Tuesday, June 12, 2012

June 2012 Meeting Preview

The Gulf of Mexico Fishery Management Council will meet in Tampa, Florida on June 18th -21st. The meeting is open to the public, so check out the committee agenda and the full Council agenda to see what might interest you.

We also encourage you to take advantage of a couple of opportunities for public participation during the Council meeting:

Question and Answer Session- Tuesday, June 19th at about 5:30 pm, Dr. Roy Crabtree (the Regional Administrator of NOAA Fisheries Southeast Regional Office) will host and informal question and answer session. This is a great opportunity for you to ask any questions you may have regarding fisheries management in the Gulf.

Public Comment- Wednesday, June 20th beginning at 2:00 pm, the Council will host a public testimony session. We encourage you to come and share your fisheries management related comments with the Council.

If you can't make it to the meeting in person we encourage you to watch it live on Gulf Council TV.

Below is a brief description of some of the issues the Council will be working on. If you have any questions please contact me at:

Photo: Troy Frady
The 2013 recreational gag season - The Council will review options that examine a split recreational season for gag. The Florida Fish and Wildlife Commission (FWC) requested that the Gulf Council consider alternative gag season options that would allow for fishing in both the spring and fall. Opening the season at a different time may reduce the number of fishing days but will allow for gag fishing at a more desirable time of year.
Check out the proposed changes in this document and submit your comments to the Council about the 2013 gag season here.

Changing the shallow-water grouper closed season - The Council will review an options paper that explores the possibility of removing or changing the current February - March shallow-water grouper closed season.  This issue was initiated by fishermen who reason that the closure is no longer necessary.
 Read the document and submit your comments about the closure here.

Gag, red grouper, and black grouper allocation - The Council will review an options paper that contains a range of possible permanent allocations for gag, red grouper, and black grouper. Allocation is the division of an Annual Catch Limit between commercial and recreational fishing sectors.

The current allocations are:

Red Grouper
Black Grouper

You can share your thoughts about the permanent allocation of groupers with the Council by submitting public comment here.

Shallow Water Grouper Accountability Measures - Currently, if the gag or red grouper Annual Catch Limit is exceeded then the entire shallow-water grouper season can be shortened the following year to ensure that the Annual Catch Limit is not exceeded again. The Council will review a public hearing draft of an amendment that may eliminate this accountability measure.
Read the document and let the Council know what you think about the accountability measures here.

The 2012 recreational triggerfish season ends on June 11th. The triggerfish stock is overfished (population is too low) and experiencing overfishing (rate of removals is too high). The Annual Catch Limit was reduced to prevent further overfishing and to allow the stock to rebuild to healthy levels. Unfortunately, the recreational sector has caught its share of triggerfish for the year, and the season must be closed.

The Council is working on an amendment that considers making changes to triggerfish management so that the stock can rebuild while you continue to fish. The Council will review an options paper that considers:
·      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
·      Allowing NOAA Fisheries to close the fishery if the Annual Catch Target is reached

Read the latest version of the document and submit your comments to the Council here. You can also read what other people are saying

Sector Separation
The Council will review a scoping document that begins to formally analyze a possible separation of the recreational fishing sector into sub-sectors. Currently, the Annual Catch Limit for most species is divided between commercial and recreational fishing sectors. A sector allocation is the amount of fish that can be harvested by a sector each year. The Council will discuss the possibility of dividing the recreational sector allocation into separate allocations for different types of recreation fishing (charter, headboat, private).
Share your thoughts with the Council here.

Mackerels and Cobia
Photo: Blaine Dedenbach
The Council will continue working on two amendments for the Costal Migratory Pelagic fishery. Amendment 19 considers limiting the sale of recreationally caught fish and making changes to the permit requirements for Coastal Migratory Pelagic fisheries. 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.
Read what other people are saying about Amendment 19 here, and submit your own comments here. Read what other folks are saying about Amendment 20 here, and submit your own thoughts here

For-Hire Fishing Definition
The Council is working to clearly define the difference between for-hire and private fishing trips in the Gulf. Specifically, the Council will modify the definition of a charter vessel so that there is a definite difference between vessels with for-hire permits that can take clients fishing and private vessels that cannot collect fees or other compensation for engaging in fishing activities in the federal waters of the Gulf. 

Tuesday, June 5, 2012

Rig Removal - Essential Fish Habitat

Photo: Mike Miglini
Rig Removal - Essential Fish Habitat

Artificial reefs and their link to the Gulf fisheries has been a hot topic for the past few years. Scientists debate whether artificial reefs increase fish populations by expanding habitat opportunity or simply attract fish from other, less desirable habitat. It’s been difficult to determine which viewpoint is correct because artificial reef structures only account for about 1% of all hard bottom habitat in the Gulf. In either case, the Gulf of Mexico Fishery Management Council is concerned about the method and rate of oil and gas platform removal because the structures define the way people fish in some parts of the Gulf.

In recent years, the installation of new gas and oil structures has slowed. Additionally, the U.S. Department of Interior created the Idle Iron policy which requires all oil and gas structures to be removed no longer than a year after production is finished. Fishermen and conservation groups are concerned that the demolition and removal of rigs will harm our fisheries. Unfortunately, the Gulf Council has no authority to control the removal of rigs in the Gulf, which are under control of the Department of Interior. The Council has sent a series of letters asking the agencies responsible for rig removal to reconsider the use of explosives to remove rigs because explosives are known to kill fish dwelling near those structures. The Council has also asked that the rate of rig removal be  slowed or discontinued until more information is gathered regarding the effects of structure removal on the fishery.  The letters can be viewed here.

Photo: Mike Jennings
Many stakeholders have asked the Council to address the issue of rig removal by designating artificial structures Essential Fish Habitat. The map below shows the area (pink) of the Gulf that is currently considered Essential Fish Habitat. The red dots mark all known artificial reef structures in the gulf (approximately 5,127 acres). Although the artificial reefs themselves are not designated as Essential Fish Habitat, a vast majority of artificial structures (5,031 acres) fall within the area already designated as Essential Fish Habitat.  Currently, there are only 98 acres of artificial reef structure located outside the designated Essential Fish Habitat.

The Gulf of Mexico Fishery Management Council is developing a document that will  consider designating artificial reefs (structures intentionally placed as reefs and structures such as oil and gas platforms that are intended for other purposes but do provide fish habitat) as Essential Fish Habitat.  The designation of Essential Fish Habitat does not give the Council regulatory authority over those areas, but it does require other federal agencies (including the groups responsible for rig removal rates and methods) to consult with NOAA Fisheries on actions that will effect the Essential Fish Habitat.  The recommendations that NOAA fisheries makes to the agencies proposing action in Essential Fish Habitat are non-binding and serve an advisory role only.

While the designation of Essential Fish Habitat mandates the Council minimize the negative consequences fishing may have on the habitat. (Section 303(a)(7) of the Magnuson-Stevens Fishery Conservation and Management Act), it is not the Councils intent to limit fishing on artificial reefs if they are designated Essential Fish Habitat.

The Council plans to discuss an amendment that considers designating artificial reefs as Essential Fish Habitat at the next meeting, which is scheduled for June 18 – 21 in Tampa, FL.