Council Moves One Step Closer to Creating MPAs

SAFMC logo South Atlantic Fishery Management Council  
News Release  
March 13, 2007 CONTACT: Kim Iverson
Public Information Officer
(843) 571-4366

Council Moves One Step Closer to Creating Marine Protected Areas

Summary Motions

Amendment 14 to the Snapper Grouper Fishery Management Plan was approved by the South Atlantic Fishery Management Council during its March meeting last week in Jekyll Island, Georgia. The Amendment will create a series of 8 marine protected areas in the South Atlantic as a means to protect deep water snapper grouper species and their associated habitat and spawning. The Council approved Amendment 14 after considering public comment on the Draft Environmental Impact Statement, comments from its Scientific and Statistical Committee, and recommendations from the Snapper Grouper Advisory Panel. At the request of the Snapper Grouper Advisory Panel, the Council stipulated that a transit provision be included to allow commercial fishermen to cross the areas with fish onboard but with all gear stowed. A similar provision is used in the Gulf of Mexico for marine protected areas. Additional language in the Amendment regarding the prohibition of shark bottom longlines will also be included. The Council is expected to give final approval to Amendment 14 for submission to the Secretary of Commerce during its June 11-15, 2007 meeting in Key West, Florida.

The Council also took action regarding the 92 square mile Oculina Experimental Closed Area off the east coast of Florida, approving a motion that maintains the current size and configuration of the area. The area is closed to fishing for or possession of snapper grouper species in order to protect snapper grouper species and the fragile Oculina coral found there. The decision was made as part of a review process outlined in the Oculina Evaluation Plan, a long-term plan that includes research and monitoring, outreach and law enforcement components. After extending the closure of the area for an indefinite period in 2004, the Council approved the Plan which called for a review of the size and configuration of the area in 2007 and a complete review of the closure in 2014. The Council made its decision based on recommendations from its Scientific and Statistical Committee and the Oculina Evaluation Team, a group that includes scientists, area fishermen, law enforcement personnel, and outreach specialists.

Other Actions:

In other actions, the Council continued work on Amendment 15 to the Snapper Grouper Fishery Management Plan, adding alternatives for allocations between recreational and commercial sectors as part of rebuilding plans for overfished stocks of snowy grouper, black sea bass, and red porgy. The amendment also addresses bycatch reduction of deep water species, methods to monitor and assess bycatch, measures to minimize impacts of incidental catches of sea turtles and smalltooth sawfish, the sale of recreationally caught snapper grouper species, and permit transferability. The Council is currently scheduled to approve Amendment 15 to take to public hearings during its June 2007 meeting. A series of public hearings would then be planned for later in the year.

The Council established a workgroup and appointed members to explore options for establishing a Limited Access Privilege Program for the commercial snapper grouper fishery in the South Atlantic. The LAP Exploratory Workgroup includes members from the Council’s advisory panels, fishermen, non-governmental representatives, scientists, sociologists, economists, and others interested in such a Program. The Council plans to hold the first meeting of the workgroup in April. Information regarding Limited Access Privilege Programs can be found on the Council’s web site at safmc.net/cms.

The first in a series of public hearings for Amendment 18 to the Fishery Management Plan for Coastal Migratory Pelagics was held during the meeting week. The amendment would reduce the Total Allowable Catch (TAC) for both king and Spanish mackerel. While neither species are currently overfished nor experiencing overfishing, the Council is concerned over possible shifts to the mackerel fishery as other fisheries such as snapper grouper face increasing restrictions. The series of public hearings continues in March throughout the South Atlantic. A copy of the public hearing document and hearing schedule is posted on the web site and available through the Council office.

The next meeting of the Council is scheduled for June 11-15, 2007 in Key West, Florida.

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 Moves One Step Closer to Creating Marine Protected Areas