Friday, October 12, 2018

October Council Meeting Preview


The Gulf of Mexico Fishery Management Council meets October 22-25, at the Renaissance Battle House in Mobile, Alabama. We invite you to join us in person or watch a live broadcast of the meeting.

Public comment will be held on Wednesday, October 24th, from 1:30 – 4:30. If testifying in person isn’t an option, visit our “Amendments Under Development” web page to learn about the different issues we’re working on and submit your comments.

The meeting agenda and materials will help you prepare for the meeting. Below, you’ll find a summary of some of the fishery issues the Council plans to address:

Cobia Size and Possession Limits
The Council plans to hear a summary of public comments received and take final action on Costal Migratory Pelagic Framework Action 7. Anglers have expressed concern for what appears to be a dwindling cobia population and asked the Council to address the issue. Landings remained relatively consistent from 2012-2016, however, there was a decrease observed in 2017. The Council is considering reducing cobia harvest by decreasing the bag limit and increasing the minimum size limit.

Photo: David Payne

Historical Captain Endorsements
The Council will review an abbreviated framework action that considers converting historical for-hire captain endorsements to federal for-hire permits. There are currently 31 historical captains with both reef fish and coastal migratory pelagic (CMP) permits, and one captain with a CMP permit. At this meeting, the Council will consider new options that would modify the passenger capacity associated with the endorsement.

State Management of Red Snapper
The Council will continue to work on a suite of documents that consider permanently allowing each Gulf state to manage a portion of the recreational red snapper quota in federal waters. In addition to a previously considered alternative that would allow the states to collectively decide whether or not to include federal for-hire vessels in state management, the Council will consider new alternatives that could allow individual states the option to manage their federal for-hire vessels.

Carryover of Unharvested Quota
The Council will look at a draft of an amendment that considers allowing the portion of the allowable catch that isn’t harvested, due to an early quota closure, to be rolled over into the following year’s allowable catch.
Photo: Hubbards Marina


Gray Snapper
Based on the current criteria, the latest stock assessment determined that gray snapper is considered overfished and undergoing overfishing. Fortunately, the recommended acceptable biological catch levels that resulted from the assessment are only slightly lower than the current annual catch limits. As a result, the Council will review a draft amendment that considers establishing criteria to determine the overfished and overfishing status of the stock; modifying annual catch limits, and setting other reference points.
Photo: Florida Sea Grant

Shrimp
The Council will look at a draft of Shrimp Amendment 18, which considers increasing the amount of shrimp effort allowed in the special area that is monitored for juvenile red snapper bycatch. Analysis shows that the effort reduction threshold, which requires that shrimp effort in the area be 67% below the effort in the baseline years of 2001-2003 can be reduced to 60% without affecting the rebuilding of the red snapper stock.

Tuesday, October 2, 2018

Meet the Council - Susan Boggs and JD Dugas

The Gulf of Mexico Fishery Management Council is responsible for making fishery management recommendations that provide the greatest overall benefit to the nation. This year, the Council welcomes two new members who represent the recreational fishing sector. 

Susan Boggs
Susan Boggs prioritizes two things in life, her family and her career. In addition to owning and operating a full-service marina and fuel dock in Orange Beach, Alabama with her husband, she also manages their for-hire fishing business. If that isn’t impressive enough, she also finds time to serve on the local Tourism Board and act as Secretary/Treasurer for the Charter Fisherman’s Association. On top of all that, Susan, her husband, and their daughter are an incredibly cohesive family unit. When they’re not watching their daughter play soccer, they spend time together at their hunting camp and enjoy spur of the moment exploration days, where they jump in the car and head nowhere in particular. 

As a small girl growing up in Texas, she certainly didn’t imagine her life revolving around salt water fishing. She always loved the outdoors, spending countless hours bass fishing from a rickety, homemade barge that sat in a 50-acre pond behind her childhood home. Just before her 30thbirthday, Susan moved to coastal Alabama for a business opportunity, and when it didn’t pan out, she got a part-time job booking charters for a local marina. 

That’s when Susan’s fishing career began in earnest. While working in the charter office, Susan met her husband Randy, a deckhand on one of the charter vessels in the marina. She credits him with broadening her horizons by exposing her to offshore saltwater fishing. A self-described “stickler for the rules,” Susan struggled to adhere to the marina’s strict “no dating” policy. She eventually had to fess up to her indiscretion and turn down a management position at the marina because of their budding relationship. 

Eventually, Susan and Randy bought a 6-pack charter vessel and moved to another marina. From there, their family business model of “sell out or get bigger” took hold. They upgraded from the 6-pack charter to a 65-foot headboat, and eventually bought a second and third vessel to grow the business even further. They were invited to move their business to the SanRoc Cay Marina in 2009, to revitalize its struggling charter business. After growing their own charter business even more, they purchased the entire marina in 2015. 

Ms. Boggs answered some questions to give us some insight on her perspective as one of the newest members of the Gulf of Mexico Fishery Management Council:

What is the most important issue in our fishery right now? 
“Creating stability in the fishery is a huge priority. As a business owner I understand how important it is to be able to make a business plan that is based on predictable access to the fish. Trips can be marketed properly; captains and staff can be employed with more certainty; and strategic decision making can be done with greater confidence. Stability would also allow private anglers more luxury to plan their trips, rather than rush to fish before a closure. Ultimately, stability would begin with a sustainable resource. Once our stocks are at healthy levels, we should be able to find ways to manage our fishermen so that access to fishing is secure and predictable.”

What would you like the Council to accomplish while you have a seat at the table?
“I would really like the Council to consider new, novels ways to manage the fishery. I would like to consider innovative management strategies that go beyond the status quo of Gulf-wide seasons and size limits. 

I also hope to encourage more accountability in the fishery. If we can find better ways to track what’s being harvested, we may be able to create better stability in the fishery. 

Finally, I want to build more trust between the Council and the fishermen across the Gulf. The Council is asked to tackle difficult decisions and I want the Council and the fishermen to understand that change is hard and we all may need to make some leaps of faith to affect positive change.”

Do you have a favorite fishing moment?
“I’ll never forget the time my mom came to visit me in Orange Beach and we took her on her first offshore fishing trip. She had spent a lot of time fishing with me in our pond growing up, but fishing for snapper off the coast was something she had never experienced. It was so much fun to watch her have that experience. I truly cherish that memory.”


JD Dugas
JD can pinpoint the exact moment that saltwater fishing became his life’s priority. As a boy growing up in Lafayette, Louisiana, he had only been exposed to fresh water fishing for bass and “sac-a-lait” or, what most non-Cajuns might call crappie.  When he was 13, his best friend’s dad refitted a 1978 Robalo boat with a brand new 250 horsepower Yamaha outboard engine. The day that engine was fitted onto the boat in the neighboring driveway, JD promised himself that he would do anything in his power to make a living that would support an offshore fishing hobby. “Mind you,” he quips “back then, that engine was impressive. I knew I wanted to grow up and fish in the ocean with a machine like that.” 

JD and his best friend fished on that Robalo with his friend’s father along the coast.  Later in life he bought a fishing camp in a small “camp” community in Grand Chenier, LA.  He became part of the community by participating in weekend fishing competitions held amongst the camp owners.  The aftermath of Hurricane Rita left JD to focus elsewhere, that’s when he began fishing out of Grand Isle, LA and participating in big game fishing competitions along the Gulf Coast. JD kept his promise to himself. He’s been able to build a family centered life around his passion for fishing. 

JD continued to work in the oil and gas industry.  He also began to explore marketing /sales for a home health care business. This eventually led to the purchase of a medical suite of businesses to include hospice, home health, and personal care services. JD also started a marine logistics business servicing the oil and gas industry. The business began with the purchase of a boat and grew into a logistics company.  He has then found ways to meet a variety of logistic needs in the industry. Additionally, Jd has been involved with coastal restoration projects through Coastal Conservation Association for the last 10 years

Mr. Dugas answered the following questions to lend a better understanding of his perception of the fishery:

What’s the most important issue in the fishery today?
“It’s really important that we find ways to promote fairness for all fishing sectors. Commercial fishermen need to be able to make a living and recreational fishermen need to be allowed to thrive. We must continue to allow for a robust commercial industry while ensuring that recreational fishermen can fish when they want. After all, fishing activity is a major economic driver in our coastal communities.”

As a Council member how do you hope to improve the fishery?
“Ideally, I would like the Council to find a way to develop management measures that perform in a way to benefit the many different needs across the Gulf. I would like to find ways to get away from “one-size-fits-all” management and be more responsive to regional differences in fish stocks and the many different needs of the people across the coast. I’m excited about state management and hope to continue working towards management strategies that take regional differences into account.” 

Can you explain why you have such a passion for fishing?
“Fishing is a huge part of my life. I’ve been blessed with the ability to fish a wide range of species and habitats. I think that fishing is so important to me because I can experience all the best parts of life through fishing. If I’m looking for an adrenaline rush I can target big fish offshore. If I want solitude, I can go out alone and catch dinner. If I want to spend quality time with my wife and daughter, we can all hop in the boat in search of speckled trout. Fishing gives me great satisfaction and allows me to enjoy the most important things in life.” 

Monday, August 13, 2018

August Council Meeting Preview

The Gulf of Mexico Fishery Management Council will meet next week, August 20-23, at the Omni Hotel in Corpus Christi, Texas, to make some important fishery management decisions. You’re welcome to join us in person or you can watch a live broadcast of the meeting

Public comment will be held Wednesday August 22nd, from 1:30 – 5:00. If you aren’t able to come and testify in person, visit our “Amendments Under Development” web page to learn about the different issues we’re working on and submit your comments.
Photo: Scott Toliver

The meeting agenda and materials will help you prepare for the meeting. The following is a summary of some issues the Council plans to address:

Recreational Red Snapper ACT Buffers
After hearing a summary of public comment received on the issue, the Council plans to take final action on a Framework action that considers modifying the buffers between the annual catch target (ACT) and annual catch limit (ACL) for the for-hire and private components of the recreational sector.An ACT is the level of harvest, set by the Council, below the ACL to account for management uncertainty and reduce the chance that the ACL is exceeded. The Council’s current preferred alternatives would apply the ACL/ACT Control Rule to set the for-hire component ACT 9% below its ACL though the end of 2019.  The private angling component ACT would remain at 20% below its ACL and the total recreational sector ACT would be 15% below the recreational sector ACL. 
Photo: Randy Lumsden

Red Snapper and Hogfish Catch Limits
The Council plans to take final action on a Framework Action that considers modifying red snapper and hogfish catch limits. Recent stock assessments have determined that red snapper and hogfish are not experiencing overfishing and are not considered to be overfished. The Council’s scientific advisors, the Scientific and Statistical Committee, updated the Acceptable Biological Catch levels for both species and the Council is considering updating the catch limits to reflect those changes. 


Spiny Lobster Gear and Management Procedures
The Council will hear a summary of comments received on Spiny Lobster Amendment 13 and take final action on this Amendment which considers modifying gear requirements and the cooperative management procedures for spiny lobster. The Council’s current preferred alternatives would align federal regulations with Florida’s regulations and allow Florida to request changes to spiny lobster federal regulations through the NMFS rulemaking process.



Cobia Size and Possession Limits
Photo: Mary Ochello Jackson
The Council will continue to work on Coastal Migratory Pelagic Framework Action 7, which considers modifying the Gulf cobia minimum size and possessi



on limits. The Council’s current preferred alternatives align with the State of Florida’s recent changes, and would decrease the recreational and commercial possession limit to one fish per day and create a commercial and recreational vessel limit of two cobia per day.


State Management of Recreational Red Snapper
The Council will continue working on a draft amendment that considers permanently allowing each Gulf state to manage a portion of the recreational red snapper quota in federal waters. The 2018 and 2019 red snapper seasons are being managed by the Gulf States through Exempted Fishing Permits which allow the States to manage a portion of the recreational red snapper quota. 

Friday, June 29, 2018

Moving the Bar on What it Means to be "Overfished"

Last year, the Council took action that, in large part, flew under the radar despite its importance. It’s not terribly surprising since the subject matter is both dry and complicated – even for seasoned participants in the Council process.

The Amendment, which was approved in December of 2017, reduced the Minimum Stock Size Threshold (MSST), which is the threshold used to determine when a stock is overfished, for seven of the reef fish species managed by the Council. In addition to reducing the likelihood that a stock is declared overfished, the amendment effectively removed two reef fish stocks from overfished status; however, they are still in a rebuilding plan. Prior to the change red snapper, gray triggerfish, and greater amberjack were all considered overfished. Now, greater amberjack is the only species that remains with overfished status.

In the Amendment, “Minimum Stock Size Threshold (MSST) Revision for Reef Fish Stocks with Existing Status Determination Criteria,” the Council set the MSST for gag, red grouper, red snapper, vermillion snapper, gray triggerfish, greater amberjack, and hogfish, at half of the spawning stock biomass that would be necessary if the stock were to be fished at maximum sustainable yield on a continuing basis (0.50*BMSY (or proxy)). Each of the stocks already had MSST levels defined by separate efforts, but the Council wanted to standardize the criteria and ensure that stocks with low natural mortality rates didn’t alternate between overfished and rebuilt status due to natural variations such as environmental factors. 

The new MSST is set as far below the biomass of a stock being fished at maximum sustainable yield as is allowed our federal fishing law, National Standard 1 of the Magnuson-Stevens Act. It’s also the lowest MSST ever set by the Gulf Council. This means that the biomass of a stock must dip relatively low to be considered overfished. This also means that the likelihood of a stock being declared overfished is very low, but if it happens, a very restrictive rebuilding plan would be required to bring the stock back up to a sustainable biomass.

So, you may be wondering what this all means for red snapper and gray triggerfish, the two species who’s status’ were changed by this amendment.  Both stocks are still under rebuilding plans so, catch limits don’t automatically change. However, the most obvious change from an angler perspective is the removal of the “pay-back” provision. When red snapper or gray triggerfish are considered overfished the pay-back provision requires that any harvest over the annual catch limit must be made up for by reducing the following years harvest by the amount of the overage. In recent years, this has been a major contributor to short seasons for both species. Without pay-back provisions, we should see more consistent annual catch limits and thus fishing seasons hopefully, allowing more fishing opportunities.

While the MSST Amendment didn’t miraculously grow the size of the stocks in the Gulf, it did reduce the likelihood that one of the seven listed species is declared overfished.  In fact, a red snapper stock assessment that was completed this year showed that red snapper is not overfished and even allows for an increase in harvest.  The Council is currently working on another amendment that considers modifying status determination criteria including MSST for remaining stocks. “Status Determination Criteria and Optimum Yield for Reef Fish and Red Drum” is an amendment you may want to pay attention to since it also proves to have implications despite its dry, complicated subject matter.

Friday, June 8, 2018

June 2018 Council Meeting Preview

The Gulf of Mexico Fishery Management Council will meet on June 18-21 at the Key West Marriott Beachside Hotel in Key West, Florida. You’re welcome to join us in person or you can watch a live broadcast of the meeting

Photo: Erik Cordes
Public comment will be held on the afternoon of Wednesday, June 20, from 2:45 – 5:30 p.m. If you can’t testify in person, visit our “Amendments Under Development” web page to submit your comments and learn about the different issues we’re working on. 

You may find the meeting agenda and materials useful as you prepare for the meeting. The following is a summary of some of the issues the Council plans to address:

Coral
The Council plans to take final action on Coral Amendment 9 after hearing the comments received during public hearings. The amendment considers creating protections for 15 deep water areas in the Gulf that are known to have an abundance of corals and/or coral diversity that makes them unique. The Amendment also considers designating eight new areas for Habitat Area of Particular Concern (HAPC) status without fishing regulations and prohibiting dredge fishing in all existing HAPCs with regulations. 


Photo: NOAA



Sea Turtle Release Gear and Framework Procedure
The Council is scheduled to take final action on Amendment 49 which considers allowing the use of new sea turtle release gears for commercial and charter vessel/headboats with federal Gulf reef fish permits. The document also considers modifying the reef fish framework procedure to include changes to release gear requirements and handling protocols for sea turtles and other protected resources. 

Cobia
Photo: Scott Hickman
Cobia is managed jointly with the South Atlantic Fishery Management Council. Meaning, any action considered by one Council must be approved by the other Council as well. At this meeting, the Gulf Council will take final action on Amendment 31 which considers approving the South Atlantic Fishery Management Council’s decision to remove the Atlantic migratory group of cobia from the federal management plan for Coastal Migratory Pelagics.  This would allow the Atlantic States Marine Fishery Commission to manage cobia in the Atlantic. 

After hearing numerous concerns from fishermen, the Council is considering a framework action (CMP 7) that would modify the size and possession limits for Gulf cobia. The Council will review that document for the first time at this meeting. 

Red Snapper
The Council will hear the results of the latest red snapper stock assessment which found that red snapper is not considered to be overfished nor undergoing overfishing.

The Council will continue working on a draft amendment that considers permanently allowing each Gulf state to manage a portion of the recreational red snapper quota in federal waters. The 2018 and 2019 red snapper seasons are being managed by the Gulf States through Exempted Fishing Permits which allow the States to manage a portion of the recreational red snapper quota. 

Photo: Rosemary White
The Council will take a first look at a scoping document that considers reallocating the red snapper annual catch limit between recreational and commercial sectors as well as the two components of the recreational sector. The Council previously passed Amendment 28, which reallocated red snapper by shifting 2.5% of the commercial sector’s allocation to the recreational sector. However, a lawsuit resulted in the district court decision which vacated Amendment 28 and restored the previous sector allocations of 49% recreational and 51% commercial. 

The Council will review a draft of a Framework action that considers modifying the buffers between the annual catch target and annual catch limit for the for-hire and private components of the recreational sector.

Spiny Lobster
The Council will continue work on a public hearing draft of Spiny Lobster Amendment 13 which ederal regulations for commercial spiny lobster bully netting consistent with regulations recently adopted by the State of Florida.  This amendment also considers allowing Florida to directly submit proposed spiny lobster regulations to National Marine Fisheries Service without requiring Council action.