Council Approves Amendment 16 to End Overfishing

SAFMC logo South Atlantic Fishery Management Council  
News Release  
September 23, 2008 CONTACT: Kim Iverson
Public Information Officer
(843) 571-4366

Council Approves Amendment 16 to End Overfishing
     Interim rule will implement measures for gag, black grouper, and red grouper by early 2009

(New!: NOAA Fisheries Service FAQ now available on Amendment 16 and the interim rule)

     The South Atlantic Fishery Management Council gave final approval to Amendment 16 to the Snapper Grouper Fishery Management Plan during its meeting in Charleston, South Carolina this past week. The amendment includes measures to end overfishing of gag grouper and vermilion snapper, including a 4-month spawning season closure for gag and shallow water grouper, reductions in bag limits, commercial quotas, and other measures. Approval of Amendment 16 was delayed during the Council’s June meeting when the Council agreed to consider additional management measures for analysis in the amendment. However, after considering the analysis of the additional options and receiving public comment as part of the week-long meeting, the Council moved forward to approve their original preferred management measures in Amendment 16. The vote was not unanimous, with Council members voting eight to five in favor of approval. Those Council members opposing approval of the amendment have declared they will file a minority report. The amendment will go through review by the National Marine Fisheries Service and receive approval by the Secretary of Commerce before management measures are implemented. It is estimated the review process will take several months.
     The Council’s actions are driven by mandates from the Magnuson-Stevens Reauthorization Act that require fisheries managers to implement measures to end overfishing within a one-year period after overfishing has been identified. Both gag grouper and vermilion snapper stocks were identified as undergoing overfishing through the Southeast Data, Assessment, and Review (SEDAR) stock assessment process in June 2007. An age-based SEDAR stock assessment for vermilion snapper is currently underway and the results of the recent Assessment Workshop, part of the three-step stock assessment process, is indicating the stock status might be better than originally reported. The Review Workshop is scheduled for October 20-24, 2008 in Savannah, Georgia and is open to the public. Amendment 16 contains a provision that would allow adjustments to the reduction of vermilion snapper if necessary, based on the updated assessment. The final stock assessment results will be reviewed by the Scientific and Statistical Committee and the Council during the November 30 – December 5, 2008 meeting in Wilmington, North Carolina.
     Measures in Amendment 16 to end overfishing for gag include: a spawning season closure January through April for both commercial and recreational fishermen for gag and other shallow water groupers including black grouper, red grouper scamp, red hind rock hind, yellowmouth grouper, tiger grouper, yellowfin grouper, graysby, and coney; a commercial quota for gag of 352,940 pounds gutted weight. After the quota is met, all purchase and sale of shallow water grouper would also be prohibited; reducing the 5-grouper aggregate bag limit to a 3-grouper aggregate bag limit and the existing bag limit from 2 gag or black grouper to 1 gag or black grouper; and excluding the captain and crew on for-hire vessels from possessing a bag limit for groupers. Additional measures for vermilion snapper, including commercial quotas, bag limits and a recreational closed season are likely to be modified following the stock assessment. The amendment also establishes interim allocations for both gag and vermilion snapper.

     “These measures should end overfishing for gag and vermilion snapper,” said Council member Mac Currin, Chairman of the Snapper Grouper Committee. “Everyone is hopeful that the ongoing age-based assessment of vermilion snapper will allow the Council to reduce the measures impacting fishermen.”
Interim Rule
     In order to end overfishing for gag grouper, black grouper, and red grouper as required by the Magnuson Act, the Council approved an interim rule to implement reductions in fishing mortality as specified in Amendment 16. The Council's vote to approve the interim rule was also split, with 8 members in favor and five opposed.  The interim rule includes the 4-month spawning season closure for gag, black grouper, and red grouper; the commercial quota for gag, with the harvest of black grouper and red grouper prohibited once the quota is met; and reductions in the recreational bag limit. Black grouper and red grouper are included in the interim rule because they are also experiencing overfishing and there is a bycatch of gag when black and red grouper are targeted. Earlier provisions to address overfishing for vermilion snapper and red snapper through the interim rule were removed and red snapper will be addressed by the Council during its November 30-December 5 meeting. An interim rule can only be used to address species undergoing overfishing and would be in effect for 180 days. The rule can be extended for an additional 186 days if necessary. Provisions of the interim rule with respect to federally permitted vessels for South Atlantic snapper grouper would apply regardless of where the fish are harvested (i.e., in state or federal waters). The Council’s intent is to have the interim rule effective by January 1, 2009.  Letter from SAFMC Requesting Interim Rule

Elections
     During its meeting, the Council elected Council member Duane Harris as its new chairman and David Cupka to serve as vice-chair. Mr. Harris, an obligatory member of the Council from St. Simons Island, Georgia, replaces George Geiger of Sebastian, Florida as Council Chair. Formally serving as vice-chair, Chairman Harris has a long history of service to the Council, initially serving as a representative of the Georgia Department of Natural Resources’ Coastal Resources Division and continuing his service after retiring as director of the division in 2003. Vice-Chairman Cupka also has a long history with the Council, serving as the South Carolina representative for the Department of Natural Resources’ Marine Resources Division before his retirement and currently serving in an at-large position.

     The next meeting of the Council is scheduled for November 30-December 5, 2008 in Wilmington, North Carolina. For additional information regarding Council meetings, including briefing book materials, committee reports, and summary motions from the September 2008 meeting, visit safmc.net or contact the Council office.

Council Approves Amendment 16 to End Overfishing