03/11/14 – SAFMC News Release: March 2014 SAFMC Meeting Follow-up – Federal Fishery Managers Tackle Joint South Atlantic & Gulf Mackerel Management


March 11, 2014

CONTACT: Kim Iverson
                      Public Information Officer
                      Toll Free 866/SAFMC-10 or 843/571-4366

Federal Fishery Managers Tackle Joint South Atlantic and Gulf Mackerel Management

Council addresses changes to regional management, seasons and fishing year changes

Members of the South Atlantic Fishery Management Council continued review of management alternatives for king mackerel and Spanish mackerel, considering modifications to the joint management plan for the two species during its meeting last week in Savannah, Georgia. King mackerel, Spanish mackerel and cobia stocks are managed jointly by the South Atlantic Fishery Management Council and the Gulf of Mexico Fishery Management Council through the Coastal Migratory Pelagics Fishery Management Plan (FMP), making joint management challenging. More than a dozen commercial king mackerel fishermen from South Florida and as far away as Louisiana attended a public hearing held during the meeting to voice their support of the South Atlantic Council’s decision to remove an action to change the fishing year in the Gulf of Mexico western zone for king mackerel. The issue has delayed approval of the amendment, since both federal management councils must be in agreement before submitting the amendment to the Secretary of Commerce for final approval and implementation of the regulations.

In addition to addressing the fishing year changes in the Gulf of Mexico, Amendment 20B to the Coastal Migratory Pelagics Fishery Management Plan includes measures to establish regional quotas in the Atlantic for both king mackerel and Spanish mackerel, with a Northern Zone from North Carolina north to New York, and a Southern Zone encompassing South Carolina, Georgia and Eastern Florida. The quotas would be transferrable between regions. The amendment also addresses catch limits for Atlantic and Gulf group cobia. During last week’s meeting, the South Atlantic Council approved Amendment 20B for Secretarial Review. The Gulf Council is scheduled to approve the amendment for final submission to the Secretary of Commerce during its April 2014 meeting.

There was good news for fishermen targeting Spanish mackerel. Based on the recent stock assessment, the Council approved Framework Amendment 1 to the Coastal Migratory Pelagics FMP. If approved by the Secretary, the amendment will increase the annual catch limit for Atlantic group Spanish mackerel from 5.69 million pounds to 6.06 million pounds for the 2014 through 2016 fishing years. The Gulf group Spanish mackerel catch limit will also increase.
The Council also reviewed public scoping comments received in January for two other draft amendments to the Coastal Migratory Pelagic FMP. Amendment 24 includes options for changing the allocation between commercial and recreational sectors for Atlantic group Spanish mackerel and Gulf group king mackerel. Amendment 26 would allow separate mackerel commercial permits between the South Atlantic and Gulf of Mexico. The Council will continue to work on management alternatives for the draft amendments.

Other Actions
The Council approved Regulatory Amendment 21 to the Snapper Grouper Fishery Management Plan for submission to the Secretary of Commerce for review and final approval. The amendment addresses the Minimum Stock Size Threshold (MSST) values for stocks with low natural mortality. The MSST is a biomass threshold used to determine if the stock is overfished. Modifying the values is designed to help prevent snapper grouper stocks with low natural mortality rates, such as red snapper, blueline tilefish, gag, black grouper, yellowtail snapper, vermilion snapper, red porgy, and greater amberjack, from shifting between overfished and rebuilt conditions due to natural variation in recruitment (the number of fish produced each year) and other environmental factors. The amendment, if approved by the Secretary, would change the MSST value for a species if the Mortality (M) rate estimate is 0.25 or lower based on estimation of M from a peer-reviewed report, e.g., a SEDAR stock assessment. While the amendment does not directly impact harvest, it does allow for additional flexibility to account for natural variability in stocks with low natural mortality rates.

The Council received recommendations from its Law Enforcement Advisory Panel during the meeting in Savannah and considered both the AP recommendations and public comment as members continued to work on management alternatives to allow fillets of dolphin and wahoo to be transported from The Bahamas into the U. S. by recreational fishermen. The Council’s Dolphin Wahoo Advisory Panel will review Amendment 7 to the Dolphin Wahoo FMP addressing the fillet issue during its meeting March 19, 2014 in Charleston, SC. Modifications are also being considered to current regulations for fillets of snapper grouper species.

Work continued on Amendment 29 to the Snapper Grouper FMP to specify Acceptable Biological Catch levels for species without stock assessments and where data is limited. The amendment also includes proposed new management measures for gray triggerfish, including changes to minimum size limits, a split season for the commercial fishery, and commercial trip limits. The Council considered comments received during January public hearings and will also receive input from its Snapper Grouper Advisory Panel, scheduled to meet April 8-11, 2014 in Charleston, SC.

Council members received an update on the port meetings currently being held as part of the Council’s Visioning Project for the snapper grouper fishery. The meetings have been coordinated with area fishermen and other stakeholder groups to discuss key issues, including management flexibility, reducing discards, data collection, allocations, tine/area management, regional management approaches, and other management concerns. Port meetings have been held in South Carolina and will continue in fishing communities in North Carolina and Florida in March and continuing in Florida and Georgia in April. Members of the public are encouraged to bring their management ideas to the table and participate in the meetings. Additional information about the Visioning Project, including a complete schedule of the upcoming port meetings, is available from the Council’s website at safmc.net or by contacting Amber Von Harten, Fisheries Outreach Specialist at amber.vonharten@safmc.net.

Committee reports for the March 2014 meeting are now available at safmc.net/cms. The next meeting of the South Atlantic Fishery Management Council is scheduled for June 9-13, 2014 in Ponte Vedra Beach, Florida. Details for the meeting and meeting materials will be posted online as they become available.

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