9/26/14 – SAFMC News Release: Council Moves Forward with Process to Help Protect Spawning Areas

South Atlantic Fishery Management Council

News Release

FOR IMMEDIATE RELEASE                                                                                 

September 23, 2014  

(pdf version)

CONTACT:  Kim Iverson

Public Information Officer

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


Council Moves Forward with Process to Help Protect Spawning Areas

Initial areas for potential consideration selected for analysis; public hearings in 2015

Federal fishery managers met last week in Charleston, South Carolina to discuss a broad range of management measures, and approved four amendments to fishery management plans for submission to the Secretary of Commerce for review.  In addition, members of the South Atlantic Fishery Management Council agreed to continue the development of Amendment 36 to the Snapper Grouper Fishery Management Plan (FMP).  The amendment includes options for the designation of Spawning Special Management Zones, or SMZs, to protect species in the snapper grouper management complex that gather in specific areas to spawn, including speckled hind and warsaw grouper.  Although harvest of the two species is prohibited, they continue to be extremely vulnerable to overfishing with few fish surviving release when caught by fishermen targeting other deepwater species. Both speckled hind and warsaw grouper are listed as Species of Concern by NOAA Fisheries.

The Council considered comments received during public scoping in August before deciding to continue the development of Amendment 36.  The majority of comments received support the use of Spawning SMZs to protect aggregations of spawning fish.  In 2011, in an effort to provide protection to speckled hind and warsaw grouper, a deepwater closure was implemented in federal waters deeper than 240 feet in the South Atlantic.  The closure was later removed and the Council subsequently considered modifying eight existing deepwater marine protected areas or creating new MPAs to provide additional protection for the two species.  After considering reports from its Marine Protected Area Expert Workgroup, the Council decided to move forward by targeting spawning areas rather than the broader MPA approach.  Similar to the current MPAs, the Council would only consider prohibiting fishing for and/or possession of species within the snapper grouper fishery management unit within any Spawning SMZ.

Council members chose initial candidate areas to consider for Spawning SMZ designation during last week’s meeting, using recommendations from the Council’s MPA Expert Workgroup and its Snapper Grouper Advisory Panel, data from fishery independent research, and public input.  Some of the initial candidate areas to be analyzed were included in the MPA Expert Workgroup Report, using local names and references.  They include the “Malchase Wreck” and “780 Bottom” off the coast of North Carolina, “Devil’s Hole 3” off of South Carolina, and “Warsaw Hole” and “Daytona Steeples” off the east coast of Florida.  Options were also added to include “St. Simons Extension 2” and a portion of “Georgia MPA Reconfigure” not currently in the existing MPAs off the coast of Georgia, and two experimental artificial reefs off the coast of South Carolina as candidate areas.  The Council also agreed to consider time-area spawning closures in Amendment 36 and added an action to move the existing South Carolina Deepwater MPA 1.4 miles to the northwest to match the boundary of the currently permitted site.  The initial candidate areas will be analyzed and detailed maps added to the amendment.  The Council will review the areas again during its March 2015 meeting in St. Simons Island, Georgia before holding public hearings later in 2015.  Reports from the MPA Expert Workgroup are available from the Council’s website at: https://safmc.net/managed-areas/marine-protected-areas.

Approved Measures

The Council approved three amendments that will affect species in the snapper grouper management complex if approved by the Secretary of Commerce. Amendment 29 would establish annual catch limits for unassessed snapper grouper species and modify regulations for gray triggerfish, including minimum size limits for both recreational and commercial sectors, and establish a split season and a trip limit of 1,000 pounds whole weight for the commercial fishery. Regulatory Amendment 20 would allow for slight increases in the annual catch limit for snowy grouper as the stock continues to rebuild, and modify allocations and recreational bag limits.  The Council requested an extension of the current temporary rule from NOAA Fisheries that reduces the annual catch limit for blueline tilefish and approved Amendment 32.  The amendment would remove blueline tilefish from the deepwater grouper complex, further reduce the ACL, and establish a commercial trip limit until a new stock assessment is completed. In an effort to help minimize discards, the Council chose preferred alternatives in Regulatory Amendment 20 and Amendment 32 to establish a recreational season from May through August only, with a recreational bag limit of 1 fish per vessel/day for both blueline tilefish and snowy grouper.

The Council also approved Framework Amendment 2 to the Coastal Migratory Pelagics Fishery Management Plan to change commercial trip limits for Spanish mackerel off the coasts of South Carolina, Georgia and Florida.

After much discussion, the Council decided to delay action on measures to allow recreational fishermen to bring dolphin and wahoo fillets from The Bahamas into the U.S. Exclusive Economic Zone and modify existing regulations for fillets of snapper grouper species.  The measures will be addressed again during the Council’s December meeting.

Stock Assessment Delay

The Council received an update on the Southeast Data, Assessment and Review (SEDAR) 41 stock assessment for red snapper and gray triggerfish.  Following a Data Workshop held in August 2014 as part of the assessment for the two species, it was determined that the assessment should not move forward until data reporting issues are addressed. Fishermen and others have expressed concerns about headboat data prior to 1992 being used in stock assessments because of incomplete and/or inaccurate reporting.  During last week’s meeting, NOAA Fisheries Southeast Fisheries Science Center identified a method to address the reporting concerns that includes peer review of a process for obtaining and evaluating data and a number of focus groups to better understand the nature of the reporting issues. The goal is to have the data issues resolved by the end of 2014.  The Council will receive an update on resolution efforts and consider how to modify the SEDAR stock assessment schedule during its December 2014 meeting.

Continuing with the Council’s Visioning Project, the Council will hold a special Council Visioning Workshop October 14-16, 2014 in North Charleston, South Carolina.  At the workshop, the Council will begin development of a draft Vision Blueprint focused on management of the snapper grouper fishery over the next five years.  Public comment is scheduled each day and workshop materials will be posted to the Council Meetings page of the Council’s website at safmc.net/cms.  Additional information is available by contacting Amber Von Harten at 843/571-4366 or amber.vonharten@safmc.net.

The next regularly scheduled meeting of the South Atlantic Fishery Management Council is scheduled for December 1-5, 2014 in New Bern, North Carolina.  Details will be posted at 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.