3/12/15 – SAFMC News Release: Federal Fishery Managers Address Proposed Regulations During Meeting Week

South Atlantic Fishery Management Council

News Release

FOR IMMEDIATE RELEASE                                                                                 

March 12, 2015  

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CONTACT:  Kim Iverson

Public Information Officer

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


Federal Fishery Managers Address Proposed Regulations During Meeting Week

Management of blueline tilefish along the East Coast, Spawning Special Management Zones, and more

     Regulations for blueline tilefish, protection of spawning areas for snapper grouper species, stock assessments for red snapper and gray triggerfish, management measures for king mackerel, issues affecting management in South Florida, and continued improvements for data collection represent the diversity of topics on the agenda during last week’s meeting of the South Atlantic Fishery Management Council.  Federal fishery managers met in St. Simons Island, GA to address these issues and more. 

     One of the more controversial issues arose when the Council addressed management of blueline tilefish, a deepwater species targeted by both commercial and recreational fishermen.  A stock assessment conducted in 2013 determined the blueline tilefish stock was undergoing overfishing (the rate of removal is too high). The Council requested temporary emergency action from NOAA Fisheries to reduce harvest and began development of Amendment 32 to the Snapper Grouper Fishery Management Plan to end overfishing.  Approved by the South Atlantic Council in September 2014, the amendment would further reduce the annual catch limit (ACL) for blueline tilefish to 35,632 pounds for 2015, implement a commercial trip limit of 100 pounds (gutted weight), and a recreational bag limit of one blueline tilefish per vessel per day from May through August.  Recreational harvest would be prohibited the rest of the year.  The new regulations are expected to be in place by Mid-April from the NC/VA border southward to the east coast of FL. 

     Although the blueline tilefish stock is currently treated as one unit along the entire East Coast, the new regulations would only apply to vessels in the South Atlantic Council’s area of jurisdiction.  Concerns about rapidly increasing commercial and party/charter landings of blueline tilefish north of the NC/VA boundary, particularly in New Jersey, prompted the Mid-Atlantic Fishery Management Council in February to request emergency action to implement a commercial trip limit of 300 pounds (whole weight) and a recreational bag limit of 7 fish per person within its jurisdiction.  Commercial landings from Virginia and farther north increased on average from 11,000 pounds to 217,000 pounds in 2014 and party/charter vessel landings increased on average from 2,400 fish per year to over 10,000.

     Representatives from the Mid-Atlantic Council attended last week’s meeting and discussed concerns about applying the 2013 blueline tilefish stock assessment results throughout the species’ range.  The South Atlantic Council’s Scientific and Statistical Committee (SSC), along with participating members from the Mid-Atlantic Council SSC will review the stock assessment during its April 28-30, 2015 meeting in N. Charleston, SC and provide recommendations.  If the SSC determines that the stock assessment should be applied north of the NC/VA boundary, the South Atlantic Council will request an emergency action to apply the more restrictive measures north of the boundary as well.  The final decision to implement emergency actions will be made by the Secretary of Commerce.

Other Actions

     Members of the South Atlantic Council continued to review alternatives to identify and protect important spawning habitat for snapper grouper species through the designation of Spawning Special Management Zones (SMZs), approving Snapper Grouper Amendment 36 for public hearings.  The amendment includes alternatives for eight new Spawning SMZ sites, reconfiguration of an existing Deepwater Marine Protected Area off the coast of GA, and allows for the boundary of the existing Charleston Deep Artificial Reef MPA off the coast of SC to be moved to accommodate recently deployed artificial reef material.  Fishing for or possession of snapper grouper species would be prohibited within the Spawning SMZs but fishermen would be allowed to troll for pelagic species.  The amendment also includes alternatives for transit and anchoring provisions.  The Council’s Snapper Grouper Advisory Panel will provide recommendations during its April 13-14, 2015 meeting. The first round of public hearings will be held in April/May via webinar.

The Council continued developing management alternatives in Mackerel Amendment 26 to revise ACLs and the stock management boundary for king mackerel and allow the sale of king mackerel bycatch in the shark gillnet fishery.  The Council’s King and Spanish Mackerel Advisory Panel will provide recommendations during its April 15, 2015 meeting.  Work on the amendment will continue during the Council’s June meeting in Key West.

     NOAA Fisheries advised the Council during the meeting that the numbers for the 2015 South Atlantic red snapper ACL will be available in late May.  The ACL is calculated using landings and discard estimates from 2014.  If the 2015 catch limit is large enough to allow for a 2015 fishing season, the recreational season would begin the second Friday in July for consecutive weekends, with the number of fishing days determined by the ACL.  If allowed, the commercial season would begin the second Monday in July. NOAA Fisheries will make the announcement as soon as the numbers become available.  The SEDAR 41 stock assessment for South Atlantic red snapper and gray triggerfish will resume in August, with final results expected to the Council in April of 2016.   

     The Council continued working on a joint amendment with the Gulf of Mexico Fishery Management Council to require electronic reporting for charterboats with federal permits in both the Gulf and South Atlantic.  The reporting requirement is designed to improve timeliness and accuracy of data for the fishery. While the Gulf Council is considering a requirement for vessel monitoring systems (VMS) for charterboats operating in the Gulf, VMS is not being considered as a requirement in the South Atlantic.  The two councils are also working jointly to address management issues specific to South Florida, including measures for black grouper, gag, mutton snapper and hogfish.  Discussions will continue when the two Councils meet jointly in June in Key West, FL.   

    Committee reports for the March 2015 meeting are now available at safmc.net/cms.  The next meeting of the South Atlantic Fishery Management Council is scheduled for June 8-12, 2015 in Key West, FL. Details for the meeting and meeting materials will be posted online as they become available.

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