Spawning Special Management Zones

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Effective July 31, 2017

In 2016, the Council approved Snapper Grouper Amendment 36 that would implement spawning Special Management Zones (SMZs) to protect important areas used by snapper grouper species for reproducing. Spawning SMZs are designed to protect areas important for spawning, such as areas where spawning has been observed or likely to occur in the South Atlantic Region.

Fish reproduce by spawning, releasing tens of thousands of eggs and sperm into the water to be fertilized. Once fertilized, the eggs and developing larval fish then settle out and develop or are transported by swift ocean currents to develop in another location.

Some species of fish are known to spawn by gathering in large numbers in unique spawning areas with favorable ocean currents and habitats. Some of these important spawning areas were identified during development of Snapper Grouper Amendment 36 and were designated as spawning SMZs.

For Amendment 36, the Council defined a spawning area as a location where fish have been observed spawning or biological examination of the fish confirms a fish was in spawning condition. By protecting the spawning area, spawning could increase and lead to increased recruitment of many snapper grouper species. An additional goal for designating the spawning SMZs is to reduce bycatch and bycatch mortality of snapper grouper species, including speckled hind and warsaw grouper.

Spawning SMZs - Locations

  • Fishing for, possession, and retention of 59 species of snappers and groupers be prohibited in the Spawning SMZs. Harvest and possession of other species, such as dolphin, mackerel, and tuna, would be allowed as other regulations dictate.
  • Fishermen are allowed to transit with snapper grouper species onboard their vessel if their fishing gear is stowed according to regulations. Properly stowed means:
    • Terminal gear (i.e., hook, leader, sinker, flasher, or bait) must be disconnected and stowed separately from automatic reel, bandit gear, buoy gear, hand-line, or rod and reel. Rod and reel must be removed from the rod holder and stowed securely on or below deck.
    • Longline may be left on the drum if all gangions and hooks are disconnected and stowed below deck. Hooks cannot be baited. All buoys must be disconnected from the gear: however, buoys can remain on deck.
    • A trawl or try net may remain on deck, but trawl doors must be disconnected from the net and must be secured. Note: This regulation may vary among protected areas and habitat areas of particular concern.
    • A gill net, stab net, or trammel net must be left on the drum. Any additional such nets not attached to the drum must be stowed below deck.
    • A crustacean trap, golden crab trap, or sea bass pot cannot be baited. All buoys must be disconnected from the gear; however, buoys can remain on deck.

    NOTE: Stowage requirements may change through the normal amendment process, and requirements should be reviewed before traversing Spawning SMZs with snapper-grouper species.

  • Spawning SMZs (all except for Areas 51 and 53) sunset 10 years after implementation if not reauthorized.
The Council, along with state and Federal partners, has developed and approved a System Management Plan (SMP)for the Spawning SMZs to serve as a blueprint for future research, outreach, and management. The SMP, by outlining data gaps, research needs, and estimated project costs, will serve as a guide for researchers applying for project funding. In turn, the management action items and evaluation metrics included in the SMP will serve as a tool to guide managers in evaluating whether the goals and objectives of proposed Spawning SMZs are being met.
Read the System Management Plan