Thursday, April 12, 2018

April 2018 Council Meeting Preview

The Gulf of Mexico Fishery Management Council meets next week at the Marriott Courtyard in Gulfport, MS. You’re welcome to join us in person or you can watch a live broadcast of the meeting via webinar.

Public comment will be held on Thursday, April 19thfrom 12:30 – 3:30 CST. If you can’t testify in person, visit our " amendments under development page" to submit your comments and learn about the different issues we’re working on.

Check out the meeting agenda and materials to prepare for the meeting. The following is a summary of some of the issues the Council plans to address:

Photo: NOAA
Red Snapper

At the last meeting, the Council recommended that NOAA Fisheries approve Exempted Fishing Permits that would allow the States to manage a portion of the recreational red snapper quota for 2018 and 2019. The Council expects to hear an update on the status of those permits and learn the implications they will have on recreational red snapper season in the Gulf of Mexico.

The Council will also look at a draft amendment that considers permanently allowing each Gulf state to manage a portion of the recreational red snapper quota in federal waters. 

For-Hire Management 
Reef Fish Amendment 41 considers establishing an allocation-based program to manage reef fish for federally permitted charter vessels. Reef Fish Amendment 42 considers managing reef fish for the headboat vessels included in the Southeast Regional Headboat Survey. The Council will review the documents and be presented with decision tools that allows users to explore the current range of alternatives contained in the amendments. 

Greater Amberjack
Photo: Mike Jennings

The Council will see a first draft of a framework action that considers making three modifications to greater amberjack management. 

Currently, when the fishing year begins on August 1 the fishing seasons remain open continuously until the quota is met. Next week, the Council will consider recreational season specific quotas that allow a pre-determined portion of the quota to be harvested in each of the two different seasons.

The Council will also consider reducing the recreational bag limit of greater amberjack. While the current bag limit is 1 greater amberjack per person, reducing it further may reduce the harvest rate.

Finally, the Council will look at reducing the commercial trip limit which is expected to reduce the harvest rate and increase the length of the commercial season. 


Photo: Erik Cordes
The Council will review a public hearing draft of Coral Amendment 9 which considers creating protections for 15 deep water areas in the Gulf that are known to have an abundance of corals and/or coral diversity that makes them unique. The Amendment also considers designating eight new areas for Habitat Area of Particular Concern (HAPC) Status without fishing regulations, and prohibiting dredge fishing in all existing HAPCs with regulations.  Public hearing meetings will be held across the Gulf in May and June to gather public opinion on the proposed changes before final action is taken. 

 As always, if you have any questions don't hesitate to contact us at

Monday, February 5, 2018

January 2018 Council Update

The Gulf of Mexico Fishery Management Council met January 29-February 1, 2018, in New Orleans, Louisiana. Here is a summary of some of the issues that were discussed:

Spiny Lobster

The Council reviewed the draft Options Paper for Spiny Lobster Amendment 13, which considers making federal regulations for commercial spiny lobster bully netting consistent with regulations recently adopted by the State of Florida.  This would allow Florida to directly submit proposed spiny lobster regulations to National Marine Fisheries Service without requiring Council action. 

The Council elected to amend language in some actions within the document for clarity and to maintain consistency with Florida regulations.  The timeline of an enhanced cooperative management procedure may also be amended to be more consistent with the federal rulemaking process, if necessary.  The South Atlantic Council will review the document at its April Council meeting.  

Draft Options Paper – Carryover of Unharvested Quota

The Council received the SSC recommendations on this options paper that considers incorporating provisions to allow carryover of uncaught ACLs and appropriate adjustments to any quota carried over.  The Council voted to remove an alternative that would not allow carryovers to stocks without a sector allocation and to remove an action that allowed adjustments to the carryover provision.  They also voted to revise the wording in Action 5 so that there is consistent terminology among the framework procedures for FMPs.  

Public Hearing Draft Amendment 49 – Modifications to the Sea Turtle Release Gear and Framework Procedure for the Reef Fish Fishery

The Council reviewed a public hearing draft of Amendment 49 that would allow the use of new sea turtle release gears for commercial and charter vessel/headboats with federal Gulf reef fish permits.  The document has been updated to include additional information and photographs of the new sea turtle release gear as recommended by the Law Enforcement Technical Committee.  

The Council selected preferred alternatives in Actions 1 and 2 of the document that would modify the regulations for commercial and charter/headboat Gulf reef fish permit holders to allow the use of newly released devices; and modify the reef fish framework procedure to include changes to release gear requirements and handling protocols for sea turtles and other protected resources.  A public hearing will be held by webinar before the April Council meeting.  The Council will review a final action on the amendment at the April Council meeting.

Descending Devices and Venting Tools

The Council reviewed a draft policy statement that encourages the proper use of venting tools or descending devices, as appropriate, when releasing fish, and provides background information on barotrauma and effectiveness of release devices.  A proposed outreach program for the policy statement was also discussed.  It was agreed that the Outreach and Education Technical Committee would be a valuable asset for implementing a program and they will be convened before the June recreational red snapper season. 

The Council voted to send a letter to the Chair of the Open Ocean Trustee Implementation Group supporting outreach programs that encourage a more widespread use of release devices, including distribution of descending devices, followed up by research on the utility of the devices and resulting fish survival. 

State Management for Recreational Red Snapper

The Council reviewed the program document and draft amendments for the five Gulf States that would enable each state to establish state management for the recreational harvest of red snapper in federal waters.  The Council reviewed an approach to estimate red snapper biomass off each state, which will be used in one of the alternatives for allocating the red snapper quota among the states.  The Council also reviewed an allocation decision tool for examining the various allocation alternatives.  

The Council voted to exclude 2010 landings from all the historical landings time series alternatives for calculating state apportionments due to concerns with the data from the year of the oil spill.  The Council also added options for the range of years to use for recreational trips in the alternative that considers various weightings of biomass alongside the number of trips.  In response to letters from the states pertaining to delegation management measures; a motion was passed to assess the requested delegation items, and determine what items can be delegated for inclusion of the next iteration of the documents.   

Amendment 41 – Allocation-based Management for Federally Permitted Charter Vessels

The Council reviewed the current Council and AP preferred alternatives in draft Amendment 41.  The current preferred alternatives would establish a permit fishing quota program that provides participants with shares and annual allocation that remain attached to the permit.  

The Council concurred with the staffs suggested wording of new Action 5.4 regarding reclamation of latent shares.  Due to the potential for discrepancies in average fish weights from dockside sampling that would be used for converting pounds to number of fish, the Council added a new action regarding units of measure for quota distribution and reporting.

Amendment 42 – Reef Fish Management for Headboat Survey Vessels

The Council reviewed a draft of Amendment 42 and decided to review the document and select preferred alternatives at the April Council meeting.  They requested that a decision tool be developed for both Amendments 41 and 42, so the Council and stakeholders could better assess the current range of alternatives.  

Exempted Fishing Permits

The Council reviewed Exempted Fishing Permits (EFP) from the following: each of the five Gulf states for recreational red snapper management in 2018 and 2019; organizations regarding the testing of various traps for the commercial harvest of lionfish in the Gulf; and a private company that wanted to evaluate an offshore aquaculture operation in the Gulf. 

The Council voted to recommend approval of each state’s EFP, with the condition that if federal for-hire vessels are included in any state’s EFP, it would not shorten the length of the federal for-hire season.  The Council recommended that NMFS move forward with the implementation of the Florida Keys Commercial Fishing Association Lionfish EFP request and the Florida Keys Fisheries Lionfish EFP request with the recommended modifications to the sampling area and to add a one year update reporting requirement.  The Council then directed staff to draft a letter outlining concerns regarding the aquaculture EFP application and forward the letter to NMFS.  

Historical Captain Endorsements

The Council initiated development of an action to consider removing the historical captain endorsement to federal charter/headboat permits for reef fish and coastal migratory pelagic and to allow these permits to be fully transferable. 

Monday, January 22, 2018

January 2018 Council Meeting Preview

The Gulf of Mexico Fishery Management Council meets at the end of this month at the Hyatt Centric800 Iberville Street, New Orleans, Louisiana. You’re welcome to join us in person or watch a live broadcast of the meeting.

Public comment will be held on Wednesday, January 31, from 2:45 – 6:00 pm, CST. If you can’t testify in person, visit our proposed amendments page to learn about the different issues we’re working on and submit your comments. 

The meeting agenda and briefing materials will help you prepare. The following is a quick summary of some of the topics the Council plans to address:

The Council will look at a draft of Spiny Lobster Amendment 13 which considers making federal regulations for spiny lobster bully netting consistent with regulations recently adopted by the State of Florida.  The document also considers allowing Florida to submit proposed lobster regulations directly to National Marine Fisheries Service without requiring Council action.

The Council will receive the SSC recommendations on a document that considers incorporating provisions to allow carry-over of uncaught ACLs and appropriate adjustments to any quota carried over. The Council will consider initiating a change to the framework procedure to make any future efforts to carry-over quota operate in a timely manner.

The Council will consider a public hearing draft document that would allow the use of new sea turtle release gears for commerical and charter vessel/headboats with federal Gulf reef fish permits. The document would also streamline the process by allowing reef fish permit holders to use additional protected species release gear types through the framework procedure. If appropriate, the Council should consider approving the document for a webinar public hearing.

The Council will review of a draft policy statement and outreach program to encourage the use of venting tools or descending devices for reef fish when appropriate. After it is approved, the policy statement will be posted to the Council's website and distributed to supporting agencies as outlined in the outreach strategy. 

The Council will continue their review of draft documents that consider allowing the Gulf states to manage a portion of the red snapper harvest of recreational red snapper out to 200 nautical miles. 

The Council will look at a revised draft of Reef Fish Amendment 41 which considers establishing an allocation based program to manage reef fish for federally permitted charter vessels. 

Amendment 42 – Reef Fish Management for Headboat Survey Vessels
The Council will continue its review of Amendment 42 which considers creating an allocation-based program to manage reef fish harvest on headboat survey vessels.

Thursday, January 11, 2018

Gulf Council 2017 Year-End Review

It’s that time of year again when most of us take stock of the year behind and begin to look forward to the year ahead. In the Gulf federal fisheries world, this year was characterized, yet again, with recreational quota closures for three of our “most wanted” species; gray triggerfish, amberjack, and red snapper. The Gulf Council recognizes the inconvenience this presents for anglers and took some major strides forward this year toward solving these issues for the future. Let’s take a look at where we’ve been and where we’re headed for each of these three overfished species.

Photo: G.P. Schmahl, FGBNMS 
Gray Triggerfish
Unfortunately, there was no federal recreational gray triggerfish season in 2017. This happened because the recreational harvest in 2016 more than doubled the annual catch limit. For an overfished stock like gray triggerfish, exceeding the annual catch limit generates a pay-back accountability measure. Meaning, if an annual catch limit is exceeded, then the following year’s annual catch limit is reduced to account for the overage. Since the gray triggerfish overage in 2016 was so large, the payback didn’t leave enough quota to open a 2017 federal season. Fortunately, since we didn’t have a season, we didn’t over harvest our quota this year. So, in 2018, recreational anglers will have their entire annual catch limit to land.

Also, this year, the Council received a stock assessment for gray triggerfish and took final action on Reef Fish Amendment 46 in hopes of finding management measures that will rebuild the stock, while minimizing season interruptions for recreational anglers. The amendment establishes a 9-year rebuilding timeline for gray triggerfish and retains the annual catch limits and annual catch targets set in Reef Fish Amendment 37. Additionally, the amendment reduces the recreational bag limit to 1-fish per person per day, increases the recreational minimum size limit to 15-inches fork length, and creates a January – February recreational closed season.

The final rule for the Gray Triggerfish Rebuilding plan will be effective on January 16, 2018 so, the recreational triggerfish season will open on January 1st with a 2-fish bag limit and 14-inch fork length minimum size limit as usual. Then, once the rule is finalized, recreational triggerfish will close for the new January – February closed season and when it opens back up in March, we’ll have a 1-fish bag limit and 15-inch fork length minimum size limit.

Greater Amberjack
Photo: G.P. Schmahl, FGBNMS
The recreational greater amberjack season closed on March 24, 2017. The short season, like with gray triggerfish, was partially caused by a limited quota that resulted from a payback for overharvest in 2016. This year’s quota was also over harvested by about 40%.

The good news is the Council took a few actions this year to mitigate the shrinking recreational season. First, the Framework Action to Modify the Greater Amberjack Rebuilding Plan sets new annual catch limits through 2020 and closes the recreational season on January 27, 2018, in hopes of allowing for a fall season. A second Framework Action adjusts the recreational fishing year so that quotas are renewed on August 1 each year, rather than at the beginning of each calendar year. This second framework also opens the recreational season in the month of May and again August through October.
The second Framework Action to Modify the Greater Amberjack Fishing Year and the Recreational Fixed Closed Season, has been finalized by the Council but is still awaiting approval and implementation by the Secretary of Commerce. Since the Rebuilding Plan has been approved as of December 21, 2017, there will be a short recreational season opening from January 1-26, 2018, but the recreational season will then close on January 27th. The Framework Action to Modify the Recreational Closed Season and Fishing year will publish sometime in early 2018, and the recreational season will then be open for the month of May, and again August through October.

Red Snapper
Photo: NOAA
This year’s recreational red snapper season opened on June 1, as usual. The federal for-hire season was opened for 49 continuous days, and closed at midnight July 19th. The federal private recreational season was opened for 3 days and closed at midnight June 3rd. The private recreational season was very short due to a number of factors. First, the previous year’s quota was exceeded so, the payback accountability measure reduced the 2017 annual catch target. Next, catches in state water seasons count against the federal quota and state water seasons have increased steadily since 2012. In fact, private anglers were projected to catch about 81% of the annual catch target within state water seasons this year. Additionally, as the stock rebuilds, red snapper are easier to catch than ever. As catch rates increase we harvest more fish in less time.

Upon completion of the short federal private recreational season set by NOAA Fisheries, the Department of Commerce announced an agreement between the Secretary of Commerce and the five Gulf States to re-open the private red snapper season. The Gulf States agreed to align Federal and State private angler red snapper seasons for the remainder of the summer which allowed for 39 additional weekend days and holidays to be open. The private angling season was open Fridays, Saturdays, and Sundays from June 16 through September 4th, including July 3, July 4, and September 4.

So, you may be wondering what we can expect for 2018. The Department of Commerce rule, which opened the extended red snapper season this year, did not change the red snapper quota and private recreational landings from this past year substantially exceeded the quota. At this point we are not sure what the 2018 federal red snapper recreational seasons will be, as it depends on whether accountability measures need to be applied. Since Amendment 44 changed the definition of overfished for the red snapper population and, even though it is still in a rebuilding program, it will soon no longer be considered to be overfished. We also are in the midst of a red snapper stock assessment, but it won’t be finished in time for management changes to affect the season.

Looking further into the future does provide a bit more hope for recreational red snapper management. First, the Council is actively working on management considerations that would allow each Gulf state to manage their own historical portion of the recreational red snapper annual catch limit. The Council has been working through the challenges associated with delegation of management to the States and the Ad Hoc Red Snapper Private Recreational Advisory Panel is expected to review the progress of State Management in January of 2018. Next, in addition to the standard red snapper stock assessment that is currently underway, an independent team of scientists has been awarded a total of $12 million to estimate the number of red snapper in the U.S. waters of the Gulf of Mexico. Perhaps, a better understanding of the stock will yield better fishing opportunities.

Shrimp Amendment 17B – Yield, Threshold Number of Permits and Transit Provisions
This amendment will be effective as of January 22, 2018. The amendment defines and aggregate maximum sustainable yield of 112,531,374 pounds of tails and an aggregate optimum yield of 85,761,596 pounds of tails. It also sets minimum threshold number of active shrimp permits at 1072 and mandates that the Council convene a review panel to review the details of a permit pool if the number of permits reaches 1,175. This amendment also allows vessels possessing shrimp to transit through federal waters without a federal permit if their trawl doors and nets are out of the water the bag straps are removed.

Finally, there is one very important document that hasn’t been mentioned which may have huge implications on our seasons moving forward. Reef Fish Amendment 44, finalized by the Council this summer, revises the minimum stock size threshold - which is the value used to determine whether or not a stock is considered to overfished. The Council selected the option which would set the minimum stock size threshold for gag, red grouper, red snapper, vermillion snapper, gray triggerfish, greater amberjack and hogfish equal to 50% of the biomass at maximum sustainable yield. This will effectively remove red snapper and gray triggerfish from overfished status. Since payback provision accountability measures only apply to overfished species, red snapper and gray triggerfish will no longer be subject to such reductions that have recently contributed to the short recreational seasons. This document, like some of the others mentioned, still awaits approval and implementation by the Secretary of Commerce.

It might be obvious by now that we’re waiting on a few different regulations to be finalized early in 2018. In January, the recreational regulations will be a bit confusing for both gray triggerfish and greater amberjack as we await implementation of management measures early in 2018. We don’t expect to know much about the 2018 recreational red snapper season until sometime in April. Be sure to stay in touch by subscribing to our news updates, following us on Facebook, or periodically checking our website. We’re also happy to chat with you about any questions you may have. Call our offices at (813) 348-1630 if you have any questions.

Wednesday, December 6, 2017

Maps, Management Tools, and Educational Resources

Photo: G.P. Schmal FGBNMS
Have you ever scoured the internet in search of new fishing spots? Tried to figure out where you can or can’t fish? Do you ever research a particular species or habitat in the Gulf of Mexico? Do you wonder about the information and decision-making process behind fishing regulations? If so, we’re delighted to share a resource that may help you find all of those things in one place.

The Gulf Council has recently remodeled its Coral Portal, a website that houses a range of interactive maps, tools for making management decisions, and educational resources. Development of the site is funded by the NOAA Coral Reef Conservation Program, and the project aims to share environmental information associated with corals and fisheries in the Gulf of Mexico with folks who use the Gulf for business, recreation, and research.

Click here to visit the coral portal:

Resources on the Portal are organized in three different categories:

Coral Viewer
This suite of interactive maps allows you to explore management areas and different known habitats in the Gulf of Mexico. To highlight a few, the Fishery Management Areas Map shows jurisdictional boundaries and areas in the Gulf with fishing restrictions. The Spiny Lobster Closed Area map highlights the areas off the Florida Keys where lobster traps are prohibited to protect threated staghorn and elkhorn corals. There are also a number of maps devoted specifically to coral including: The Coral Viewer which shows known coral areas in the Gulf, the Coral HAPC Explorer which shows the locations of current and recommended coral Habitat Areas of Particular Concern, and the Predictive Modeling of Deep-Sea Coral Habitat Map which uses factors like depth, bottom shape, and salinity, to predict where deep water corals may exist.

Proposed HAPC's in Coral Amendment 9 
This section of the Portal focuses on tools that highlight management issues being considered by the Gulf Council. Currently, you’ll find a summary of the 5-year review of Essential Fish Habitat that was recently completed, including profiles of federally managed species and their habitat associations. You’ll also find a management tool that will help to inform you about Coral Amendment 9 – which considers establishing new deep-water coral protections in the Gulf. You can analyze management actions being considered by the Gulf Council using the map tool that highlights potential Habitat Areas of Particular Concern. This section of the Coral Portal will be updated as new management measures are considered.

Lionfish Storyboard
Here you’ll find a variety of different resources designed to enhance your understanding of corals, habitats, and the species linked to them. There are interactive articles on topics like lionfish, goliath, and coral management. Additionally, you’ll find a link to the Portal blog which is jam packed with posts on different habitats. Finally, you’ll find clickable posters that display creatures and habitats of the deep Gulf of Mexico.

New material is added frequently, so check back in to see what we’ve been working on.

As you explore the resources on the updated Coral Portal please let us know what you think. We would love to hear what’s working (or not) and what other tools you may find useful. Contact us at with questions, comments, and suggestions.