FOR IMMEDIATE RELEASE
September 18, 2020
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Council Focuses on Dolphin and Wahoo Management Measures During Meeting Week
Bullet and Frigate Mackerel designations approved; fishermen weigh in about Dolphin concerns
Bullet Mackerel and Frigate Mackerel aren’t likely to show up on a dinner plate, but they are the preferred meal for prized game fish such as Wahoo and Blue Marlin and to a lesser extent Dolphin and other apex species found along the Atlantic coast. Members of the South Atlantic Fishery Management Council took action during their meeting this week via webinar to acknowledge the importance of Bullet and Frigate Mackerel, sometimes referred to as tuna, as forage fish by adding the two species to the Dolphin Wahoo Fishery Management Plan as ecosystem component species. The Dolphin Wahoo Plan is administered by the South Atlantic Council and management extends along the entire Atlantic Coast. The designation, through Amendment 12 to the Dolphin Wahoo FMP, comes at the request of the Mid-Atlantic Council and has been largely supported by both scientists and fishermen. The Council received 117 written public comments, the majority in favor of the designation. “Bullet tunas can be protected for the benefit of our offshore marlin, tuna, and wahoo fisheries without harming any existing commercial or recreational fisheries by designating them as Ecosystem Component species,” said Heather Maxwell, tournament director for the annual Pirate’s Cove Billfish Tournament held out of Oregon Inlet, North Carolina. “The management of these species is paramount to the future success of our tournaments,” said Maxwell, noting the economic importance of the tournaments to the area’s economy.
Concerns about Bullet and Frigate Mackerel began to emerge following the targeting of Chub Mackerel, another important forage fish, by commercial fishermen in the Mid-Atlantic following a downturn in the squid fishery in 2013. Commercial landings increased substantially in a single year, prompting the Mid-Atlantic Council quickly develop a plan to manage Chub Mackerel and protect other forage fish in the region from uncontrolled harvest. Bullet and Frigate Mackerel were included in the initial plan but were removed when the plan was reviewed by NOAA Fisheries. There isn’t currently a directed commercial fishery for Bullet or Frigate Mackerel and recreational fishermen occasionally target the two species as bait. If approved by the Secretary of Commerce, the addition of the of these species to the Dolphin Wahoo FMP would provide an avenue to address management issues should they arise.
The Council continued work on other measures affecting the Dolphin and Wahoo fishery, including modifications to current annual catch limits, accountability measures, allocations, and recreational bag and vessel limits in draft Amendment 10 the Dolphin Wahoo FMP. The Council is will continue work on the amendment in December and public hearings are currently scheduled to be held in early 2021.
Council members received written comments and heard from fishermen during public comment, primarily charter captains in the Florida Keys expressing concerns about the Dolphin fishery in South Florida, with fishermen catching fewer fish and the absence of larger “bull” Dolphin being captured. The fishermen expressed concerns about the commercial longline fishery for Dolphin and possible impacts. The annual catch limit for Dolphin is currently allocated 90% recreational and 10% commercial.
Council members received a presentation from Dr. Wessley Merton with the Dolphinfish Research Tagging Program showing the distribution of Dolphin based on the program’s tagging studies, noting the majority of the commercial fishery occurs outside of U.S. waters in the Caribbean, South America, and international waters. The Council will consider an additional amendment to the Dolphin Wahoo FMP addressing the longline fishery in the future.
The Council also developed a list of recommendations in response to the President’s Executive Order to Promote American Seafood after reviewing input from stakeholders and advisory panel members. The recommendations include modernization of the Individual Transferable Quota (ITQ) program for the Wreckfish fishery, modifications to the Oculina Bank Habitat Area of Particular Concern, commercial electronic logbooks and commercial permits for the snapper grouper fishery. Recommendations will be provided to NOAA Fisheries for further consideration.
In response to a recent stock assessment for Red Porgy, the Council began work on an amendment for management measures to address overfishing, rebuild the stock and revise allocations. The stock has not rebuilt despite management efforts, with a rebuilding plan currently in place. Under the Magnuson Stevens Conservation and Management Act, the Council has two years to implement new measures.
The Council held elections during its meeting, electing Mel Bell, former Vice Chair and representative for the South Carolina Department of Natural Resources Marine Resources Division as its new Chair. Steve Poland, Council representative for the North Carolina Division of Marine Fisheries was elected Vice Chair. Council members acknowledged Jessica McCawley for her service as Chair over the past two years, noting her effective leadership through the challenges brought on by the COVID-19 pandemic.
Additional information about this week’s meeting, including a meeting Story Map, 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 currently scheduled for December 7-11, 2020 in Wrightsville Beach, North Carolina.