Council Approves Marine Protected Area

SAFMC logo South Atlantic Fishery Management Council  
News Release  
June 23, 2006 CONTACT: Kim Iverson
Public Information Officer
(843) 571-4366

Council Approves Marine Protected Area Document for Public Hearings

Summary of Meeting Motions

The South Atlantic Fishery Management Council approved Amendment 14 to the Snapper Grouper Fishery Management Plan to take to public hearings last week during its meeting in Coconut Grove, Florida. The amendment contains alternatives for establishing a series of 8 deepwater marine protected areas in federal waters off the Southeastern coast. The areas are being proposed as a management tool to help protect deepwater species such as snowy grouper, speckled hind, warsaw grouper and blueline tilefish and their associated habitat. As proposed, harvest and possession of snapper grouper species would be prohibited in the marine protected areas, but fishermen would be allowed to troll for species such as tuna, mackerel, and billfish.

“Marine protected areas have been on the Council’s agenda for a long time,” said Mac Currin, Chairman of the Council’s Snapper Grouper Committee. “We hope that in addition to the obvious habitat protection benefits, they will facilitate protection and production of the deepwater snapper grouper complex.” The Council has held informal public meetings, workshops, advisory panel meetings, informal public hearings, and scientific meetings as part of the development process of the amendment. Amendment 14 was reviewed during a joint meeting of the Council’s Habitat and Coral Advisory Panels the week prior to the Council meeting as well as the Scientific and Statistical Committee during the meeting week. Recommendations from the advisory panels and various committees were considered as the Council selected preferred sites at each location to include in the public hearing document.

The Council also reviewed various alternatives for requiring vessel monitoring systems to aid in enforcement of the areas. The monitoring systems allow for tracking the movement of vessels by NOAA Fisheries Office for Law Enforcement. The systems are currently required in the South Atlantic for rock shrimp vessels to monitor trawling activity around the restricted Oculina Bank Habitat Area of Particular Concern off the central east coast of Florida. Additionally, the Council agreed on the need to work closely with NOAA Fisheries’ Highly Migratory Species Office to develop a joint rule prohibiting the use of shark longline gear in the marine protected areas. “This is absolutely necessary in order to prevent harvest of those snapper grouper species that we are trying to protect,” explained Currin.

Public hearings are scheduled to begin in September of this year. A series of hearings are planned from North Carolina to Southeastern Florida, with the final hearing tentatively scheduled during the Council’s next meeting September 18-22, 2006 in Hilton Head, South Carolina. A complete listing of the hearing dates and locations will be announced as soon as they are finalized.

Other Items

The Council continued development of Amendment 15 to the Snapper Grouper Fishery Management Plan, adding actions to further examine options to reduce bycatch associated with deepwater species and to monitor and assess bycatch in the entire snapper grouper management complex. The amendment also includes alternatives addressing: rebuilding stocks of snowy grouper, black sea bass, and red porgy; recreational sale; changes in the fishing year for golden tilefish; commercial permit renewals and transfers; and gear requirements to increase survival of sea turtles and smalltooth sawfish.

The Council approved the development of a regulatory amendment to address possible changes in the Total Allowable Catch for both Atlantic Migratory Group king and Spanish mackerel, and trip limits for Spanish mackerel. A control date of June 15, 2004 was also approved for Atlantic Migratory Group king mackerel. The Council will hold public scoping meetings for consideration of additional management measures for the mackerel fishery. Scoping meetings allow for early input on management measures that may or may not be given further consideration. The meeting schedule will be announced once it is finalized.

In other actions, the Council approved the an expansion of the areas being considered as deepwater coral Habitat Areas of Particular Concern as recommended by the Habitat and Fishery Ecosystem-based Management Committees. The designations provide options for protection of the areas and will be included in the Council’s Fishery Ecosystem Plan and the Ecosystem Comprehensive Amendment currently under development.

The next meeting of the Council is scheduled for September 18-22, 2006 in Hilton Head, South Carolina.

 

The South Atlantic Fishery Management Council, one of eight regional councils, conserves and manages fish stocks from three to 200 miles offshore of North and South Carolina, Georgia and east Florida.

Council Approves Marine Protected Area Document for Public Hearings