Thursday, February 12, 2015

Red Snapper: Higher Harvest Limits on the Horizon

Photo: Joseph Cawthon
Lately, much of the buzz about red snapper management has been less than positive. With sector separation, ever shortening seasons, and allocation on the roster, it’s easy to overlook the good news.

Here it is: The red snapper stock is getting healthier every year; fishermen, scientists, and managers alike know it, and when that happens, harvest limits can be raised.

In January, the Council’s scientific advisors (the Scientific and Statistical Committee) met to review a red snapper update stock assessment. Although the assessment was completed before 2014 landings data were available, results of the assessment suggest good news. The Council could increase allowable harvest by two million pounds for 2015 and beyond. An increase from 11,000,000 pounds to 13,000,000 pounds would bring the allowable harvest to its highest level in history.

Photo: David Payne
But wait, there’s more. Preliminary landings data from 2014 was reported to the Gulf Council during its most recent meeting in Alabama. The provisional landings estimates for 2014 indicate that the catches last year were lower than they were in 2013.  This means that more fish were left in the water in 2014 to spawn and contribute to stock biomass levels. The stock assessment scientists reviewed the 2014 provisional landings and reported that the acceptable biological catch could potentially be increased by nearly a million more pounds. However, the Council cannot use these increased projections to set 2015 quotas until its scientific advisors review the projections and approve new acceptable biological catch levels.

Photo: Kale Reynolds

In an effort to ensure the highest catch levels possible for this year, the Council has scheduled some special meetings to make the changes necessary to increase the 2015 red snapper annual catch limit.

On February 19, 2015, from 2-4 pm EST, the Council’s Scientific and Statistical Committee will meet via webinar to review the provisional 2014 landings and formally suggest overfishing limits and annual catch limits for 2015 and beyond. You’re welcome to listen to that meeting live.

Then, on March 3, 2015, from 1-4 pm EST, the Council will meet via webinar to review the scientific advisors’ recommendations and decide on an annual catch limit for this year and potentially future years. The Council will host public testimony during that meeting; you’re welcome to listen live andgive testimony.

Friday, January 23, 2015

Council Meeting Preview: January 2015

The Gulf of Mexico Fishery Management Council meets at the Grand Hotel Marriott in Point Clear, Alabama next week to discuss a number of interesting fisheries issues.

You’re welcome to watch a live broadcast of the meeting. Check out the Committee agenda and Full Council agenda to figure out when the Council will be discussing things that are of interest to you.

Below is a quick description of some of the issues that will be address at next weeks meeting.

Red Snapper
·      Framework Action to Adjust Recreational For-Hire Red Snapper Management Measures - The Council plans to take final action on a framework that considers changing management measures for the for-hire component of the recreational fishery. The first action considers reducing the for-hire bag limit to extend the length of the for-hire fishing season. A second potential action, suggested by the Ad-Hoc Red Snapper For-Hire Advisory Panel, considers creating a split season for the for-hire fishery. Watch this quick video and send us your comments so that the Council can consider your thoughts before making its final decision.
·      Amendment 39: Recreational Regional Management – The Council plans to reinitiate discussion on the amendment, which considers dividing the recreational red snapper quota among the regions to allow for the creation of different management measures that best suit each area. Public hearings were hosted in the summer of 2013 and the Council has already selected preferred alternatives for most of the actions being proposed. However, action was postponed on the document until progress was made on the allocation of quota among regions.

·      Amendment 28: Red Snapper Allocation – The Council will review a revised draft of the amendment, which considers reallocating a portion of the commercial quota to the recreational sector. After holding public hearings on the issue the Council postponed action on the amendment until after Amendment 40 – Sector Separation was completed.

Last year, a stock assessment concluded that the gag stock was neither overfished nor experiencing overfishing. The Council increased the 2015 acceptable biological catch to a conservative level because scientists were concerned that a large red tide event that occurred over the summer would have a negative impact on the stock. The Council’s scientific advisors recently reviewed the effects of the red tide and the Council is expected to reevaluate catch limits for 2015 and 2016.

Greater Amberjack
This past summer, it was determined that greater amberjack is overfished, experiencing overfishing, and did not meet the 10-year rebuilding plan that ended in 2012.  As a result, the Council plans to review an options paper that considers adjusting the Annual Catch Limit and commercial and recreational management measures such as seasons, size limits, and trip limits, to ensure that the stock is rebuilt and the mandates of the Magnuson-Stevens Act are met.

As always, if you have any questions don’t hesitate to contact us.

Monday, December 29, 2014

2014 Year in Review: A Summary of Federal Fisheries Management in the Gulf on Mexico

We’ve been seeing red all year.
Among other things, red snapper, red grouper, red drum, and royal red shrimp have all been on the Council’s plate.
Here’s an overview of what we’ve done this year.

Red Snapper
It’s been an especially active year for red snapper management and, despite some bumps along the way, we’ve begun to make some headway in solving the issues that anglers are faced with.

This year's recreational season was initially projected to be open for 40 days, but was cut to 9 days for two reasons: First, a court ruling determined that the Council and NMFS have not taken sufficient action to prevent the recreational sector from exceeding its quota. As a result, a 20% buffer was put on the recreational quota to avoid future overages. Second, new inconsistent state water seasons were announced and harvest in federal waters had to be reduced to account for landings that would occur in the newly formed state water seasons.

In an attempt to extend the recreational red snapper season the Council considered adding a slot limit to the recreational red snapper fishery. However, analysis suggests that release mortality of larger fish would be so high that adding a slot limit would have very little benefit.

To allow for more for-hire fishing opportunities the Council voted to remove a provision in Reef Fish Amendment 30B that requires federally permitted reef fish for-hire vessels to comply with the more restrictive federal regulations when fishing in state waters. That would have allowed the charter and headboats to fish during the state water seasons. However, after the court ruling, the Council decided to leave 30B in place because the already shortened federal red snapper season would have become even shorter if the for-hire boats fished in state waters during state seasons.

During the first half of the year, the Council worked on Reef Fish Amendment 28, which considers reallocating a portion of the commercial quota to the recreational sector. After holding public hearings the Council postponed action on the issue until the completion of Amendment 40 -Sector Separation. The Council also completed a framework action which proposes to establish buffers and payback provisions for overages in the red snapper fishery. The framework is currently under review by the Secretary of Commerce and red snapper Allocation will be revisited during the Council’s first meeting in 2015.

The Council hosted public hearings on Sector Separation and took final action in October. It voted to divide the recreational red snapper sector, creating separate private angling and for-hire components. This separation will allow the two components of the fishery to develop different management schemes tailored to each meet the needs of each group. Amendment 40 was transmitted to the Secretary of Commerce for review and approval before it is implemented.

Following final action on Sector Separation, the Council directed staff to prepare a framework action to consider reducing the red snapper bag limit of for-hire vessels in order to extend the season for the for-hire component of the fishery. The Council is expected to take final action on the proposal at its January meeting in 2015. 

The Council created an Ad Hoc For-hire Advisory Panel to advise on development of an amendment that would consider establishing a limited access privilege program for the fore-hire component of the red snapper fishery. The Council later changed the charge of the Advisory Panel and broadened it’s scope to consider all for-hire management options, not just IFQ based programs. That panel met in December and their recommendations will be reported to the Council in early 2015.

The Council resumed discussions on Red Snapper Regional Management - Amendment 39 after postponing work on the amendment until progress was made on the allocation of quota among regions. The Amendment considers dividing the recreational red snapper quota among different regions in the Gulf to allow for the creation of different management measures that best suit each area. The Council plans to continue work on regional management in 2015.

And finally, the Council has been working on a document that considers making modifications to the commercial red snapper IFQ program. Scoping meetings will be held in the spring of 2015.

Red Grouper
Red grouper were also on the Councils plate this year. The 2014 recreational annual catch limit was exceeded triggering a bag limit reduction from four fish to three fish. Further, recreational red grouper fishing was closed October 4, when the annual catch limit was projected to be met.

After learning that the red grouper annual catch limit was exceeded the Council voted to make adjustments to promote year round recreational access in the future.  The Council reduced the recreational red grouper bag limit to two fish per person to help ensure recreational landings remain within the catch limit and accountability measures are not triggered. The framework action has been transmitted to the Secretary of Commerce and the red grouper bag limit will be 4 fish per person until the action is for approved and implemented some time this spring.

Red drum
This year, the Council considered allowing the recreational harvest of red drum out to nine nautical miles. Currently, there is a three nautical mile jurisdictional boundary off the states of Louisiana, Mississippi, and Alabama, while Texas and Florida have nine nautical mile limits.

The Council asked the states to provide more information on state water red drum fisheries to inform the stock assessment that is scheduled in 2016.  The Council is expected to reconsider the idea once more information is available.

Royal Red Shrimp
In March of this year the Council’s scientific advisors increased the royal red shrimp Acceptable Biological Catch. In response, the Council chose to increase the amount of royal reds that can be harvested to 337,000 pounds of tails. The Council also removed an accountability measures that allowed in-season closure the year following an overage to the annual catch limit.

And…. although they don’t have ‘red’ in their names mackerel and greater amberjack got some attention this year, too.
Greater amberjack
This summer, the council scientific advisors reviewed a stock assessment and determined that greater amberjack did not meet the ten-year rebuilding plan that ended in 2012. The Council will consider adjusting the annual catch limit and commercial and recreational management measures to ensure that the stock rebuilds and the mandates of the Magnuson-Stevens Act are met.

In the spring, the Council chose to increase the Spanish mackerel annual catch limit through 2017.  Commercial king mackerel trip limits and fishing seasons were also adjusted.

In January of 2015 the Council plans to host a workshop at the request of the king mackerel gill net industry. At this workshop fishery managers and fishermen will discuss potential options to address industry concerns.

2014 has been a busy year in fisheries management for both recreational and commercial fisheries. Many of our fish stocks are improving and we’re working together to find management solutions that allow us to sustainably manage our Gulf fisheries while providing the best commercial and recreational fishing opportunities possible.