12/10/14 – SAFMC News Release: Federal Fishery Managers Address Broad Range of Topics During December Meeting

South Atlantic Fishery Management Council

News Release

FOR IMMEDIATE RELEASE                                                                                 

December 10, 2014  

(pdf version)

CONTACT:  Kim Iverson

Public Information Officer

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


Federal Fishery Managers Address Broad Range of Topics During December Meeting

Transport of filleted fish from The Bahamas, black sea bass, golden tilefish endorsements, Vision Blueprint and more

     Recreational fishermen that travel between the U.S. and The Bahamas may see changes in future regulations that will allow more flexibility in bringing filleted fish back from their Bahamian fishing trips.  The South Atlantic Fishery Management Council approved measures during their meeting in New Bern, North Carolina this past week that would allow recreational fishermen to possess fillets of dolphin (mahi mahi) and wahoo when returning from a fishing trip in The Bahamas.  Current regulations require the two species be intact when entering U.S. federal waters (Exclusive Economic Zone).  Fishermen are currently allowed to bring up to 60 pounds of fillets or 20 fish from species in the snapper grouper management complex when returning from The Bahamas.  The new regulations would allow dolphin and wahoo legally harvested in The Bahamas to be brought into the U.S. EEZ as fillets, with two fillets counting as one fish (regardless of the size of the fillet) and require snapper grouper, dolphin, and wahoo fillets have the skin intact on the entire fillet for identification purposes.  Current Bahamian regulations allow for possession of a total of 18 total dolphin, wahoo, tuna and king mackerel in any combination per vessel.  All U.S. bag and possession limits would apply. Recreational vessels with fillets onboard would be required to have stamped and dated passports to prove that the vessel passengers were fishing in The Bahamas, as well as valid current Bahamian cruising and fishing permits onboard.  Vessels would also be required be in continuous transit when in the U.S. EEZ and gear appropriately stowed (terminal gear disconnected and stowed separately).  The sale of bag limit caught species would continue to be prohibited and considered a violation of the Lacy Act.  The amendments must be reviewed by NOAA Fisheries and approved by the Secretary of Commerce before regulations are implemented.

     The Council also approved Snapper Grouper Regulatory Amendment 22 for Secretarial approval.  The amendment revises the annual catch limit (ACL) and optimum yield for both wreckfish and gag based on recent stock assessments for the two species.  The 2014 gag stock assessment update shows the stock continues to rebuild and the amendment allows for a conservative increase in the ACL over the next five years.  After considering recommendations from its Snapper Grouper Advisory Panel and concerns expressed during public input, the Council chose not to increase the recreational bag limit for gag.  The ACL for wreckfish, a deep-water species that is primarily harvested commercially through an Individual Transferable Quota (ITQ) system, would increase from 235,000 pounds to 433,000 pounds beginning in 2015.

     The Council continued work on Snapper Grouper Regulatory Amendment 16 considering management alternatives for the current prohibition on the use of commercial black sea bass pots during the winter season.  The November 1 through April 30th restriction is designed to prevent potential gear interactions with migrating right whales.  The annual restriction was implemented in 2013 in conjunction with an increase in the annual catch limit for black sea bass following a new stock assessment. The Council implemented an endorsement program for the pot fishery in 2012, reducing the number of pot fishermen and restricting the number and use of pots. There have been no documented cases of right whale entanglements with black sea bass pots in the South Atlantic to date.  After receiving presentations from NOAA Fisheries Protected Resources Division and other agency and Council staff on updated information regarding the migration habits of right whales and analysis on the possibility of gear interactions, the Council removed an alternative that would have eliminated the November 1-April 30 closure. The Council modified remaining alternatives to adjust the restricted boundaries by area and depth, as well as adding specific gear markings for South Atlantic black sea bass pots. Public hearings on the amendment are scheduled for August of this year.

The Council also received a report from its Scientific and Statistical Committee (SSC) regarding the recent benchmark stock assessment for hogfish.  The assessment, conducted by the Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission, identified three separate stocks for hogfish, one in the Gulf of Mexico and the other two in the South Atlantic.  After much discussion, the SSC agreed with treating hogfish in the South Atlantic as two stocks: the more northern “GA-NC” stock and the “Southeast/South Florida” stock.  The assessment for the SE/SFL (southern stock) shows the stock overfished and undergoing overfishing.  Because the SE/SFL stock overlaps with the Gulf of Mexico hogfish stock, the Council will work with the Gulf Council to begin developing measures end overfishing within the next two years and rebuild the stock.  The Council’s Snapper Grouper Advisory Panel has requested an increase in the hogfish minimum size limit in the past.

     The Council continued working on its Visioning Project for the snapper grouper fishery, reviewing results of their October Visioning Workshop and revising the draft Vision Blueprint. The Council focused on draft objectives, strategies and actions relative to Management and Communication strategic goals.  The Council will continue working on the Vision Blueprint during its March 2015 meeting, focusing on Science and Governance and will collect public input between March and June 2015.

     January Public Hearing/Scoping Meetings

      A series of public hearings and scoping meetings will be held in January 2015 to solicit input on measures proposed for the snapper grouper and mackerel fisheries.  Public hearings will be held on Snapper Grouper Amendment 35 to remove four species from the snapper grouper complex and make modifications to the current commercial longline endorsements for golden tilefish. The changes to the endorsements are being proposed to reflect the Council’s intent regarding which gear-specific quota (longline or hook-and-line) endorsement holders may fish under.  A scoping meeting will be held in Cocoa Beach, Florida for Mackerel Amendment 26 to gather input on options to revise ACLs and the stock boundary for king mackerel, allow the sale of king mackerel bycatch in the shark gillnet fishery, and establish a sub-quota specific to the new mixing zone. Additional details, including specific meeting dates and locations are available from the Public Hearing and Scoping Meeting page of the Council’s website at safmc.net/cms

Committee reports for the December 2014 meeting are now available at safmc.net/cms.  The next meeting of the South Atlantic Fishery Management Council is scheduled for March 2-6, 2015 in St. Simons Island, GA.  Details for the meeting and meeting materials will be posted online as they become available.

The South Atlantic Fishery Management Council, one of eight regional councils, conserves and manages fish stocks from three to 200 miles offshore of North Carolina, South Carolina, Georgia and east Florida.