Council Continues to Review Alternatives to End Overfishing

SAFMC logo South Atlantic Fishery Management Council  
News Release  
June 16, 2009 CONTACT: Kim Iverson
Public Information Officer
(843) 571-4366

Council Continues to Review Alternatives to End Overfishing 

Closure of large areas to all snapper grouper fishing may be necessary to end overfishing of red snapper

The South Atlantic Fishery Management Council continued to review management options for 10 species currently undergoing overfishing, including red snapper, during its meeting last week in Stuart, Florida.  The alternatives include various options for closures of federal waters extending from portions of South Carolina through north/central Florida to all snapper grouper fishing in order to end overfishing for red snapper.  The 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.  In March, the Council requested an interim rule to close the red snapper fishery for both commercial and recreational fishermen in order to help meet the mandates of the Magnuson-Stevens Act to end overfishing within one year.  The controversial request for a closure is currently being reviewed by NOAA Fisheries Service (NMFS).

However, a closure of the red snapper fishery will not be sufficient to end overfishing.  The total mortality (landings and dead discards) must be reduced by 87% according to the 2008 stock assessment conducted through the Southeast Data, Assessment, and Review (SEDAR) program.   Even with a closure, red snapper will still experience excessive bycatch mortality (dead discards) as fishermen pursue other species of snapper and grouper.  The bulk of red snapper catches are from the recreational fishery, where an estimated 40% of the released fish die.  The estimated release mortality for the commercial fishery is higher (90%) due to the deeper waters fished and different handling practices.  As a result, the Council is developing a number of alternatives targeting areas where catches of red snapper are highest and closing these areas to all snapper grouper fishing.  The size and configurations of the areas in the alternatives vary but primarily include waters off the coasts of South Carolina, Georgia, and Florida extending as far south as the Cape Canaveral area.

Approximately 85 people attended the public comment session held by the Council last week, most to express their concern about the negative economic and social impacts of such closures.  Charter captains, headboat operators, tackle manufacturers, fish house operators, and both recreational and commercial fishermen provided emotionally charged comments and questioned the need for such closures.  Many comments centered around the 2008 SEDAR stock assessment, questioning data used in the assessment and the reductions necessary to end overfishing.  

The Magnuson-Stevens Act also requires long-term management measures for rebuilding the red snapper stock and the establishment of Annual Catch Limits for species undergoing overfishing by 2010.  Annual Catch Limits must be implemented for all other species under the Council's jurisdiction by 2011.  Last year, the Council began development of Amendment 17 to the Snapper Grouper Fishery Management Plan to meet the 2010 deadline.   

After reviewing the management alternatives included in the draft amendment, the Council decided last week to divide the amendment into two parts; Amendment 17A will address management measures for red snapper and Amendment 17B will address measures to end overfishing for the remaining species undergoing overfishing: speckled hind, warsaw grouper, golden tilefish, snowy grouper, black grouper, black sea bass, gag, red grouper, and vermilion snapper.  Public hearings for both Amendment 17A and Amendment 17B will be scheduled later this year.

Interim Rule Update – Dr. Roy Crabtree, Regional Administrator with NMFS Southeast Regional Office provided the Council with an update on the Council's request to implement an interim rule to help address overfishing by closing the red snapper fishery for up to one year.  According to Dr. Crabtree, NMFS will hold a 30-day comment period on the interim rule.  The comment period will likely begin in early July.  A review of the comments will require an additional 30 days, and if a Final Rule is published to approve the closure, regulations would go into effect 30 days after publication.  If implemented, a closure would likely go into place sometime in October.  Note that all comments should be addressed to NMFS regarding the decision.  Meanwhile, the red snapper fishery remains open with a current recreational bag limit of 2 fish per person/day included in a 10 snapper aggregate bag limit, and a 20" Total Length size limit for both commercial and recreational fishermen.

The next meeting of the Council is scheduled for September 14 - 18, 2009 in Charleston, SC. For additional information regarding Council meetings, including briefing book materials and summary motions, visit safmc.net/cms or contact the Council office.

Council Continues to Review Alternatives to End Overfishing