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.

Wednesday, November 5, 2014

Gulf Council Research and Monitoring Priorities 2015 - 2019

The science that informs fishery management is incredibly complicated, and the management decisions that are made using that science can be controversial. While the members of the Gulf of Mexico Fishery ManagementCouncil
are knowledgeable about specific aspects of the harvest, conservation, or business of Gulf fisheries, they’re not always scientists - but they don’t have to be. The Council relies on the Southeast Fisheries Science Center to assess fish stocks and provide them with the science necessary to make informed management decisions.

FWRI deploys a video array

Every five years the National Marine Fisheries Service asks the regional fishery management Councils for a “wish-list’ identifying their fishery monitoring and research priorities. The Southeast Fisheries Science Center, which is responsible for the Gulf, Caribbean, and South Atlantic Councils, incorporates the priorities of each Council into its own research plan.

Below you’ll find a summary of the Gulf Council’s highest priority items for 2015 - 2019.  The full document provides a much more comprehensive list of research and monitoring priorities.

The research and monitoring priorities are broken into three categories. The first one focuses on broad, multi-purpose research programs that aim to collect data for a variety of species over a long period of time. The Council has asked for enhanced:

Size data is collected for tag and recapture study
Specifically, more video and trawl surveys should be conducted in the eastern Gulf.  Vertical, bottom long-line, visual, and larval studies should be conducted to better understand the abundance of various sizes and ages of fish.  This will help determine the number of young fish that could become reproductive and harvestable adults.
Existing recreational and commercial data collection programs should continue to achieve  better coverage to collect data on abundance, size and species of fish landed. Electronic data collection systems should be developed for the charter for-hire vessels to improve timeliness and accuracy of reporting.
Hooks ready for longline survey
3.    Social and economic monitoring
A study of human attitudes, behavior, and reliance on marine fisheries should be developed to monitor changes in communities over time, particularly due to changes in recreational and commercial fishing regulations.
4.     Estimations of bycatch and discards
Observer coverage and data collection on bycatch from commercial shrimp trawlers, longliners, and vertical line fisheries should be enhanced.  Continued development of technologies including cameras, phones, and tablets should be utilized to collect estimations of total discards and discard mortality rates in all sectors.

The next category of research priorities is based on individual species managed by the Gulf Council. The recommendations in this section are based on gaps in data that were identified in recent stock assessments and through the development of management plans. The highest priority items focus on species that are currently in rebuilding plans - research priorities for numerous other species are included in the full document.

Diver performs visual survey
1.    Red snapper – More efforts should be directed toward determining the effects of the oil spill; the influence of artificial reef structures on the population and spatial distribution across the Gulf; and the ecological effects of population expansion specifically, as it relates to interactions with other species.
2.    Greater amberjack – More age and growth studies should be performed to determine size at age, and work should continue to verify the size of females at reproductive maturity.
3.    Gray triggerfish – Additional studies on the aging, catchability of dominate males during the spawning season, and movement of triggerfish should be conducted.

Next, the Council focuses on economic and socio-cultural research and monitoring needs. Future fishery management challenges will increasingly pertain to the social environment, so a better understanding of the human dimension of fisheries is necessary.

1.    Effects of proposed management changes on recreational and commercial fishing
Evaluations of the economic benefits, participation rates, and behavior of all modes of recreational and commercial fishing should be performed to enhance understanding of the social implications of management changes including size limits, bag limits, quotas, seasons, and marine reserves.
2.    Development of regional economic models
Data should be gathered and tools should be developed to assess the regional economic effects of regulations or environmental events such as hurricanes and red tides.

Trawl net is hauled in
The role of the Gulf Council in the research and monitoring side of fisheries management is often confused. The Council isn’t responsible for collecting or interpreting fisheries data, nor does the Council assess the health and size of fish stocks. Rather, the National Marine Fisheries Service and the Southeast Fisheries Science Center perform and report the science to the Gulf Council for use in management decisions. The Council simply takes an advisory role in directing the scientists on where to focus their research. As you can see, the Gulf Council has identified some very important research and monitoring needs that will help ensure the science fits the needs of the decision makers to better inform fisheries management decisions.