Thursday, February 16, 2012

The History of Recreational Red Snapper Management

Prior to 1997 the recreational red snapper season was open year round. Catch levels were
Photo: Scott Hickman
controlled through minimum size limits and bag limits. The Sustainable Fisheries Act of 1996 required the establishment of quotas for recreational red snapper fishing and commercial fishing that, when reached prohibits the retention of fish for the remainder of the fishing year. 

In 1997, the recreational red snapper fishery closed on November 27.

In 1998, the recreational red snapper fishery closed on October 1.

In 1999, the recreational red snapper fishery closed on August 29. An emergency rule temporarily raised the recreational red snapper minimum size limit from 15 to 18 inches total length during June 4 to August 29 to slow down the retained harvest rate. Without this emergency rule, the season would have closed on August 5. However, the rule created a large increase in dead discards, and the size limit was allowed to revert back to 15 inches the following year.

A February 2000 regulatory amendment (GMFMC 2000) replaced the system of in-season monitoring and closure projections with a fixed season based on a preseason projection of when the recreational quota would be reached. The season for 2000 and beyond was initially set at April 21 through October 31, with a 16 inch minimum size limit, a 4-fish bag limit. This recreational fishing season remained in effect through 2007.

In 2008, Amendment 27 (GMFMC 2007) revised the rebuilding plan. For the recreational fishery, it implemented a June 1 through September 30 fishing season in conjunction with a 2.45 mp recreational quota, 16 inch minimum size limit, 2-fish bag limit, and zero bag limit for captain and crew or for-hire vessels. 

The Sustainable Fisheries Act requires that the Regional Administrator close the recreational fishery when the quota is projected to be met (Section 407(d) Magnuson-Steven Act). When Amendment 27 was submitted to NMFS, the Council requested that the five Gulf states adopt compatible regulations in state waters. Florida adopted a compatible 2-fish bag limit, but it maintained its state red snapper fishing season of April 15 through October 31, 78 days longer than the federal fishing season. Texas also maintained its 4-fish bag limit and year round fishing season in its state waters. Prior to the start of the 2008 season, NMFS recalculated its projections for recreational red snapper catches in light of the state regulations, and projected that there would be a 75 percent probability that the recreational quota would not be exceeded if the season closed on August 5. As a result, NMFS took action to set the 2008 season to be June 1 to August 5.

In 2009, NMFS again recalculated its projections for the season length prior to the start of the recreational season, and announced that the recreational season would be June 1 to August 15.

Photo: Mike Jennings
A February 2010 regulatory amendment (GMFMC 2010) increased the total allowable catch from 5.0 mp to 6.945 mp, which increased the recreational quota from 2.45 mp to 3.403 mp. However, NMFS estimated that in 2009, the recreational sector overharvested its quota by approximately 75 percent. In recalculating the number of days needed to fill the recreational quota, even with the quota increase, NMFS projected that the 2010 season would need to be shortened to June 1 to July 24.

In April 2010, the Deepwater Horizon MC252 deep-sea drilling rig exploded and sank off the coast of Louisiana. Because of the resulting oil spill, approximately one-third of the Gulf of Mexico was closed to fishing for much of the summer months. The direct loss of fishing opportunities due to the closure, plus the reduction in tourism throughout the Gulf coast, resulted in a much lower catch than had been projected. After the recreational season closed on July 24, NMFS estimated that 2.3 million pounds of the 3.4 million pound recreational quota remained unharvested (NMFS 2010a). The Council requested an emergency rule to provide the Regional Administrator with the authority to reopen the recreational red snapper season for eight consecutive weekends (Friday, Saturday and Sunday) From October 1 through November 21 (24 fishing days).

In January 2011, the Council submitted a regulatory amendment (GMFMC 2011a) to NMFS to increase the red snapper total allowable catch to 7.185 million pounds, with a 3.521 million pound recreational quota. A final rule to implement the increase was published in the Federal Register on April 29, 2011, and a 48 day recreational red snapper season was announced, running June 1 to 12:01 am on July 19.

Photo: Mike Jennings
On August 12, 2011, NMFS published an emergency rule in the Federal Register (FR 76 50143) that increased the recreational red snapper quota by 345,000 pounds for the 2011 fishing year and provided the agency with the authority to re-open the recreational red snapper season later in the year, if the recreational quota had not been filled by the July 19 closing date. However, in August of that year, based on headboat data plus charterboat and private recreational landings through June, NMFS calculated that 80 percent of the recreational quota had been caught. With the addition of July landings data plus Texas survey data, NMFS estimated that 4.4 to 4.8 million pounds will have been caught, well above the 3.865 million pound quota. Thus, no unused quota was available to reopen the recreational fishing season.

In January of 2012 the Council voted to increase the Red Snapper Annual Catch Limit from 7,185,000 pounds to 8,080,000 pounds for the 2012 fishing year. Additionally, if the 2012 Annual Catch Limit is not exceeded it will increase again to 8,690,000 pounds in 2013. The Council also voted to extend the  current September 30th recreational red snapper season closure, which will make it easier for the Council to open a supplemental fall season if quota remains after the regular season. *These most recent Council recommendations are still waiting final approval and implementation from NOAA Fisheries Service. 

Tuesday, February 7, 2012

January/February 2012 Meeting Highlights

The Council met last week in Mobile, Alabama. The following is a brief description of what came out of that meeting. Just a reminder; any final action taken by the Council must be approved by NOAA Fisheries before it is implemented. If you have any questions please feel free to contact me directly at:

Your Chum,
Emily Muehlstein
Gulf of Mexico Fishery Management Council

Red Snapper
Photo: Mike Jennings
The Council voted to increase the red snapper Annual Catch Limit from 7,185, 000 pounds to 8,080,000 pounds in 2012. If the 2012 Annual Catch Limit is not exceeded it will increase again to 8,690,000 pounds in 2013.

The Council tabled discussions on a regulatory amendment that considered making adjustments to the red snapper season structure by exploring weekend or weekday only fishing options.

For those of you trying to make summer fishing plans: NOAA Fisheries is expected to announced the predicted length of this years red snapper season sometime this spring.

Photo: Mike Jennings
The Council has decided to delay action on Reef Fish Amendment 35 until its April meeting in Corpus Christi, Texas. The Councils current preferred alternatives would:

·      Set the Annual Catch Limit at 1,780,000 pounds and the Annual Catch Target at 1,539,000 lbs.
·      Retain the recreational 30’’ minimum size limit and June-July season closure.
·      Establish a 2000 lbs commercial trip limit and retain the March-May commercial season closure.
To learn more about this proposed amendment watch the online presentation, check out the public hearing guide, or tackle the full amendment.  Then, share your comments with the Council using the online comment form.

Spiny Lobster
The Council cannot authorize activities that put threatened or endangered species at risk. To protect staghorn and elkhorn corals that were put at risk by commercial spiny lobster fishing activities the Council decided to prohibit spiny lobster trapping in a number of areas off the Florida Keys. The Council worked with the Florida Keys National Marine Sanctuary and the commercial fishing industry to identify closed areas that would protect corals while causing the least amount of impact to fishing activities. The Gulf Council moved to approve the amendment and subdivide proposed closed areas 2, 15, and 30. The proposed closures (including the newly amended sites) will create a total of about 5.9 square miles of closed area.

This amendment also contained an action that proposed commercial spiny lobster trap line marking requirements but the Gulf Council selected to take no action on the issue. The spiny lobster fishery is managed jointly with South Atlantic Fishery Management Council who will need to review and approve the amendment in March before it is finalized.  

Trigger Fish
The latest gray triggerfish stock assessment determined that the stock is both overfished (population is too low) and undergoing overfishing (rate of removals is too high). The Gulf Council’s scientific advisors recommended that the gray triggerfish Acceptable Biological Catch be set at 305,300 pounds. As a rule, Annual Catch Limit cannot be higher than the Acceptable Biological Catch, so the current stock Annual Catch Limit of 659,000 pounds must be adjusted. Just for reference the total triggerfish catch from 2009 was 482,000 lbs and from 2010 was 352,000 lbs.
The Council directed staff to prepare an interim rule that would reduce the gray triggerfish Annual Catch Limit and Annual Catch Target to align them with the new Acceptable Biological catch, as well as adjust the Accountability Measures to provide in-season closure authority to the regional administrator of NOAA Fisheries.

The Council also directed staff to prepare a framework action to adjust the Annual Catch Target and Annual Catch Limits after the interim rule expires . The framework action will also consider making adjustments to the rebuilding plan by modifying management measures such as size limits and fishing seasons.

Costal Migratory Pelagics
Photo: Richard Dawson
The Council has decided to hold scoping meetings for two amendments for the Coastal Migratory Pelagics Management Plan. Amendment 19 considers limiting the sale of recreationally caught fish and making changes to the permit requirements. Amendment 20 considers modifying commercial zone boundaries, changing the commercial opening date for the western zone, establishing a transit provision, and requiring vessel zone declarations.

During scoping the council seeks suggestions and ideas from stakeholders about how to solve a fishery problem. The goal of scoping is to identify issues, potential impacts, and reasonable alternatives associated with the issues at hand so that reasonable management actions and alternatives can be developed. The Council will hold meetings in different towns across the Gulf Coast gather input on proposed amendments 19 and 20; details will be posed on our website soon.

Crew Size and Income
The Council took final action on an amendment that eliminates the requirement that 50% or more of your earned income must be from commercial or charter fishing activities to obtain or renew a commercial reef fish vessel permit. Also, this amendment increases the crew limit from 3 to 4 people on vessels that are permitted both commercially and as charter boats.

Dealer Permits and Electronic Reporting
The Council is working on an amendment that proposes some changes to seafood dealer reporting requirements. Scoping meetings will be held to gather input from stakeholders regarding:
·      What dealer permits would be required, and for which species?
·      How frequently and by what methods dealers should report?
·      What, if any, penalties should exist for non-reporting or late reporting?
The scoping meetings for this amendment will be held with the scoping for the costal migratory pelagic amendments mentioned above. Details will be available on our website soon.