Wednesday, May 23, 2012


Photo: Tim Sheerman
If you fish for grouper recreationally or commercially, you might want to pay attention to a couple of things the Gulf of Mexico Fishery Management Council is considering.

The Gulf Council is gearing up to discuss the 2013 recreational gag fishing season.
This year, the federal gag season is open from July 1 – October 31. The Gulf coast of Florida is open at the same time as the federal season, with the exception of Taylor, Jefferson, Wakulla, and Franklin counties, which are open from April 1 – June 30.  

Inconsistent regulations between state and federal waters are difficult for a few reasons: enforcement becomes complicated; federally permitted for-hire boats are excluded from state seasons; and the fish caught during non-federal seasons are still counted as part of the Gulf-wide Annual Catch Limit and can result in a shortened federal season.
Photo: Troy Frady

Recently, the Florida Fish and Wildlife Commission (FWC) requested that the Gulf Council consider gag season options that would allow for fishing in both the spring and fall.  

The current season was set to allow for the most fishing days possible (123 days). Rates of catch are typically lower in the later summer months, so the season can be open longer before the Annual Catch Target is met. The Council will reexamine the desire for a split open season, which may reduce the number of fishing days, but allow for gag fishing at a more desirable time of year.

The 2013 recreational gag season is scheduled for discussion during the June Gulf Council meeting in Tampa, Florida. The Council will be asking for your thoughts on the 2013 gag season soon.  

The Gulf Council is planning to discuss the possibility of changing the current February – March recreational shallow-water grouper closure.

During the April Council meeting, fishermen asked the Council to analyze the possibility of changing the annual shallow-water grouper closure since the circumstances that initially prompted the closure have changed.

Photo: Doug Gregory
In 2006, red grouper was considered overfished and experiencing overfishing. To reduce the number of red grouper being caught the Council closed gag, red grouper, and black grouper fishing from February 15 – March 15. The Council closed the three species together to prevent effort from shifting to the other species and to reduce bycatch of red groupers. The chosen closure also reduced fishing pressure on all three species during their spawning seasons.

In 2008, gag was determined to be overfished and experiencing overfishing. The Council extended the season closure from February 1- March 31 and limited all shallow water grouper fishing (gag, black grouper, red grouper, yellowfin, scamp, and yellowmouth.)

Red grouper is no longer overfished or experiencing overfishing, and the gag season has changed so that is no longer aligned with other shallow water groupers. At its June meeting the Council will analyze the possibility of removing or modifying the current shallow water grouper closed season.

The Council is working to set permanent allocations for gag, red grouper, and black grouper.
Allocation is the division of an Annual Catch Limit between commercial and recreational fishing sectors. In 2006, the Council set temporary allocations for gag and red grouper; and the black grouper allocation was set for the first time last year.

Current allocations are:

Red Grouper
Black Grouper

The Gulf Council has reviewed the historical landings of each grouper species, and NOAA scientists have concluded that the current allocations of gag and red grouper are not economically efficient. 

Photo: Kathy Hoak
The Council has suggested that more information about commercial Individual Fishing Quota share price, for-hire fees, charter client information, captain and crew information, and seafood dealer information be analyzed while the Council develops an options paper. The options paper containing a range of possible allocations for each species will be presented during the June Council meeting.

The Gulf Council may ease recreational shallow water grouper accountability measures.

Accountability Measures are actions that prevent Annual Catch Limits from being exceeded and correct overages if they are.  The Accountability Measures for gag and red grouper are:
·      The season can be closed early if the Annual Catch Limit is expected to be met during the fishing season.
·      If the Annual Catch Limit is exceeded:
o   Scheduled increases to the following years Annual Catch Limit will not occur.
o   The entire Shallow Water Grouper season will be shortened to ensure the Annual Catch Limit is not exceeded again.
o   The following years Annual Catch Limit will be reduced by the amount of fish that were overharvested.

The Council is developing an amendment that may eliminate the Accountability Measure that shortens the entire shallow water grouper fishing season. Red grouper and black grouper are not overfished or experiencing overfishing, and the status of scamp, yellowfin, and yellowmouth are unknown.  Removing the Accountability Measure that shortens the entire shallow-water grouper season could help prevent unnecessary closures of those species. 

Wednesday, May 2, 2012

Gray Triggerfish

Gray Triggerfish
How to measure the 14" fork length minimum size limit

The latest gray triggerfish stock assessment concluded that the stock is both overfished and experiencing overfishing.

The Gulf Council has just asked that an interim rule be put into place to temporarily reduce overfishing until long-term management measures can be developed. The interim rule reduces the triggerfish Annual Catch Limit and Annual Catch Target, and if the Annual Catch Target is met the fishery can be closed for the rest of the year.

The Council is also developing an amendment to the Reef Fish Management Plan (Amendment 37) that will permanently adjust the gray triggerfish Annual Catch Limit and Annual Catch Target once the interim rule expires.  Amendment 37 also considers making changes to commercial size limits and trip limits, and recreational size limits, seasons, and bag limits to keep triggerfish harvest inline with stock rebuilding goals. The document can be found here

If you’re on the edge of your seat and want to know more….
Photo: Ocean Triggerfish - NOAA Library
In 2006 a stock assessment indicated that gray triggerfish was experiencing overfishing. The Council developed a rebuilding plan for gray triggerfish in reef fish Amendment 30A that aimed to rebuild the stock in 10 years (by 2017). Unfortunately, the latest gray triggerfish stock assessment concluded that the stock was still experiencing overfishing and the stock is overfished.

The Gulf Council’s scientific advisors recommended that the gray triggerfish Acceptable Biological Catch be set at 305,300 pounds. The current stock Annual Catch Limit (the amount of fish that can be harvested each year) is more than twice as high (659,000 pounds) as the Acceptable Biological Catch, and must be reduced.  

The proposed interim rule will set 2012 Annual Catch Limits and Annual Catch Targets for each sector. The Acceptable Biological Catch will be allocated 79% recreational and 21% commercial, resulting in the following for 2012:

Annual Catch Limit
Annual Catch Target
64,100 pounds
60,900 pounds
241,200 pounds
217,000 pounds

And, just to add a bit of perspective, this is a graph of the commercial and recreational landings of gray triggerfish from 1981 through 2010:

Commercial and recreational landings of gray triggerfish from 1981 to 2010

As you might notice, in recent years landings of gray triggerfish have declined. In 2009 a total of 482,000 pounds were harvested and in 2010 a total of 352,000 pounds were harvested.

The amendment that is expected to follow the interim rule considers making a number of changes to triggerfish management including:
Photo: Troy Frady

·      Shortening the current rebuilding plan
·      Increasing the commercial minimum size limit
·      Establishing a commercial closed season
·      Establishing a commercial trip limit
·      Increasing the recreational minimum size limit
·      Establishing a recreational closed season
·      Establishing a triggerfish-specific recreational bag limit
·      Enabling NOAA Fisheries to close the fishery if the Annual Catch Target is reached

The Council plans to review a draft of this document in August, and public hearings are expected to take place in September.

As always, don’t hesitate to email me if you have any questions.