Fishing Season for Red Snapper in South Atlantic?

NMFS proposes regulations to implement Amendment 28 to the Fishery Management Plan for the Snapper-Grouper Fishery of the South Atlantic Region (FMP), as prepared by the South Atlantic Fishery Management Council (Council). If implemented, this rule would establish a process for determining whether the limited harvest and possession of red snapper in or from the South Atlantic exclusive economic zone (EEZ) could occur during a given fishing year and establish a process for setting commercial and recreational fishing seasons for red snapper beginning in 2013.

The rule would establish a 1-fish per person recreational bag limit and would also remove the 20-inch, total length (TL), minimum size limit for both the commercial and recreational sectors to decrease regulatory discards.

 

Amendment 28 also specifies the process and formulas for setting commercial and recreational annual catch limits (ACLs) for red snapper if limited fishing seasons may occur. This rule would implement those ACLs and specify accountability measures (AMs) when the limited harvest and possession of red snapper is allowed. During limited fishing seasons, the rule would also eliminate the current red snapper minimum size limit, establish a recreational bag limit and establish a commercial trip limit for red snapper. In this rule, NMFS intends to continue the rebuilding of the red snapper stock and to provide socio-economic benefits to snapper-grouper fishermen and communities that utilize the red snapper resource.

 

 

Written comments must be received on or before May 29, 2013.

ADDRESSES: You may submit comments on the amendment identified by 

``NOAA-NMFS-2013-0040'' by any of the following methods:

     Electronic submissions: Submit electronic comments via the 

Federal e-Rulemaking Portal: http://www.regulations.gov. Go to 

www.regulations.gov/#!docketDetail;D=NOAA-NMFS-2013-0040, click the 

``Comment Now!'' icon, complete the required fields, and enter or 

attach your comments.

     Mail: Submit written comments to Rick DeVictor, 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.

    Electronic copies of Amendment 28, which includes an environmental 

assessment, an initial regulatory flexibility analysis (IRFA), and a 

regulatory impact review, may be obtained from the Southeast Regional 

Office Web site at http://sero.nmfs.noaa.gov/sf/pdfs/SGAmend28.pdf.

 

FOR FURTHER INFORMATION CONTACT: Rick DeVictor, Southeast Regional 

Office, telephone: 727-824-5305, or email: rick.devictor@noaa.gov.

 

SUPPLEMENTARY INFORMATION: The snapper-grouper fishery of the South 

Atlantic, which includes red snapper, is managed under the FMP. The FMP 

was prepared by the Council and is implemented through regulations at 

50 CFR part 622 under the authority of the Magnuson-Stevens Fishery 

Conservation and Management Act (Magnuson-Stevens Act).

 

Background

 

    Red snapper are overfished and undergoing overfishing. The harvest 

and possession of red snapper have been prohibited since January 4, 

2010, initially through temporary rules (74 FR 63673, December 4, 2009 

and 75 FR 27658, May 18, 2010), and then through the final rule to 

implement Amendment 17A to the FMP (75 FR 76874, December 9, 2010). 

Amendment 17A continued the prohibitions on a permanent basis by 

implementing an ACL for red snapper of zero (landings only). Amendment 

17A also implemented a rebuilding plan for red snapper, which

 specifies that red snapper biomass must increase to the target rebuilt 

level in 35 years, starting from 2010. The final rule implementing 

Amendment 17A also included a large area closure for most snapper-

grouper species, however, this area closure did not become effective 

because it was determined not to be necessary to end the overfishing of 

red snapper (76 FR 23728, April 28, 2011). At its June 2012 meeting, 

the Council received new information from NMFS regarding discard 

estimates for red snapper. Using these data, the Council and NMFS 

determined that a limited season for red snapper was possible in 2012. 

At the Council's request, NMFS implemented emergency rulemaking to 

allow for the limited harvest and possession of red snapper in or from 

the South Atlantic EEZ in 2012 (77 FR 51939, August 28, 2012).

 

Status of the Stock

 

    The most recent Southeast Data, Assessment, and Review (SEDAR) 

benchmark stock assessment for red snapper, SEDAR 24, was completed in 

October 2010. Much like the stock assessment completed in 2008, this 

assessment showed red snapper to be overfished and undergoing 

overfishing, but also showed that red snapper were undergoing 

overfishing at a lower rate than found in the 2008 stock assessment. 

The next benchmark stock assessment for red snapper is scheduled for 

2014.

 

Measures Contained in This Proposed Rule

 

    This rule would implement several management measures to allow for 

the limited harvest and possession of red snapper in or from the South 

Atlantic EEZ. When the Council approved, and NMFS implemented, the 

temporary rule through emergency action in 2012, they determined that 

retention of a limited number of red snapper (13,097 fish) would not 

jeopardize the rebuilding of the red snapper stock because the 

estimated discard mortality level for 2012 was below the acceptable 

biological catch (ABC). In Amendment 28, the Council has developed a 

process to evaluate whether a similar limited harvest season could 

occur each year, beginning in 2013.

 

Process for Determining the Limited Annual Red Snapper Harvest

 

    Amendment 28 describes the annual process developed by the Council 

for determining whether a limited fishing season for red snapper will 

occur and how much red snapper may be harvested. The ABC is determined 

through the Council's ABC control rule and the rebuilding projections 

from the most recent stock assessment. Estimated landings and dead 

discards of red snapper from the previous year should be available 

around March of each year, and NMFS would use that information in 

formulas approved by the Council in Amendment 28. If NMFS determines, 

using the formulas, that the estimated landings and dead discards that 

occurred in the previous year are equal to or greater than the ABC for 

the current year, no harvest would be allowed and the ACL would remain 

equal to zero. However, if NMFS determines, using the formulas, that 

the previous year's estimated landings and dead discards are less than 

the ABC, then the ACL would be set to the amount of harvest that may be 

allowed for the current year.

 

Setting the Commercial and Recreational Red Snapper Fishing Seasons

 

    If NMFS determines limited commercial and recreational fishing 

seasons are allowed for that fishing year, NMFS would announce the 

commercial and recreational fishing season start dates in the Federal 

Register and by other methods, as deemed appropriate. The commercial 

fishing season would begin on or close to the second Monday in July, 

and the recreational fishing season, which would consist of weekends 

only (Fridays, Saturdays, and Sundays), would begin on or close to the 

second Friday of July. If the fishing seasons do not open exactly on 

these dates, they would open as close to these dates as possible. NMFS 

would not announce the season end date for the commercial sector before 

the season starts, but would monitor harvest and close the commercial 

sector when the commercial ACL has been reached or projected to be 

reached by filing an in-season closure notification with the Office of 

the Federal Register. After the commercial sector closes, sale and 

purchase of red snapper are prohibited and harvest and possession of 

red snapper are limited to the bag and possession limits. NMFS would 

project when the recreational ACL would be reached and announce the 

fishing season end date in the Federal Register. The recreational 

season length would be based on an evaluation of historical harvest 

levels and fishing effort.

    If the NMFS Regional Administrator (RA) determines tropical storm 

or hurricane conditions exist, or are projected to exist, in the South 

Atlantic during the commercial or recreational fishing seasons, this 

rule would allow the RA to modify the opening and closing dates by 

filing a notification to that effect with the Office of the Federal 

Register, and announcing via NOAA Weather Radio and Fishery Bulletin 

any change in the red snapper commercial or recreational fishing 

seasons. Additionally, the Council decided that if the projected 

commercial or recreational fishing season is determined by NMFS to be 3 

days or less, then the commercial or recreational fishing season would 

not open for that fishing year because that short time period would not 

provide sufficient fishing opportunity for the public.

 

ACLs

 

    Amendment 28 includes formulas for determining the commercial and 

recreational ACLs on an annual basis. The formulas are based on total 

removals (landings plus discards) from prior fishing years. The 

formulas would provide the total ACL for limited fishing seasons. Using 

the current allocation ratio for red snapper (28.07 percent commercial 

and 71.93 percent recreational), NMFS would then determine the 

commercial and recreational ACLs. When finalized data from the prior 

fishing years are available and NMFS determines that limited fishing 

seasons are allowable, NMFS would publish a notification with the 

Office of the Federal Register to announce the commercial and 

recreational ACLs for limited fishing seasons for that fishing year.

 

AMs

 

    During limited fishing seasons, the Council and NMFS would 

establish in-season AMs to prevent these ACLs from being exceeded. If 

red snapper harvest is allowed in a given fishing year, the commercial 

in-season AM requires that if commercial landings reach or are 

projected to reach the commercial ACL, then NMFS would close the 

commercial sector for red snapper for the remainder of the fishing 

year. After the commercial sector closes, sale and purchase of red 

snapper would be prohibited and harvest and possession of red snapper 

would be limited to the bag and possession limits until the 

recreational fishing season closes. The recreational in-season AM is 

the length of the recreational fishing season as determined by NMFS and 

announced in the Federal Register. After the recreational fishing 

season closes, the bag and possesion limits for red snapper would be 

zero. If both the commercial and recreational sectors are closed, it 

would be unlawful to harvest or possess red snapper.

 

Other Management Measures

 

    In order to reduce the probability of an overage of the commercial 

and recreational ACLs during the limited open seasons, this rule would 

implement a 75-lb (34-kg) commercial trip limit and a 1-fish per person 

recreational bag limit. The rule would also remove the 20-inch (51-cm), 

total length (TL), minimum size limit for both the commercial and 

recreational sectors to decrease regulatory discards of red snapper 

(fish returned to the water because they are below the minimum size 

limit).