Monday, December 29, 2014

2014 Year in Review: A Summary of Federal Fisheries Management in the Gulf of 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.

Photo: Mark Miller
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.

Photo: Captain Murphy
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.

Photo: Ryan Rindone
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.

Photo: Tyler McLester
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.

Photo: Mark Miller
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.

Photo: Emily Muehlstein
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.