public Hearings which
will be scheduled following the June 2013, Council meeting. Exact
dates, times, and locations will be announced by the Council and
advertised on the Councils Web site: http://www.gulfcouncil.org/. The
public will be informed, via a notification in the Federal Register, of
the exact times, dates, and locations of future scoping meetings and
public hearings for Amendment 39. Comments will also be accepted during
the comment periods for the DEIS and NOA for the amendment.