Thursday, January 23, 2020

January Council Meeting Preview

The Gulf of Mexico Fishery Management Council will meet at the Hyatt Centric French Quarter in New Orleans, Louisiana, January 27-30, 2020. You’re more than welcome to join us in person or via webinar.

Public comment will be held on Wednesday, January 29th, from 1:45 – 5:30 PM. If you can’t join us to comment, visit our “Amendments Under Development” webpage to learn more about what we’re working on and submit comments.

The Agenda and Meeting Materials will help you prepare for the meeting. The following is a brief summary of some of the issues that will be discussed:

Photo: Capt. Jennings
Greater Amberjack
The Council is trying to figure out the best way to manage recreational greater amberjack. In 2018, the Council modified the recreational amberjack fishing year so that the quota renews on August 1st. That was supposed to allow for fishing seasons August – October and then May in the following calendar year, if there was any quota left. Unfortunately, the entire quota was harvested in the fall season that year so, we didn’t get a May season in 2019. (Note: We still don’t know if we’ll have a May season this year and expect NOAA fisheries to give us that news as soon as they can process the harvest data from the end of last year).

The Council is still looking for ways to allow recreational harvest in both fall and spring since different anglers from different parts of the Gulf prefer to fish amberjack at different times. We will discuss a document that considers managing recreational greater amberjack with different zones and bag limits. This Recreational Greater Amberjack Decision Tool will allow you to explore some of the different management alternatives that are currently being considered.

Photo: Capt. Hubbard
Red Grouper
A recent red grouper stock assessment (SEDAR 61) determined that the red grouper stock is smaller than it has ever been. Additionally, the assessment used the new Marine Recreational Information Program’s landings and effort estimates, which more than doubled the estimates of recreational harvest.

The Council will begin working on Reef Fish Amendment 53 which considers modifying commercial and recreational sector allocations and catch limits based on the results of the latest assessment.

Fishing Access in Eastern Gulf Marine Protected Areas
The Council’s Reef Fish Advisory Panel expressed concern that illegal recreational bottom fishing is occurring in Steamboat Lumps and Madison Swanson Marine Protected Areas. Regulations in those areas were created to protect grouper spawning aggregations. Currently, no bottom fishing is allowed in the areas, but trolling is permitted during part of the year. It is difficult to enforce the no-bottom-fishing regulation when trolling is allowed. So, in an effort to ensure grouper spawning aggregations are protected as intended, the Council will take its first look at a framework action that is considers prohibiting all fishing in the Steamboat Lumps and Madison Swanson Protected Areas.

Status Determination Criteria
The Council must define a maximum sustainable yield, a maximum fishing mortality threshold, a minimum stock size threshold, and an optimum yield for all managed stocks. These reference points are the basis for determining the health of each stock and are required under the Magnuson-Stevens Act and National Standard 1 guidelines. The Council will work on a public hearing draft of Reef Fish Amendment 48/Red Drum Amendment 5, which aims to define, and in some cases modify, existing status determination criteria for reef fish and red drum.

Red Snapper Allocation
The Council will continue work on Reef Fish Amendment 52 which considers reallocating the red snapper annual catch limit between recreational and commercial sectors. 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.

Commercial Individual Fishing Quota Programs
At its last meeting, the Council decided to split Amendment 36B into two separate documents. At this meeting, it will review a new version of 36B which considers requiring individual fishing quota shareholder accounts to be associated with a commercial reef fish permit. The Council will also take its first look at Amendment 36C which considers a mechanism for distributing unused shares reclaimed by NOAA Fisheries, quota banks, and modifying the accuracy of estimated weights in advance landings notifications.