Thursday, January 17, 2019

January Council Meeting Preview

The Gulf of Mexico Fishery Management Council will meet January 28 – 31, at Perdido Beach Resort in Orange Beach, Alabama. You’re welcome to join us in person or you can watch a live broadcast of the meeting.

Public comment will be held on Wednesday, January 30th from 1:30 – 4:30 PM. If you can’t testify in person visit our “Amendment Under Development” webpage to learn about the different issues we’re working on and submit your comment.
The meeting agenda will help you prepare for the meeting. The following is a summary of some issues the Council plans to address:

Historical Captains Endorsements
Final Action was scheduled for this amendment however, due the partial-government shut-down the Council is unable to take final action at this meeting. Instead, the Council will hear public comments on a final draft of an abbreviated framework action that considers converting historical for-hire captain endorsements to federal for-hire permits. There are currently 31 historical captains with both reef fish and coastal migratory pelagic (CMP) permits, and one captain with a CMP permit. The Council is considering converting these historical endorsements into standard charter/headboat permits.

State Management of Recreational Red Snapper
This amendment was scheduled for final action however, due the partial-government shut-down the Council is unable to take final action at this meeting. The Council will hear comments gathered during public hearings and review the suite of documents that consider allowing each Gulf state to manage a portion of the recreational red snapper quota in federal waters.

Carryover of Unharvested Quota
The Council will review a public hearing draft that considers allowing uncaught annual catch limit to be carried over and added to the next year’s harvest for reef fish and coastal migratory pelagics. Quota available for carryover would have to be adjusted to account for natural morality and other factors such as management uncertainty.

The Council will look at a public hearing draft of an amendment that considers increasing the amount of shrimp effort allowed in the special area that is monitored for juvenile red snapper bycatch.  Analysis shows that the effort reduction threshold, which currently requires that shrimp effort in the area monitored for juvenile red snapper be 67% below the effort in the baseline years of 2001-2003, can be reduced to 60% without affecting the rebuilding of the red snapper stock. 

Gray Snapper
The Council will review an amendment that considers the criteria used to determine the overfishing and overfished status of gray snapper, and the annual catch limits for the stock. A recent gray snapper stock assessment determined that, gray snapper is experiencing overfishing and may be overfished. The actions in the document will establish Maximum Sustainable Yield (MSY), Optimum Yield (OY), and Minimum Stock Size Threshold (MSST) values that will be used to determine stock status for gray snapper. The Council is also considering alternatives that would reduce the annual catch limits necessary to end overfishing.

Red Grouper
The Council will take a first look at a Draft Framework Action that considers reducing the red grouper annual catch limit until it can suggest management measures based on the results of the stock assessment that is currently underway.  At its last meeting, the Council was presented with the results of an interim analysis that could be used to provide updated harvest recommendations for red grouper while awaiting the results the next stock assessment. Landings in recent years have been significantly below the annual catch limits, indicating that the stock may not be large enough to sustain current harvest levels. After hearing recommendations from its scientific advisors and listening to public testimony that indicated the stock is struggling, the Council requested that the National Marine Fisheries Service implement an interim or emergency rule to establish an annual catch limit based on the total 2017 landings. 

Red Snapper Reallocation
The Council will continue to consider a Draft Amendment that considers reallocating the red snapper annual catch limit between recreational and commercial sectors as well as the two components of the recreational sector.

For-Hire Reporting Requirements
The Council will host a Workshop on For-Hire Reporting Requirements that are expected to be implemented this year. The workshop will begin at 5:45 PM on Monday, January 28th at the Orange Beach Community Center.

Saltson-Kennedy Grant Program Feedback Session
NOAA Fisheries will host a feedback session to solicit suggestions on improving communications for a grant program that awards nearly $10 million to fisheries research and development projects across the United States.

Thursday, December 27, 2018

Gulf Council 2018 End of Year Review

We’ve made another trip around the sun and once again, we have an opportunity to look back on the year behind us and look forward to the year ahead. 2018 was yet another fascinating year in fisheries management. We’re working on major changes in the management of red snapper and we tweaked cobia and greater amberjack regulations. Not surprisingly, 2019 is already shaping up to be an action-packed year with red snapper and red grouper management taking center stage in the Gulf of Mexico. Keep reading for a perspective on what we have accomplished in 2018 and where we’re headed in 2019.
Photo: Mike Jennings

Red Snapper
Red snapper management is usually pretty exciting, thankfully, the excitement of 2018 seems to be a bit more optimistic than it has been in years past. The year started off on the right foot, a stock assessment determined that red snapper is not considered overfished, nor is it experiencing overfishing. As a result, the Council increased the red snapper annual catch limit by 1.25 million pounds, allowing up to 15.1 million pounds of harvest. The Council also decided to reduce the buffer set between the federal for-hire annual catch limit and annual catch target from 20% to 9%; this should permit those anglers to catch more of their allowance of red snapper without putting them in jeopardy of overharvesting their annual catch limit.

Photo: Tom Jenkins
Next, the Council continued its work to allow the Gulf states more management control over recreational red snapper. In 2018, while the Council focused on developing its State Management documents, the management of the private angling component of the recreational red snapper sector was handled by the states through Exempted Fishing Permits. The red snapper private angling allocation was divided among the states, and each state set its own season in the federal waters of the Gulf. These same Exempted Fishing Permits extend through the 2019 fishing season. Also in 2019, the Council will work to finalize Reef Fish Amendment 50, which would allow the states some management authority over recreational red snapper on a more permanent basis. In fact, we’re in the process of hosting public hearings to gather your thoughts on that proposal. For more information on how to contribute visit this website:

Red Grouper
Photo: Hubbard's Marina
Over the course of 2018, the Council heard from fishermen who expressed concern for what appears to be a declining red grouper stock. While there is a red grouper stock assessment underway, the results of that assessment aren’t expected until late 2019. In light of this, the Council requested an interim analysis that could be used to provide harvest recommendations while awaiting the stock assessment results. That analysis showed that landings have been significantly below the annual catch limits, which indicates that the stock may not be large enough to sustain current harvest levels. After hearing recommendations from its scientific advisors, the Council requested that NOAA Fisheries implement an interim rule to establish annual catch limits based on 2017 landings.

For 2019, NOAA Fisheries has already announced that it is withholding a portion of commercial IFQ as it works to publish the interim rule to reduce the annual catch limit. The Council has initiated a framework amendment to reduce the catch limits beyond the interim rule until it can provide longer term catch recommendations based on the stock assessment. We expect that red grouper will be in the spotlight throughout much of 2019 so stay tuned.

Greater Amberjack
You probably noticed that a new recreational greater amberjack season hit the books in 2018. From here forward, the recreational season is scheduled to open for the month of May and then again August through October. The only complicating factor is that the fishing year has also changed so the quota renews on August 1st, rather than on January 1st like the rest of our reef fish. This means that any quota overages are more likely to affect the May season than the August – October fall season since the quota starts anew in August.

Photo: Scott Hickman
In 2018, the Council decided to increase the cobia minimum size limit to 36 inches fork length. This decision came after the Council heard from anglers that believe that the cobia stock is struggling. We’re anxiously awaiting the cobia stock assessment which is scheduled to begin in 2019 and the new size limit is expected to be implemented sometime in the new year as well.

For-Hire Electronic Reporting
Two years ago, the Council finalized an Amendment to require federally permitted charter and headboat vessels to electronically report their catch for each trip before offloading fish. The Amendment also requires each vessel to have a device permanently affixed to the vessel that, at a minimum, archives vessel position data. The new reporting requirements are expected to come online in 2019. The requirement to report catch will begin sometime in spring and the requirement to have positioning hardware will begin in the fall. The Council is partnering with NOAA Fisheries to host workshops and mail informational materials to all federally permitted for-hire operators in the Gulf. If this action affects you, stay tuned for more information on what you’ll be required to do.