From deepwater canyons off the Carolinas to the shallow tropical waters surrounding the Florida Keys, marine habitats of the South Atlantic are as diverse as the species that inhabit them. To address this diversity, the South Atlantic Council adopted an ecosystem approach to fisheries management with the development of a Fishery Ecosystem Plan (FEP) and Comprehensive Ecosystem-Based Amendment (CE-BA) that will amend all the Council's Fishery Management Plans. The FEP will be updated periodically and serve as a source document for the initial and subsequent CE-BAs.
Actions in this amendment will protect specific areas of sensitive habitat, deemed Coral Habitat Areas of Particular Concern (CHAPCs) that house an invaluable array of deepwater coral species living in waters ranging from 400 meters (1200 ft.) to 700 meters (2300 ft.) deep. The South Atlantic region is home to what may be the largest contiguous distribution of deepwater corals in the world, including the common Lophelia coral, largely responsible for reef mound construction in these cold water areas. The parameters defined within the amendment aim to shield these areas from impacts associated with bottom-tending fishing practices. For many years fishermen targeting golden crab and royal red shrimp have set their traps and hauled their nets in areas now known to provide suitable habitat for deepwater corals. These small traditional fisheries, however, operate in distinct areas where fishermen can be sure their gear will not become tangled and possibly damaged. Therefore, actions to create “Allowable Golden Crab Fishing Areas” and “Shrimp Fishery Access Areas” within two of the proposed CHAPCs are included to ensure the continued existence of these fisheries and the communities they support. The Council submitted CE-BA 1 for Secretarial review, approval and implementation. The final rule was published in the Federal Register on June 22, 2010 and the provisions within the amendment are effective July 22, 2010. See Fishery Bulletin for more information.
(full amendment and appendices)
Actions in this amendment include modifications in the management of the following: octocorals; special management zones (SMZs) off the coast of South Carolina; and sea turtle release gear requirements for snapper grouper fishermen. The amendment also designates essential fish habitat (EFH) and EFH-Habitat Areas of Particular Concern (EFH-HAPCs).
CE-BA 2 proposes annual catch limits (ACL) for octocorals in the South Atlantic as well as modification of the Fishery Management Unit (FMU) for octocorals to remove octocorals off the coast of Florida from the FMU. The amendment limits the possession of managed species in the SMZs off of South Carolina to the recreational bag limit for snapper grouper and coastal migratory pelagic species. The amendment modifies sea turtle release gear requirements for the snapper grouper fishery based upon freeboard height of vessels. CE-BA 2 also amends Council fishery management plans (FMPs) to designate or modify EFH and EFH-HAPCs, including the FMP for Pelagic Sargassum Habitat; the Coral FMP to designate EFH for deepwater Coral HAPCs designated under CE-BA 1; and the Snapper Grouper FMP to designate EFH-HAPCs for golden and blueline tilefish and the deepwater Marine Protected Areas. The final rule was published in the federal register on December 30, 2011, and regulations will be effective on January 30, 2012.
Comprehensive Ecosystem-Based Amendment 3 (CE-BA 3) (under development)
This amendment originally had several actions that were removed and placed in other amendments. There is one action remaining in CE-BA3; Action 1 considers improvements to bycatch and discard reporting in fisheries for snapper grouper, coastal migratory pelagic, dolphin/wahoo, and golden crab by adopting standards in the Atlantic Cooperative Statistics Program bycatch module. There are three actions in the amendment:
- Alternative 1: No Action.
- Alternative 2. Require that commercial vessels with: a Commercial Atlantic Dolphin Wahoo Permit, a Spanish Mackerel Commercial Permit, King Mackerel Commercial Permit and a King Mackerel Commercial Gillnet Permit; for-hire vessels with a Charter/Headboat Permit for Dolphin/Wahoo, Charter/Headboat Permit for Coastal Migratory Pelagics (CMP); and private recreational vessels if fishing for dolphin/wahoo or CMP species in the EEZ, if selected, shall use observer coverage, logbooks, electronic logbooks, video monitoring, or any other method deemed necessary to measure bycatch by the National Marine Fisheries Service (NMFS).
- Alternative 3. Implement mandatory observer coverage as described by the ACCSP standards.
- Sub-alternative 3a. Snapper-Grouper
- Sub-alternative 3b. Coastal Migratory Pelagics
- Sub-alternative 3c. Dolphin Wahoo
- Sub-alternative 3d. Golden Crab
At the March 2013 Council meeting the Council requested an analysis from NOAA General Counsel to identify how the South Atlantic Council is meeting its bycatch requirements under the MSA. The Council is expected to receive this analysis at the December 2013 Council meeting.