Council Approves Amendments for November Public Hearings

SAFMC logo South Atlantic Fishery Management Council  
News Release  
September 19, 2011 CONTACT: Kim Iverson
Public Information Officer
(843) 571-4366

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Council Approves Amendments for Public Hearings
     Black sea bass fishery, wreckfish measures, and red grouper rebuilding will be addressed in November

     During its meeting this past week in Charleston, South Carolina, members of the South Atlantic Fishery Management Council moved forward with development of management measures impacting federal fisheries for black sea bass, red grouper, and wreckfish and approved two draft amendments to the Snapper Grouper Fishery Management Plan for public hearings this November.  Amendment 18A is being developed to reduce overcapacity in the commercial black sea bass pot fishery and reduce the rate of harvest for both the commercial and recreational sectors.  The draft amendment currently includes alternatives to establish a commercial trip limit (for all gear types), spawning season closures, and increasing existing size limits for black sea bass.

     The black sea bass stock is currently listed as overfished and undergoing overfishing.   The Council implemented regulations to end overfishing in 2010 as required by the Magnuson-Stevens Fishery Conservation and Management Act, including establishment of an Annual Catch Limit of 409,000 pounds (whole weight) for the recreational sector and 309,000 pounds (whole weight) for the commercial sector.  The fishing year for black sea bass begins June 1st and both the commercial and recreational catch limits were met before the end of the 2010/2011 fishing year.  The fishery reopened on June 1, 2011 and the commercial fishery closed after meeting its catch limit in less than 45 days.  The recreational fishery remains open with a 5-fish bag limit.  NOAA Fisheries Service monitors recreational landings, which will likely meet the Annual Catch Limit before the end of the current fishing year.  

     As regulations have become more restrictive for other fisheries, effort has shifted and an increasing number of fishermen have begun targeting black sea bass.  One of the objectives of Amendment 18A is to limit participation in the commercial pot fishery, which accounts on average for 89% of the total commercial landings.  The amendment would establish an endorsement program to limit the number of participants in the pot fishery based on landings (historic and recent), limit the number of pots used during a permit year, and other measures to limit harvest and reduce bycatch.  In addition, the amendment contains alternatives for commercial trip limits, increasing size limits, and a spawning season closure for both commercial and recreational sectors to help extend the fishing season.  A new stock assessment for black sea bass is currently underway, and the Council will receive the results of the assessment in December. The stock is in Year 5 of a 10-Year rebuilding plan and fishermen have reported increases in the numbers and sizes of black sea bass encountered in recent years.  Amendment 18A also includes options to modify the current rebuilding strategy to allow for an increase in the Annual Catch Limit as the stock continues to rebuild, based on the results of the most recent stock assessment. 

     Fishermen who target red grouper will also have an opportunity to provide public comment in November on Amendment 24 to the Snapper Grouper Fishery Management Plan, which includes measures to end overfishing and rebuild the stock.  The amendment establishes a rebuilding plan, Annual Catch Limits and Accountability Measures and revises certain population parameters for red grouper.    Hearings were held in NC and SC in August but additional hearings were postponed due to the threat of Hurricane Irene.  At their September meeting, the Council reviewed the public comment received thus far.  The amendment will be included in the upcoming round of public hearings.  

     The Council also approved Amendment 20A to the Snapper Grouper Fishery Management Plan for public hearings.  The amendment addresses the current Individual Transferable Quota (ITQ) program in place for the commercial wreckfish fishery; specific to the distribution of shares, including inactive shares, redistribution, and caps.  The Comprehensive ACL Amendment, which has been approved for submission to the Secretary of Commerce for formal review and implementation (see below), includes a reduction in the current wreckfish Annual Catch Limit from 2 million pounds to 250,000 pounds, based on recent landings.  Measures in Amendment 20A aim to make the necessary changes to the existing ITQ program so the fishery can continue to operate within the new ACL.

     Public hearings are tentatively scheduled as follows: November 14, Savannah, GA and N. Myrtle Beach, SC; November 15, Jacksonville, FL and Charleston, SC; November 16, Cape Canaveral, FL; November 17, Key Largo, FL and a final hearing will be held as part of the Council’s December meeting in Raleigh, NC on December 6, 2011.  Details regarding the public hearings will be publicized as they become available.

Other Measures 
     The Council reviewed updated information regarding allocations between commercial and recreational sectors for species in the snapper grouper management complex as included in the Comprehensive Annual Catch Limit Amendment.  Values for the allocations were corrected from the previously approved version of the amendment, and the Council approved the updated amendment in a split vote of 7 to 4 for submission to the Secretary of Commerce.   The amendment meets the statutory deadline to establish ACLs and AMs for all species managed by the Council by the end of 2011.    

     Council members elected David Cupka for a second term as Council chairman and Ben Hartig of Hobe Sound, FL as the new Council vice-chair.  Chairman Cupka, an at-large member from Charleston, SC also served as the representative for the SC Department of Natural Resource’s Marine Resources Division before his retirement.  Ben Hartig, a commercial fisherman with a marine science background, previously served on the Council from 1993-1999 and was appointed chairman during that time. 

     The next meeting of the South Atlantic Fishery Management Council is scheduled for December 5-9, 2011 in Raleigh, NC.  Details for the meeting and meeting materials will be posted on the Council’s website as they become available.


Council Approves Amendments for November Public Hearings