9/16/16 – SAFMC News Release – September 2016 Council Meeting: Council Approves Measures to Extend Atlantic Cobia Season; End Overfishing for Hogfish



South Atlantic Fishery Management Council

News Release

FOR IMMEDIATE RELEASE                                              

September 16, 2016  

Download PDF version here

CONTACT:  Kim Iverson

Public Information Officer

Toll Free 866/SAFMC-10 or 843/571-4366


Council Approves Measures to Extend Atlantic Cobia Season; End Overfishing for Hogfish

Discussion continues on options for allowing harvest of red snapper; limited entry for the for-hire sector

If approved by the Secretary of Commerce, new regulations will be implemented in 2017 for Atlantic cobia in federal waters offshore from Georgia to New York. The measures, approved by the South Atlantic Fishery Management Council during their meeting this week in Myrtle Beach, SC, are designed to help extend the season for both recreational and commercial fishermen and help ensure consistent and stable fishing opportunities for the migratory stock. New regulations as proposed in Coastal Migratory Framework Amendment 4 would reduce the recreational bag limit from 2 fish to 1 fish per person per day, implement a vessel limit of 6 fish, and raise the recreational minimum size limit to 36” fork length. A commercial trip limit of 2 fish per person per day, with no more than 6 fish per vessel per day, whichever is more restrictive, would be established.

     The recreational fishery for Atlantic cobia in federal waters closed on June 20, 2016. The closure occurred during the peak cobia season off the coasts of North Carolina and Virginia impacting both private anglers and charter captains targeting the popular species. The early closure for 2016 was required due to an overage of recreational annual catch limit of Atlantic cobia in 2015 and the accountability measure currently in place that requires a shortened season the subsequent year. Framework Amendment 4 would also modify the accountability measure.

     “The Council considered numerous comments received during public hearings held in August, as well as comments received during a Q&A session held in May, public input during its June meeting, written comments, and comments from fishermen attending this week’s meeting,” said Council Chair Dr. Michelle Duval. “We heard from fishermen about the negative economic impacts of the Atlantic cobia closure, particularly off the coasts of North Carolina and Virginia. We’ve worked diligently, looking at various combinations of changes to bag limits, vessel limits and size limits, to help maximize fishing opportunities and to have new regulations in place in time for next year’s season,” said Dr. Duval. “A new Cobia sub-panel to the Council’s Mackerel Cobia Advisory Panel will allow for additional input and expertise from fishermen on cobia management issues as we move forward.” The Council is also working with the Atlantic States Marine Fisheries Commission to develop a complementary plan to allow additional management flexibility. The majority of cobia landings occur in state waters off the northeast coast of North Carolina and Virginia. Both states implemented additional restrictions in harvest in state waters following the federal closure in June. The Atlantic cobia annual catch limit includes landings from both state and federal waters.


     The Council also approved measures for hogfish in federal waters that would establish two separate management units, a Florida Keys/East Florida stock and a Georgia/North Carolina stock and implement new regulations through Snapper Grouper Amendment 37. Hogfish are primarily harvested off the coast of Florida and a popular target for both divers and hook-and-line fishermen. A recent stock assessment found the Florida Keys/East Florida stock overfished and undergoing overfishing. Measures proposed to end overfishing and rebuild the stock include substantial reductions in the annual catch limits and limits to harvest.

     If approved by the Secretary of Commerce, the amendment would implement the following regulations for the Florida Keys/East Florida stock: 1) increase the minimum size limit from 12 inches fork length to 16 inches fork length for both commercial and recreational sectors; 2) decrease the recreational bag limit from 5 fish to 1 fish per person per day; 3) establish an annual recreational fishing season from May through October; and specify a commercial trip limit of 25 pounds (there is currently no trip limit in federal waters). 

     New regulations proposed for the Georgia/North Carolina hogfish stock include increasing the minimum size limit to 17 inches fork length, establishing a recreational bag limit of 2 fish per person per day and a commercial trip limit of 500 pounds gutted weight (there are currently no bag limits or commercial trip limits for hogfish off the coasts of Georgia and the Carolinas).         

Other Business

     The Council also continued to develop management options to allow for limited harvest of red snapper. The fishery remains closed to harvest in federal waters in the South Atlantic. NOAA Fisheries estimated the total number of fish removed in 2015 exceeded the annual catch limit of 114,000 fish by more than double. The draft options paper includes the use of time/area closures to reduce bycatch and end overfishing along with several adaptive management measures. Options for the recreational fishery include a set fishing season with some combination of size and bag limits, designated fishing areas, a recreational stamp, and reporting requirements. Commercial options include closed seasons, new trip limits, size limits, and designated seasons. The Council’s Scientific and Statistical Committee will provide recommendations following its October meeting for the Council to consider as it moves forward in developing the options paper for Snapper Grouper Amendment 43 during its December meeting. Public scoping is planned for January/February 2017.

     The Council reviewed comments received during public scoping for the Dolphin/Yellowtail Snapper Allocation Amendment and removed an action that would have established annual catch limits by gear type for dolphin for the commercial sector and continued to modify options for sector allocations. The Council will review the revised document during its December meeting. The Council also continued discussions regarding limited entry for federally permitted for-hire vessels, noting public comments received during its Snapper Grouper Visioning process and historical recommendations from the Snapper Grouper Advisory Panel, and acknowledged differing opinions on the issue. A scoping document will be developed for review at the Council’s December meeting.

     The next Council meeting is scheduled for December 5-9, 2016 at the Doubletree by Hilton, Atlantic Beach, North Carolina.  Final committee reports and other materials from this week’s meeting are available from the Council’s website at https://safmc.net/meetings/september-2016-council-meeting.

Read further details and see images and other links at the September 2016 Council Meeting Round-up Story Map: https://www.arcgis.com/apps/MapJournal/index.html?appid=afd3cf49f88441d78614083d01a52f46

The September 2016 meeting report is available athttps://safmc.net/wp-content/uploads/2016/11/SAFMC_MeetingReport_September2016.pdf 

Discussion continues on options for allowing harvest of red snapper; limited entry for the for-hire sector