FOR IMMEDIATE RELEASE
June 12, 2020
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Council Addresses Broad Range of Federal Fisheries Issues During Meeting Week
Best fishing practices; new stock assessments for King Mackerel, Red Porgy, and Greater Amberjack, Special Management Zones; and COVID-19 impacts top the agenda
Members of the South Atlantic Fishery Management Council held their quarterly June meeting this week via webinar due to COVID-19 and public health concerns. The meeting, originally scheduled to take place in Key West, Florida, began with a discussion of best fishing practices, emphasizing the Council’s outreach campaign and new resources for fishermen now available from the Council’s website. Information includes proper handling techniques, identifying signs of barotrauma, how-to videos demonstrating effectiveness of descending devices, and an online tutorial. Links to state-level resources for the region are also available through the new webpage. Council members have consistently supported the use of best practices to help improve survival of released fish. In September 2019, the Council approved Snapper Grouper Regulatory Amendment 29 requiring descending devices be onboard and readily available when fishing for snapper grouper species and other measures promoting best practices. NOAA Fisheries announced the Final Rule for Regulatory Amendment 29 earlier today, implementing the best fishing practice measures effective July 15, 2020.
NOAA Fisheries recently announced the opening of the Red Snapper season for both recreational and commercial fishermen, with a recreational season scheduled for the weekend of July 10, 11, 12, and the following Friday, July 17, 2020. “We encourage fishermen to take advantage of instructional videos and other best fishing practices information available online prior to the opening of this year’s Red Snapper season,” explained Council Chair, Jessica McCawley. During the Council meeting state agency representatives provided updates on sampling efforts planned for the recreational opening, including carcass collections and dockside sampling, dependent upon restrictions in place for COVID-19.
The Council discussed the impacts of COVID-19 on fisheries and fishing communities after receiving input from its advisory panels, updates from state agencies, and public comment, most noting the detrimental effects on fishing-related businesses including for-hire and commercial fishermen. There was much discussion about the economic importance of the Red Snapper fishery and the benefit of additional fishing days. However, under the mandates of Magnuson-Stevens Act, the Council must adhere to the current annual catch limit and cannot simply add additional fishing days. The Council agreed to send a letter to the Secretary of Commerce addressing Red Snapper concerns and the effects of the pandemic, as well as expressing their willingness to work with NOAA Fisheries to expand access to the fishery.
In an effort to help mitigate some of the negative impacts of COVID-19, the Council will request that NOAA Fisheries take emergency action to increase the federal recreational bag limit for Atlantic King Mackerel to 4 fish per person/day off east Florida through the Mid-Atlantic and request emergency action to increase the federal commercial trip limit for Vermilion Snapper to 1,500 pounds gutted weight. If approved, the emergency actions would be effective for 180 days and could be extended for an additional 185 days. It is anticipated the new regulations could be implemented within the next three months. The Council will consider requesting emergency action during its September meeting to allow the carry-over of unused annual catch limits from 2020 into 2021 after reviewing additional analyses.
There was good news regarding Atlantic King Mackerel and Greater Amberjack stocks following recent assessments that found neither stock overfished nor undergoing overfishing. Council members received the results of recent stock assessments from NOAA Fisheries Southeast Fisheries Science Center and recommendations from its Scientific and Statistical Committee during this week’s meeting. Harvest has remained relatively consistent and both the King Mackerel and Greater Amberjack stocks have benefited from strong recruitment years (lots of fish born within the year). The Council will develop amendments to adjust catch levels and allocations as needed based on the recent assessments and recommendations.
The Red Porgy stock continues to face challenges. Despite a rebuilding plan being in place for almost 3 decades, the stock assessment finds Red Porgy remains overfished and is undergoing overfishing, with chronically low recruitment. The Council will begin work on an amendment to end overfishing and address rebuilding the stock.
Special Management Zones
The Council approved the designation of specified artificial reefs in federal waters off the North Carolina and South Carolina coasts as Special Management Zones, addressing concerns from members of the Council’s Law Enforcement Advisory Panel regarding how the circular shape of areas complicates enforcement. At the states’ request, the Council approved Snapper Grouper Regulatory Amendment 34 that would designate 30 artificial reef sites off of North Carolina and 4 sites off of South Carolina as Special Management Zones. The designations would limit fishing gear types when targeting snapper grouper species and restrict harvest by spear to recreational bag limits for the SMZs in North Carolina. In South Carolina, the harvest of snapper grouper species in the designated SMZs would be limited to recreational bag limits. The amendment must be approved by the Secretary of Commerce before implementation.
Council members continued to develop management actions for Dolphin and Wahoo through draft Amendment 10 to the Dolphin Wahoo Fishery Management Plan. The Council received fishing level recommendations for both species from its Scientific and Statistical Committee using recalibrated recreational fishing effort estimates from NOAA Fisheries’ Marine Recreational Information Program. The new catch levels will be included in the amendment as the Council considers management actions that include modifications to accountability measures, allocations, and current vessel limits for Dolphin. The Council received numerous public comments from recreational fishermen and for-hire captains in South Florida and the Florida Keys expressing concerns about the decline of the Dolphin fishery in their area.
Additional information about this week’s meeting, including a Story Map highlighting actions, Committee Reports, and Summary Motions are available from the Council’s website at: https://safmc.net/june-2020-council-meeting-details/. The next meeting of the Council is scheduled for September 14-18, 2020 in Charleston, South Carolina.