Council Modifies Preferred Alternative for Area Closure

SAFMC logo South Atlantic Fishery Management Council  
News Release  
March 8, 2010 CONTACT: Kim Iverson
Public Information Officer
(843) 571-4366

Council Modifies Preferred Alternative for Area Closure 

Measures to end overfishing and set Annual Catch Limits for red snapper further reviewed in March

The preferred area closure would prohibit the harvest of all snapper grouper species in order to reduce bycatch mortality associated with the red snapper fishery. In addition to the area closure for all snapper grouper species that would go into effect upon approval of the Amendment, an Interim Rule is currently in effect prohibiting harvest of red snapper in South Atlantic federal waters. Click to download .jpg of map. After reviewing management alternatives for red snapper during their meeting this past week in Jekyll Island, Georgia, members of the South Atlantic Fishery Management Council chose a new preferred alternative for an area closure under consideration to end overfishing and rebuild red snapper stocks.  The Council is considering an area closure in Amendment 17A to the Snapper Grouper Fishery Management Plan that would prohibit the harvest of all snapper grouper species, targeting areas where red snapper landings have traditionally been highest to reduce the bycatch mortality associated with the red snapper fishery.  The latest preferred alternative includes an area off the coasts of Georgia and Northern Florida extending slightly south of Melbourne, Florida in waters from 98 feet to 240 feet deep.  Alternative 3C, chosen by the Council last week, is smaller in size than an initial preferred management alternative chosen by the Council during its December 2009 meeting. 

The Council kept a preferred management alternative to allow spearfishing within the closed area, excluding red snapper, because there is no bycatch associated with the use of the gear.  A preferred alternative to allow fishing with black sea bass pots was removed due to the change in configuration of the area closure. The Council also chose to use generalized boundaries with smaller number of waypoints in defining all of the alternatives for the area closures based on recommendations from its Law Enforcement Advisory Panel and Committee.  A map of the preferred alternative is available on the homepage of the Council’s Web site.

"I respect the process the council used to change the preferred alternative from 4D to 3C which excludes a closure off South Carolina,” said Council Chairman Duane Harris. “I voted against this change as I do not believe it will result in enough reduction in red snapper mortality.  However, I hope alternative 3C will work and we can move forward in June with approving Snapper Grouper Amendment 17A.”
The amendment, currently under development, includes management measures to meet the requirements of the reauthorized Magnuson-Stevens Act to end overfishing of red snapper, set Annual Catch Limits and Accountability Measures, and rebuild the red snapper stock. Alternatives for a red snapper monitoring program and the use of circle hooks for the snapper grouper fishery north of 28 degrees N. latitude are also included.

The red snapper fishery closed in federal waters in the South Atlantic for both commercial and recreational fishermen on January 4, 2010.  The Council requested the interim rule be used to close the fishery until more long-term measures are implemented through Amendment 17A.  The interim rule is currently scheduled to expire on June 2, 2010 but can be extended for an additional 186 days.  The decision regarding the extension of the closure will be made by NOAA Fisheries Service.  If approved, Amendment 17A would extend the closure for a longer period of time.  NOAA Fisheries Service is soliciting public comment on the Draft Environmental Impact Statement for Amendment 17A until April 19, 2010.  Additional information regarding the DEIS is available online at http://sero.nmfs.noaa.gov.

Closing the red snapper fishery is not enough to end overfishing and rebuild the stock because of the high
bycatch mortality associated with the fishery.  It is estimated that 40% of the red snapper captured and
released by recreational fishermen die.  Although primarily a recreationally harvested species, the bycatch mortality climbs to 90% for the commercial fishery because of fishing practices and deeper waters that are fished.  Based on a 2008 stock assessment for red snapper, it is necessary to reduce the mortality (both harvest and bycatch) by 83% in order to meet the requirements of the reauthorized Magnuson-Stevens Act to end overfishing by 2010 and begin rebuilding the stock.  If approved, Amendment 17A will implement long-term measures to meet those requirements, including an area closure.  The Council is expected to take final action during its June meeting in Orlando, Florida regarding Amendment 17A.

A new stock assessment is being conducted for red snapper this year and the results will be available to the Council during its December 2010 meeting.  The Council is mandated to take action in June to approve Amendment 17A for submission to the Secretary of Commerce.  However, Council member and Regional Administrator for NOAA Fisheries Southeast Regional Office, Dr. Roy Crabtree, explained during an informal question and answer session at last week’s meeting that there are options for the Council in December to request additional measures that could modify the area closure based on the outcome of the new stock assessment.  While fishermen are hopeful that the new assessment will reflect the increased number of red snapper they’ve seen in recent years, Dr. Crabtree cautioned that a new assessment may or may not reflect an improvement in the stock.

The next meeting of the Council is scheduled for June 7-11, 2010 in Orlando, Florida.

Council Modifies Preferred Alternative for Area Closure