Friday, June 29, 2018

Moving the Bar on What it Means to be "Overfished"

Last year, the Council took action that, in large part, flew under the radar despite its importance. It’s not terribly surprising since the subject matter is both dry and complicated – even for seasoned participants in the Council process.

The Amendment, which was approved in December of 2017, reduced the Minimum Stock Size Threshold (MSST), which is the threshold used to determine when a stock is overfished, for seven of the reef fish species managed by the Council. In addition to reducing the likelihood that a stock is declared overfished, the amendment effectively removed two reef fish stocks from overfished status; however, they are still in a rebuilding plan. Prior to the change red snapper, gray triggerfish, and greater amberjack were all considered overfished. Now, greater amberjack is the only species that remains with overfished status.

In the Amendment, “Minimum Stock Size Threshold (MSST) Revision for Reef Fish Stocks with Existing Status Determination Criteria,” the Council set the MSST for gag, red grouper, red snapper, vermillion snapper, gray triggerfish, greater amberjack, and hogfish, at half of the spawning stock biomass that would be necessary if the stock were to be fished at maximum sustainable yield on a continuing basis (0.50*BMSY (or proxy)). Each of the stocks already had MSST levels defined by separate efforts, but the Council wanted to standardize the criteria and ensure that stocks with low natural mortality rates didn’t alternate between overfished and rebuilt status due to natural variations such as environmental factors. 

The new MSST is set as far below the biomass of a stock being fished at maximum sustainable yield as is allowed our federal fishing law, National Standard 1 of the Magnuson-Stevens Act. It’s also the lowest MSST ever set by the Gulf Council. This means that the biomass of a stock must dip relatively low to be considered overfished. This also means that the likelihood of a stock being declared overfished is very low, but if it happens, a very restrictive rebuilding plan would be required to bring the stock back up to a sustainable biomass.

So, you may be wondering what this all means for red snapper and gray triggerfish, the two species who’s status’ were changed by this amendment.  Both stocks are still under rebuilding plans so, catch limits don’t automatically change. However, the most obvious change from an angler perspective is the removal of the “pay-back” provision. When red snapper or gray triggerfish are considered overfished the pay-back provision requires that any harvest over the annual catch limit must be made up for by reducing the following years harvest by the amount of the overage. In recent years, this has been a major contributor to short seasons for both species. Without pay-back provisions, we should see more consistent annual catch limits and thus fishing seasons hopefully, allowing more fishing opportunities.

While the MSST Amendment didn’t miraculously grow the size of the stocks in the Gulf, it did reduce the likelihood that one of the seven listed species is declared overfished.  In fact, a red snapper stock assessment that was completed this year showed that red snapper is not overfished and even allows for an increase in harvest.  The Council is currently working on another amendment that considers modifying status determination criteria including MSST for remaining stocks. “Status Determination Criteria and Optimum Yield for Reef Fish and Red Drum” is an amendment you may want to pay attention to since it also proves to have implications despite its dry, complicated subject matter.

Friday, June 8, 2018

June 2018 Council Meeting Preview

The Gulf of Mexico Fishery Management Council will meet on June 18-21 at the Key West Marriott Beachside Hotel in Key West, Florida. You’re welcome to join us in person or you can watch a live broadcast of the meeting

Photo: Erik Cordes
Public comment will be held on the afternoon of Wednesday, June 20, from 2:45 – 5:30 p.m. If you can’t testify in person, visit our “Amendments Under Development” web page to submit your comments and learn about the different issues we’re working on. 

You may find the meeting agenda and materials useful as you prepare for the meeting. The following is a summary of some of the issues the Council plans to address:

Coral
The Council plans to take final action on Coral Amendment 9 after hearing the comments received during public hearings. The amendment 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. 


Photo: NOAA



Sea Turtle Release Gear and Framework Procedure
The Council is scheduled to take final action on Amendment 49 which considers allowing the use of new sea turtle release gears for commercial and charter vessel/headboats with federal Gulf reef fish permits. The document also considers modifying the reef fish framework procedure to include changes to release gear requirements and handling protocols for sea turtles and other protected resources. 

Cobia
Photo: Scott Hickman
Cobia is managed jointly with the South Atlantic Fishery Management Council. Meaning, any action considered by one Council must be approved by the other Council as well. At this meeting, the Gulf Council will take final action on Amendment 31 which considers approving the South Atlantic Fishery Management Council’s decision to remove the Atlantic migratory group of cobia from the federal management plan for Coastal Migratory Pelagics.  This would allow the Atlantic States Marine Fishery Commission to manage cobia in the Atlantic. 

After hearing numerous concerns from fishermen, the Council is considering a framework action (CMP 7) that would modify the size and possession limits for Gulf cobia. The Council will review that document for the first time at this meeting. 

Red Snapper
The Council will hear the results of the latest red snapper stock assessment which found that red snapper is not considered to be overfished nor undergoing overfishing.

The Council will continue working on a draft amendment that considers permanently allowing each Gulf state to manage a portion of the recreational red snapper quota in federal waters. The 2018 and 2019 red snapper seasons are being managed by the Gulf States through Exempted Fishing Permits which allow the States to manage a portion of the recreational red snapper quota. 

Photo: Rosemary White
The Council will take a first look at a scoping document that considers reallocating the red snapper annual catch limit between recreational and commercial sectors as well as the two components of the recreational sector. The Council previously passed Amendment 28, which reallocated red snapper by shifting 2.5% of the commercial sector’s allocation to the recreational sector. However, a lawsuit resulted in the district court decision which vacated Amendment 28 and restored the previous sector allocations of 49% recreational and 51% commercial. 

The Council will review a draft of a Framework action that considers modifying the buffers between the annual catch target and annual catch limit for the for-hire and private components of the recreational sector.

Spiny Lobster
The Council will continue work on a public hearing draft of Spiny Lobster Amendment 13 which ederal regulations for commercial spiny lobster bully netting consistent with regulations recently adopted by the State of Florida.  This amendment also considers allowing Florida to directly submit proposed spiny lobster regulations to National Marine Fisheries Service without requiring Council action. 

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. 


Coral

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 gulfcouncil@gulfcouncil.org

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.