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:

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. 

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.