Thursday, December 27, 2018

Gulf Council 2018 End of Year Review

We’ve made another trip around the sun and once again, we have an opportunity to look back on the year behind us and look forward to the year ahead. 2018 was yet another fascinating year in fisheries management. We’re working on major changes in the management of red snapper and we tweaked cobia and greater amberjack regulations. Not surprisingly, 2019 is already shaping up to be an action-packed year with red snapper and red grouper management taking center stage in the Gulf of Mexico. Keep reading for a perspective on what we have accomplished in 2018 and where we’re headed in 2019.
Photo: Mike Jennings

Red Snapper
Red snapper management is usually pretty exciting, thankfully, the excitement of 2018 seems to be a bit more optimistic than it has been in years past. The year started off on the right foot, a stock assessment determined that red snapper is not considered overfished, nor is it experiencing overfishing. As a result, the Council increased the red snapper annual catch limit by 1.25 million pounds, allowing up to 15.1 million pounds of harvest. The Council also decided to reduce the buffer set between the federal for-hire annual catch limit and annual catch target from 20% to 9%; this should permit those anglers to catch more of their allowance of red snapper without putting them in jeopardy of overharvesting their annual catch limit.

Photo: Tom Jenkins
Next, the Council continued its work to allow the Gulf states more management control over recreational red snapper. In 2018, while the Council focused on developing its State Management documents, the management of the private angling component of the recreational red snapper sector was handled by the states through Exempted Fishing Permits. The red snapper private angling allocation was divided among the states, and each state set its own season in the federal waters of the Gulf. These same Exempted Fishing Permits extend through the 2019 fishing season. Also in 2019, the Council will work to finalize Reef Fish Amendment 50, which would allow the states some management authority over recreational red snapper on a more permanent basis. In fact, we’re in the process of hosting public hearings to gather your thoughts on that proposal. For more information on how to contribute visit this website:

Red Grouper
Photo: Hubbard's Marina
Over the course of 2018, the Council heard from fishermen who expressed concern for what appears to be a declining red grouper stock. While there is a red grouper stock assessment underway, the results of that assessment aren’t expected until late 2019. In light of this, the Council requested an interim analysis that could be used to provide harvest recommendations while awaiting the stock assessment results. That analysis showed that landings have been significantly below the annual catch limits, which indicates that the stock may not be large enough to sustain current harvest levels. After hearing recommendations from its scientific advisors, the Council requested that NOAA Fisheries implement an interim rule to establish annual catch limits based on 2017 landings.

For 2019, NOAA Fisheries has already announced that it is withholding a portion of commercial IFQ as it works to publish the interim rule to reduce the annual catch limit. The Council has initiated a framework amendment to reduce the catch limits beyond the interim rule until it can provide longer term catch recommendations based on the stock assessment. We expect that red grouper will be in the spotlight throughout much of 2019 so stay tuned.

Greater Amberjack
You probably noticed that a new recreational greater amberjack season hit the books in 2018. From here forward, the recreational season is scheduled to open for the month of May and then again August through October. The only complicating factor is that the fishing year has also changed so the quota renews on August 1st, rather than on January 1st like the rest of our reef fish. This means that any quota overages are more likely to affect the May season than the August – October fall season since the quota starts anew in August.

Photo: Scott Hickman
In 2018, the Council decided to increase the cobia minimum size limit to 36 inches fork length. This decision came after the Council heard from anglers that believe that the cobia stock is struggling. We’re anxiously awaiting the cobia stock assessment which is scheduled to begin in 2019 and the new size limit is expected to be implemented sometime in the new year as well.

For-Hire Electronic Reporting
Two years ago, the Council finalized an Amendment to require federally permitted charter and headboat vessels to electronically report their catch for each trip before offloading fish. The Amendment also requires each vessel to have a device permanently affixed to the vessel that, at a minimum, archives vessel position data. The new reporting requirements are expected to come online in 2019. The requirement to report catch will begin sometime in spring and the requirement to have positioning hardware will begin in the fall. The Council is partnering with NOAA Fisheries to host workshops and mail informational materials to all federally permitted for-hire operators in the Gulf. If this action affects you, stay tuned for more information on what you’ll be required to do.

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

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.”