Members of the South Atlantic Fishery Management Council met via webinar last week and approved a list of proposed management measures for the Dolphin and Wahoo fisheries for public hearings. The hearings will be scheduled in early 2021. The measures, proposed in Amendment 10 to the Dolphin Wahoo Fishery Management Plan, would revise catch levels and annual catch limits for both Dolphin and Wahoo, modify allocations between recreational and commercial sectors, and modify accountability measures designed to help prevent exceeding annual catch limits. These measures are proposed in response to revised recreational data estimates from the NOAA Fisheries Marine Recreational Information Program (MRIP) and recalibration of numbers used to establish Acceptable Biological Catches for each species.
The amendment also includes management alternatives to reduce recreational bag limits and vessel limits for Dolphin and Wahoo, eliminate a requirement for Operator Cards in the for-hire and commercial fisheries, address retention of Dolphin and Wahoo onboard permitted commercial vessels with specified gear onboard, and allow filleting of Dolphin at sea on board charter or headboat vessels in waters north of the Virginia/North Carolina line.
Both Dolphin and Wahoo are economically important species, often targeted by private recreational anglers and charter captains. The annual catch limit for Dolphin is currently allocated 90% recreational and 10% commercial. The species are managed by the Council in federal waters (greater than 3 nautical miles) along the entire Atlantic coast of the U.S. through the Dolphin Wahoo Fishery Management Plan.
Council members have received comments, primarily from charter captains in the Florida Keys, expressing concerns about the Dolphin fishery in South Florida. Fishermen report catching fewer fish, particularly the larger “bull” Dolphin and have requested the Council consider reductions in recreational bag limits or vessel limits. Concerns have also been expressed about the commercial longline fishery for Dolphin and possible impacts to the stock. The Council agreed to consider an additional amendment to the Dolphin Wahoo Fishery Management Plan in 2021 to address the longline fishery.
Public hearings for Dolphin Wahoo Amendment 10 will be held in early 2021 via webinar. Written public comments will also be accepted. The Council will review the public comments during its March meeting and is currently scheduled to approve Amendment 10 when it meets again in June 2021.
The Council also approved three items for public scoping. Scoping is used to obtain stakeholder input early in the decision-making process and help guide the Council for actions to consider.
Shrimp Fishery Access Area
Coral Amendment 10 includes options to establish a shrimp fishery access area along the eastern boundary of the Oculina Bank Coral Habitat Area of Particular Concern. Located off the central east coast of Florida, the area is designated to help protect deepwater Oculina coral. The options are being considered at the request of fishermen involved in the commercial rock shrimp fishery. After considering input from its Coral Advisory Panel, Deepwater Shrimp Advisory Panel, and the Habitat and Ecosystem-Based Management Advisory Panel, the Council selected a preferred alternative for the proposed boundary area. Public scoping will occur in conjunction with the Council’s March 2021 meeting.
Wreckfish ITQ Modernization
The Council will continue to solicit input on measures proposed to modernize the current Individual Transferable Quota (ITQ) program used in the commercial fishery for Wreckfish, a deepwater grouper harvested by a limited number of vessels. Wreckfish shareholders and wholesale dealers met in October to provide guidance to the Council on recommended improvements to the program, including electronic reporting. The Council will hold a scoping meeting for proposed measures during its March 2021 meeting.
In response to a recent stock assessment for Red Porgy, the Council is developing Amendment 50 to the Snapper Grouper Fishery Management Plan to address overfishing, rebuild the stock and revise allocations. Despite having rebuilding plans in place for decades, the Red Porgy stock has not improved in the region. Under the Magnuson-Stevens Act the Council must implement measures to revise the rebuilding plan and end overfishing within the next two years. Proposed measures include reductions in commercial trip limits, recreational bag limits and seasonal closures. The Council reviewed input from its Snapper Grouper Advisory Panel and acknowledged that declining abundance and poor recruitment may be due to factors other than fishing. Public scoping will take place in early 2021 via webinar.
Additional information about the December Council meeting, including a meeting Story Map, final committee reports, and briefing book materials is available from the Council’s website at: https://safmc.net/safmc-meetings/council-meetings/. The next meeting of the South Atlantic Fishery Management Council is scheduled for March 1-5, 2021.