Council Approves Measures to Address Overfishing of Nine Snapper Grouper Species

SAFMC logo South Atlantic Fishery Management Council  
News Release  
December 15, 2009 CONTACT: Kim Iverson
Public Information Officer
(843) 571-4366

Council Approves Measures to Address Overfishing of Nine Snapper Grouper Species 

Measures include deepwater area closure for specific species, annual catch limits

Nine of the 10 species currently listed as undergoing overfishing in the South Atlantic will be addressed through management measures outlined in Amendment 17B to the Snapper Grouper Fishery Management Plan, approved by members of the South Atlantic Fishery Management Council during its meeting last week in Atlantic Beach, NC.  Among the measures is a deepwater closure to help protect warsaw grouper and speckled hind, two deepwater species extremely vulnerable to overfishing.  The closure will also help protect other deepwater species where release mortality is estimated at 100% for the multi-species fishery, and ensure catches are below the Annual Catch Limits (ACLs) for these species.  The reauthorized Magnuson-Stevens Fishery Conservation and Management Act requires establishment of  ACLs and Accountability Measures for species undergoing overfishing by 2010 and all species managed by the regional fishery management councils by 2011.

If approved, the closure will affect federal waters in the South Atlantic region from approximately 240 feet deep seaward and prohibit fishing for or possession of speckled hind, and warsaw grouper, as well as snowy grouper, blueline tilefish, yellowedge grouper, misty grouper, queen snapper, and silk snapper.  The deepwater closure excludes golden tilefish, a species generally found over mud bottom and not likely to co-occur over the hard bottom habitat preferred by speckled hind and warsaw grouper.  The closure is based on the Council’s Scientific and Statistical Committee’s recommendation that an Allowable Biological Catch of zero (0) landings be implemented for both speckled hind and warsaw grouper.  Currently, fishermen are allowed to keep 1 fish per vessel per trip and sale is prohibited for these two species.  The amendment will prohibit all fishing for, possession, and retaining speckled hind and warsaw grouper.

In addition to warsaw grouper and speckled hind, golden tilefish, snowy grouper, black grouper, black sea bass, gag, red grouper, and vermilion snapper are currently listed as undergoing overfishing.  Additional measures in the amendment include a reduction in the snowy grouper bag limit to one fish per vessel per trip; establishment of a combined ACL for gag, black grouper, and red grouper of 662,403 lbs. (gutted weight) for the commercial fishery, and 648,663 lbs. (gutted weight) for the recreational fishery; an allocation of 97% commercial and 3% recreational for the golden tilefish fishery based on landings history; and establishment of accountability measures as necessary.  

The Council held a series of public hearings in early November from Newport News, VA to Key Largo, FL that included Amendment 17B measures, as well as providing a written comment period.  Fishermen attending the Key Largo hearing were especially concerned about the negative economic impacts of a deepwater closure, noting that deepwater areas are in close proximity to shore in the Keys.  Charter captains noted the cumulative impacts of regulations on their businesses, including a shallow-water grouper closure that begins January 1, 2010 through April 2010.  Fishermen in North Carolina also noted the negative impacts to the commercial fishery for blueline tilefish. 

The Council reviewed all comments before voting 8 to 5 to approve Amendment 17B.  The amendment
will be forwarded to NOAA Fisheries Service for review and approval by the Secretary of Commerce.  If approved, regulations may be implemented by late 2010.

The Council continued to work on Amendment 17A to end overfishing of red snapper and rebuild the stock.  At the Council’s request, an interim rule to close the red snapper fishery for both commercial and recreational fishermen becomes effective January 4, 2010.  Amendment 17A includes a provision to extend the red snapper closure plus alternatives for large closed areas where fishing for all snapper grouper species would be prohibited to address the high mortality associated with discards.  A 2008 stock assessment for red snapper in the South Atlantic region shows the stock to be overfished and undergoing overfishing at eight times the sustainable level.  The controversial closures target areas where red snapper are most commonly landed.  Concern about the proposed closures resulted in several hundred fishermen attending public hearings held in Cape Canaveral and Jacksonville, FL in November.  After reviewing public comments, and after much discussion, the Council chose a preferred alternative for a closure encompassing a depth of 98 feet to 300 feet beginning just north of Charleston, SC and extending slightly southward of Melbourne, FL.

The Council will continue to review its preferred management alternatives during its March 2010 meeting in Jekyll Island, GA and is expected to approve Amendment 17A during its June 7-11, 2010 meeting in Orlando, FL.  The Council has requested that an updated assessment for the South Atlantic red snapper stock be available for review by its Scientific and Statistical Committee in late 2010, before management measures proposed in Amendment 17A would be implemented.

The next meeting of the Council is scheduled for March 1-5, 2010 in Jekyll Island, GA. For additional information regarding Council meetings, including briefing book materials and summary motions, visit safmc.net/cms or contact the Council office.

Council Approves Measures to Address Overfishing of Nine Snapper Grouper Species