The Gulf of Mexico Fishery Management Council met in Mobile, Alabama, October 22-25, 2018. The following is a brief summary of the Council’s actions:
After hearing public comment at its October meeting in Mobile, Alabama, the Gulf of Mexico Fishery Management Council chose to modify the commercial and recreational minimum size limit for Gulf cobia in federal waters. The Council selected to increase the cobia minimum size limit to 36 inches fork length.
The most recent Gulf cobia stock assessment was completed in 2013, and the next assessment is scheduled to begin in 2019. The Council decided to address Gulf cobia management measures after numerous anglers expressed concern about a decline in the Gulf cobia population. Increasing the Gulf cobia minimum size limit to 36 inches fork length is expected to reduce landings by 10.3% for the commercial sector and 26.1% for the recreational sector. The suggested Gulf cobia management changes will be finalized and transmitted to the Secretary of Commerce for approval and implementation.
The Council was presented with the results of an interim analysis that could be used to provide updated harvest recommendations for red grouper while awaiting the results the next stock assessment. Landings in recent years have been significantly below the annual catch limits, indicating that the stock may not be large enough to sustain current harvest levels. After hearing recommendations from its scientific advisors and listening to public testimony that indicated the stock is struggling, the Council requested that the National Marine Fisheries Service implement an interim or emergency rule. This rule would establish an annual catch limit based on the total 2017 landings. The Council will initiate a framework amendment to reduce the catch limits beyond the expiration of the 180-day period covered by the interim or emergency rule.
Historical Captain Endorsements
The Council reviewed an abbreviated framework action that considers converting historical for-hire captain endorsements to standard federal for-hire permits. In contrast to federal for-hire permits, the endorsements are not transferable and require the captain to be onboard the vessel. There are 32 historical captain endorsements eligible for conversion to federal for-hire permits. The Council plans to gather public comment on this document before taking final action at its January 2019 meeting.
Carryover of Unharvested Quota
The Council reviewed a draft amendment that considers carrying over uncaught quota from one year to the next when harvest does not reach the Annual Catch Limit. The Council is considering what criteria would exclude a stock from carryover, how to adjust for management uncertainty, and how to modify the framework procedure to allow for carryover of unused quota. Staff will present the Council with a public hearing draft of this document at its next meeting.
Allocation Review Triggers
The Council heard a presentation on National Marine Fisheries Service’s allocation review policy and the different types of criteria that could be used to trigger an allocation review. Allocation is the portion of allowable harvest that is distributed between fishing sectors, sub-components of fishing sectors, Councils, states, zones, and gear types. The Council must select review triggers by August 2019, or as soon as practicable. At its next meeting, the Council will review a draft letter specifying which triggers would initiate review of Gulf allocations.
State Management of Red Snapper
The Council reviewed draft amendments for establishing state management programs for recreational red snapper. The current preferred alternatives would allow each state to manage its private angling component of the recreational sector using the allocations set in the exempted fishing permits approved for 2018 and 2019. The Council added a new alternative for allocating the private angling annual catch limit that uses the quota initially requested by each state in its exempted fishing permit application, plus the remaining 3.78% distributed to each state proportionally based on the amount of quota requested. Those values are as follows:
The Council also modified the management measures that could be delegated to each state. It created a new action that would establish a procedure for states to use area or depth-specific regulations by requesting NMFS to implement closures in federal waters adjacent to the state. The Council also removed harvest gear requirements and requirements for release gear from the list of management measures that may be delegated. Finally, the Council added preferred alternatives in the individual state amendments for Florida to be delegated the authority to modify the bag limit and size limits, and for all states to have a quota adjustment that would be applied only to the component that exceeded its annual catch limit. Before taking final action, the Council plans to gather comments at public hearings on the following dates and locations:
Pensacola – December 3, 2018
Destin – December 4, 2018
Fort Myers – January 7, 2019
Saint Petersburg – January 8, 2019
Mobile – December 5, 2018
Biloxi – December 11, 2018
Baton Rouge – December 10, 2018
Brownsville – January 14, 2019
Corpus Christi – January 15, 2019
League City – January 16, 2019
January 17, 2019
Gray Snapper Status Determination Criteria and Annual Catch Limits
The Council took a first look at an amendment that considers the criteria used to determine the overfishing and overfished status of gray snapper, and the annual catch limits for the stock. A recent gray snapper stock assessment determined that, gray snapper is experiencing overfishing and may be overfished. The actions in the document will establish Maximum Sustainable Yield (MSY), Optimum Yield (OY), and Minimum Stock Size Threshold (MSST) values that will be used to determine stock status for gray snapper. The Council is also considering alternatives that would reduce the annual catch limits necessary to end overfishing. The Council asked staff to develop a public hearing draft for its January meeting.
Reef Fish Management Objectives
The Council reviewed the 18 objectives that have been included in the Reef Fish Fishery Management Plan that formally identify the goals of reef fish management. The Council made modifications to the objectives and agreed upon 11 objectives that will be used moving forward. The following revised Reef Fish Fishery Management Plan objectives will be finalized in a future amendment:
To prevent overfishing and rebuild overfished stocks.
To maintain robust fishery reporting and data collection systems for monitoring the reef fish fishery.
To conserve and protect reef fish habitat.
To minimize conflicts between user groups.
To minimize and reduce dead discards.
To manage Gulf stocks at OY as defined in MSA.
To revise the definitions of the fishery management unit and fishery to reflect the current species composition of the reef fish fishery.
To encourage and periodically review research on the efficacy of artificial reefs for management purposes.
To promote stability in the fishery by allowing for enhanced fisher flexibility and increasing fishing opportunities to the extent practicable.
To avoid to the extent practicable the “derby” type fishing season.
To provide for cost-effective and enforceable management of the fishery.
Fishery Ecosystem Plan
The Council asked staff to begin development of a fishery ecosystem plan which will serve as a strategic plan to integrate ecosystem considerations into the Council decision making process. The Fishery Ecosystem Plan will provide a comprehensive review of the Gulf ecosystem. It will provide an overview of physical, biological, social, economic, and historical environments pertinent to federal fisheries management. The document will also identify changes in the ecosystem and discuss the effects of fishing and non-fishing activities on the system. Finally, the document will identify research priorities and suggest how the science should be used in the Council process. The Council also decided to establish an Ecosystem Technical Committee composed of scientists from the Science Center, the Council’s Scientific and Statistical Committee, and other stakeholders to assist the Council on the development of the fishery ecosystem plan.
The Council reviewed an options paper that 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 currently requires that shrimp effort in the area monitored for juvenile red snapper 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. The Council removed alternatives that would allow shrimp effort to increase incrementally until it reaches the new bycatch reduction goal. The Council also added an action that would allow future changes for shrimp effort reduction to occur through a framework procedure. The Council will review an updated draft of this document at its next meeting in January 2019.
Stock Assessment Schedule
After hearing a presentation from NOAA staff on the new sampling methods used by the Marine Recreational Information Program (MRIP) to collect harvest data from recreational anglers, the Council decided not to immediately adjust for the differences in the old and new data collection methods. Instead, the Council has selected to consider the new recreational harvest data for several key stocks in the next scheduled assessment for each relevant species.
About Gulf of Mexico Fishery Management Council
The Gulf of Mexico Fishery Management Council is one of eight regional Fishery Management Councils established by the Fishery Conservation and Management Act of 1976. The Council prepares fishery management plans, which are designed to manage fishery resources within the 200-mile limit of the Gulf of Mexico.