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.

Tuesday, October 14, 2014

October Council Meeting Preview

The Gulf of Mexico Fishery Management Council will meet next week in Mobile, Alabama to work on some issues that might be of interest to you. You’re welcome to join us at the meeting or you can listen live from your computer.

The Committee agenda and full Council agenda will help you figure out when the Council plans to discuss the topics that interest you.

We’ll be hosting public comment Wednesday, October 22, from 2:30 pm – 7:30 pm, with a scheduled break between 5:00 pm and 5:30 pm.

Some of the important issues that the Council plans to address during the meeting are described below.

Recreational Red Snapper Sector Separation
The Council is scheduled to review the most recent comments received and take final action on Reef Fish Amendment 40, which considers Recreational Red Snapper Sector Separation. Please watch this video tutorial on the amendment and send us your comments online before midnight, Tuesday, October 14.

Recreational Red Grouper Seasons and Bag Limits
The Council plans to take final action on a Framework Action that considers adjusting bag limits and fixed closed seasons to avoid in-season quota closures like the one we’re currently experiencing. The framework also reconsiders the automatic bag limit reduction accountability measure that occurs after the Annual Catch Limit is exceeded.  The Council would like your input on the options that have been developed. Watch this video, read the amendment guide, join us on our webinar public hearing scheduled for the evening of Thursday, October 16, and/or send us your comments online.

The Council plans to take final action on two shrimp amendments:
  • ·      Shrimp Amendment 15 – which considers revising the overfished/overfishing status of brown, white, and pink shrimp to ensure that they are consistent with the new model used to determine stock status.  Watch this video and send usyour comments.
  • ·      Shrimp Amendment 16 – which considers adjusting the annual catch limit and accountability measures for royal red shrimp. Watch this video and send us your comments.

The Council will also look at a scoping document for Shrimp Amendment 17 that considers what action to take regarding the pending expiration of the moratorium on federal shrimping permits.

Red Snapper Allocation
In June, the Council chose to defer action on Reef Fish Amendment 28 – which considers adjusting the allocation of red snapper between the commercial and recreational sectors, until after Amendment 40 – Sector Separation- is completed. The Council plans to revisit the red snapper allocation document during its meeting next week.  For more information, watch this video tutorial on the amendment.

Red Snapper Regional Management
The Council plans to resume discussions on Reef Fish Amendment 39 – Regional Management of Recreational Red Snapper, which considers dividing the federal recreational red snapper quota among states and giving them authority to set some of their own management measures. The Council postponed work on the document in February of this year pending progress on decisions regarding the allocation of quota among regions.

Greater Amberjack
This summer, the Councils scientific advisors reviewed a stock assessment and 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 to ensure that the stock is rebuilt and the mandates of the Magnuson-Stevens Act are met.

A stock assessment completed this summer discovered that the gag stock is not overfished or experiencing overfishing. The Council planned to increase the Acceptable Biological Catch from 2,820,000 pounds to 3,120,000 pounds this year. However, scientists are concerned that a large red tide event occurring this summer may negatively impact the stock. The Councils scientific advisors reviewed the assessment and recommended the Acceptable Biological Catch be increased for 2015 to a more conservative 3,070,000 pounds until the full effects of the red tide are understood.

The Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission completed a hogfish stock assessment using the federal SEDAR process. The assessment determined that there are three distinct hogfish stocks. The Gulf of Mexico stock is neither overfished or experiencing overfishing. The stock in the Florida Keys and along the east coast of Florida is overfished and experiencing overfishing, and the status of stock off the coast off Georgia and the Carolinas is experiencing overfishing and nearly overfished. The Council will hear a report on the assessment and decide what, if any, action to take. 

As always, if you have any questions don't hesitate to contact us

Monday, September 29, 2014

Meet the Council: Two Newest Members of the Council

Dr. Crabtree swears in the two newest Council members
and Pam Dana renews her vows for her second term.

Members of the Gulf of Mexico Fishery Management Council are responsible for making important decisions for our fishery.  Luckily, the Council is populated with a variety of incredibly knowledgeable people with different perspectives about the resource. The two newest members of the Gulf Council are no exception.

Dr. Greg Stunz is a professor of Marine Biology at Texas A&M University in Corpus Christi, Texas. He also serves as the Director of the Center for Sportfish Science and Conservation and Endowed Chair for Fisheries and Ocean Health at the Harte Research Institute. 

Following his passion for fishing has taken him from the creek banks of the Texas Hill Country where he grew up, all the way to the depths of the Gulf of Mexico. It’s hard to imagine that as a small boy this man was squeamish to bait his own hook or fillet his own catch especially since these days he makes a habit of wrangling and satellite tagging large sharks.

When asked to describe his most interesting research Dr. Stunz doesn’t hesitate to describe the work he has been doing with sharks. “Satellite tagging sharks is really exciting for two reasons; first, catching and handling massive predators is thrilling and second, we know very little about sharks relative to other marine species so, it’s wonderful to uncover and share some very fundamental information about the animals and their migration.”

When asked about his favorite research Dr. Stunz points to his projects involving
catch and release mortality of some less dangerous finfish. “I started with spotted seatrout, currently working with red drum, and now continue on to look at red snapper. It’s incredibly interesting to look at the different factors contributing to fishing mortality and hopefully, we can find ways to reduce mortality after a fish is released.”

Although this is his first appointment to the Council, Dr. Stunz is no stranger to fisheries management. He has spent the past 20 years studying marine fisheries and has contributed scientific data for use in both state and federal fisheries management. He has served as a scientific advisor on the Council’s Scientific and Statistical Committee and he is on the Texas Parks & Wildlife Commission’s Coastal Resources Advisory Committee.

Dr. Stunz says he hopes to “use his scientific expertise to help promote sustainable fisheries in the Gulf.“ He also wants to “ensure access to the fishery to a diverse group of anglers and he looks forward to moving beyond red snapper issues to focus attention on some of the other species that are vitally important to the Gulf of Mexico.”

Captain David Walker, President of Walker Fishing Fleet, has been fishing professionally for 30 years. He started fishing recreationally with his father but, everything changed after his junior year of college when Walker got a summer job on a commercial longline boat and never returned to school. Instead, he opted to build his professional life as a commercial reef fish fisherman and boat captain.

When asked to describe his most memorable fishing trip David doesn’t hesitate to pick one out. “Things use to be different. We didn’t have the convenience of GPS, weather radars, and satellite phones that guide us now, so sometimes we found ourselves in some unpredictable situations. In 1988, I was fishing about 115 miles off-shore, southeast of The Flower Garden Banks and a bit north of the Bay of Campeche, Mexico. I caught the noon weather report on the single side band radio and found out that a storm had developed and was moving rapidly towards us at 21 knots. My boat didn’t run faster that 8 knots so, it was obvious that we weren’t going to be able to out run the storm. So, we did what any fishermen would, we continued to fish. Eventually, we decided to look for some good bottom where the anchor would hold so we could ride out the storm. By chance we happened upon a pipe laying boat and gained their permission to tie up behind them and ride out the storm. We hunkered down behind that boat for 8 hours in 16+ foot seas and 55 mph sustained winds - it was miserable.  However, mid-morning once the storm finally broke and the waves transformed into 12-14 foot soft rolling swells we decided to get back to work. After the worst night I’ve ever had on the boat we were rewarded with the best fishing I’ve ever seen. We fished three oil rigs and caught 5000 pounds of warsaw grouper before nightfall.”

Walker has incredible fishery experience both on and off the water. He got involved with the Gulf Council early in his career, regularly attending meetings and serving on a number of different advisory panels over the years. He has also been very involved with different fishing organizations including; The Gulf of Mexico Shareholders’ Alliance Board, The Gulf Coast Professional Fishermen, Share the Gulf, The Gulf Fisherman’s Association, Organized Seafood Association of Alabama, and Fish for America.

When asked what motivates him to serve as a member of the Gulf Council Walker says “I’ve spent my life connected to the commercial fishing industry and it’s important to make decisions that will keep fishermen fishing for years to come. We’ve come a long way in improving our fisheries and I want to find ways to make the Gulf a better place for all fishermen.”

David recognizes that “red snapper management isn’t working for everyone in the recreational sectors. We need to develop accountable and sustainable solutions that can benefit all people, whether they fish from their own boats, from charter boats, or they’re seafood consumers.”