9/24/15 – SAFMC News Release: September 2015 Council Meeting Follow Up

South Atlantic Fishery Management Council

News Release

FOR IMMEDIATE RELEASE                                                                                 

September 24, 2015  

Download PDF version here

For Committee Reports, see: September 2015 Council meeting page


CONTACT:  Kim Iverson

Public Information Officer

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


Federal Fishery Managers Move Forward to Protect Spawning Areas

Spawning Special Management Zones proposed; other measures for blueline tilefish, dolphin, hogfish and more

Members of the South Atlantic Fishery Management Council held lengthy discussions on the proposed designation of areas to help protect spawning fish and associated habitat during their meeting last week in Hilton Head, South Carolina.  After reviewing both written and public comment received during a second round of public hearings, the Council narrowed their preferred alternatives to five Spawning Special Management Zones (SMZs) as proposed in Amendment 36 to the Snapper Grouper Fishery Management Plan.  Of the eleven candidate sites included in the amendment, the Council selected the following sites as preferred: 1) a five square mile area off the coast of North Carolina known as the South Cape Lookout site; 2) a 3.1 square mile area off the coast of Georgetown, South Carolina called “Devil’s Hole” or “Georgetown Hole”; 3) a 2.99 square mile artificial reef site off the coast of South Carolina known as Area 51, 4) a 2.99 square mile artificial reef site off the coast of South Carolina known as Area 53, and 5) a one square mile area off the east coast of the Florida Keys referred to as the “Warsaw Hole”.

     Fishing for species in the snapper grouper fishery management complex and anchoring would be prohibited within the proposed Spawning SMZs. However, fishermen would be allowed to troll for pelagic species such as dolphin, tuna, and billfish in the areas.  Restricting bottom fishing is designed to help protect habitat and fish that gather there to spawn, resulting in the production of more eggs and larvae that could help recruitment of juvenile fish. The areas would also help reduce bycatch and bycatch mortality for snapper grouper species, including speckled hind and warsaw grouper, two species that have been candidates for listing as threatened under the Endangered Species Act.

     The Council reviewed pubic input regarding Spawning SMZs that varied from strong support for larger proposed sites to opposition to any designated areas. Council members once again reviewed proposed candidate sites, acknowledging concerns about the need for additional research to document spawning activity, enforcement issues, and impacts of additional restrictions. The Council also discussed the biological benefits shown from protecting spawning areas, including those in the Dry Tortugas and Riley’s Hump in the Gulf of Mexico, and recent cooperative research conducted on candidate sites included in the amendment. 

     In addition to selecting the five proposed Spawning SMZs, the Council included additional alternatives for sunset provisions that would require the areas be reauthorized after a period of time, based on their effectiveness.  A System Management Plan is being developed in conjunction with Amendment 36 to address research/monitoring needs, law enforcement, and outreach for any implemented Spawning SMZs. The Council will review the management alternatives again during its December 7-11, 2015 meeting in Atlantic Beach, North Carolina. If approved by the Council, Amendment 36 must also be approved by the Secretary of Commerce before measures are implemented, possibly before the end of 2016.

Other Actions:

     The Council continued to address management measures for blueline tilefish after receiving a report from its Scientific and Statistical Committee that will allow an increase in the total annual catch limit from the current 53,548 pounds to 224,100 pounds (whole weight).  The Council is developing a framework amendment to allow the increase and also modify the current bag limit of 1 fish per vessel/day May through August and the commercial trip limit. The amendment also includes measures to modify the commercial fishing year for yellowtail snapper and increase the current recreational bag limit of 5 fish per person/day for black sea bass. Public hearings on proposed framework measures will be held via webinar in November and final approval by the Council is scheduled for December 2015.

     For the first time in management history, the commercial fishery for dolphin fish (mahi mahi) closed in federal waters along the Atlantic coast on June 30, 2015 after meeting its annual catch limit. NOAA Fisheries landings data showed an

increase in the commercial longline trips with higher than average landings over the past two years. Amendment 8 to the Dolphin Wahoo Fishery Management Plan, approved by the Council in December 2014, will increase the annual catch limit for dolphin. The amendment is currently under review by NOAA Fisheries. The Council approved a Control Date of June 30, 2015 for the commercial Dolphin fishery during last week’s meeting. A control date is designed to alert fishermen entering the fishery after the date that they may not be able to stay in the fishery in the future. The Council is also considering measures to implement a commercial trip limit for dolphin. Public hearings on a framework amendment will be held via webinar in November and the Council is scheduled to approve the amendment during its December meeting.

     New measures are also being considered for hogfish stocks in the South Atlantic after an assessment identified a Florida Keys/East Florida stock and a Georgia/North Carolina stock.  Amendment 37 contains measures to end overfishing for the FL Keys/East Florida stock including increasing size limits, decreasing bag limits, limiting the season for the recreational fishery to two months, and establishing commercial trip limits. Public hearings are currently planned for January/February 2016. The Council also requested a re-evaluation of the hogfish catch landings for the recreational fishery from NOAA Fisheries, voicing concerns about the estimates that closed the recreational fishery on August 24, 2015.

Election of New Chair and Vice Chair:

     The Council unanimously elected Dr. Michelle Duval as its new Chairperson during last week’s meeting. Dr. Duval is the agency designee for the North Carolina Division of Marine Fisheries and has served on the Council since 2011, serving as Chair of the Snapper Grouper Committee prior to her election as Council Chair.  Charles Phillips, a commercial fisherman and owner of Phillips Seafood and Sapelo Sea Farms in Darien, Georgia was elected Vice-Chair.

     Committee reports for the September 2015 meeting are now available at safmc.net/cms.  The next meeting of the South Atlantic Fishery Management Council is a Visioning Workshop scheduled for October 14-15, 2015 in North Charleston. 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.