Federal Fishery Managers Approve Measures to Help Protect Corals

SAFMC logo South Atlantic Fishery Management Council  
News Release  
March 14, 2012 CONTACT: Kim Iverson
Public Information Officer
(843) 571-4366


Federal Fishery Managers Approve Measures to Help Protect Corals
     Management councils work with industry to develop area closures for spiny lobster trap

News Release (PDF)

Working jointly, both the South Atlantic Fishery Management Council and Gulf of Mexico Fishery Management Council have approved measures to help protect threatened corals from the impacts of spiny lobster traps used in the commercial fishery.  The South Atlantic Council gave its approval to Amendment 11 to the Spiny Lobster Fishery Management Plan during its meeting last week in Savannah, Georgia, following earlier approval of the amendment by the Gulf of Mexico Council.  If approved by the Secretary of Commerce, the joint amendment will create 60 area closures throughout the Florida Keys where the use of spiny lobster traps will be prohibited.  The closed areas will reduce the likelihood that traps would come in contact with threatened elkhorn and staghorn coral colonies if they are moved by storms.  The reef-building corals have experienced substantial declines since the 1980s. Scientists estimate that colonies have declined by 97% of their historic levels.
     The fishery management councils worked closely with the commercial lobster industry, the Florida Keys National Marine Sanctuary, Florida Fish and Wildlife Research Institute and other agencies when mapping and developing the proposed area closures.  The areas total nearly 6 square miles. The councils agreed to delay action requiring trap line markings for the spiny lobster fishery.  The markings would allow for identification of gear in the case of a possible interaction with protected species such as sea turtles and marine mammals.  The Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission is currently conducting research on the best way to mark the trap lines and the councils will continue to work with industry and scientists to implement management measures in the future.

Other Measures:
     The South Atlantic Council also approved measures to increase the Annual Catch Limit (ACL) for golden tilefish based on the 2011 stock assessment that shows the stock in good condition.  Regulatory Amendment 12 to the Snapper Grouper Fishery Management Plan would increase the commercial ACL from 282,189 pounds gutted weight to 541,295 pounds (gw).  The predominately deepwater commercial fishery was closed on February 17, 2012 after it was projected the ACL would be met.  If approved by the Secretary of Commerce, the regulatory amendment would allow for additional harvest of golden tilefish.  The Council has requested the season reopen in late August 2012 using the new ACL. 
     The Council also approved an emergency action requesting that NOAA Fisheries delay the opening of the commercial black sea bass fishery to allow for implementation of an endorsement program for the commercial pot fishery.  The fishing year for black sea bass begins June 1st for both commercial and recreational fishermen.  The Council has requested a delay in the commercial season until Amendment 18A to the Snapper Grouper Fishery Management Plan is in place, but no later than July 1, 2012.  The commercial fishery was closed last year after the ACL of 309,000 pounds was met within 6 weeks. The amendment is designed to help address the derby-style fishery, safety at sea issues, and tracking the ACL.  The recreational season for black sea bass will open June 1st as scheduled. 
     After reviewing public scoping comments received on several management options included in the Comprehensive Ecosystem-Based Amendment 3 (CEBA 3), the Council decided to move forward with three measures in the amendment: 1) expansion of existing Deepwater Coral Habitat Areas of Particular Concern; 2) the use of marine protected areas to help protect speckled hind and warsaw grouper, and 3) reporting and permit requirements for commercial and for-hire fishermen.  The Council’s intent is to have the amendment approved for submission to the Secretary of Commerce by the end of this year.  Other options in the scoping document, including an increase in the size limit for hogfish and gray triggerfish, a recreational tag program for deepwater species, and prohibitions on the use of powerhead gear by divers may be addressed at a later date.  Stock assessments for hogfish and gray triggerfish are scheduled in 2013.  The Council will seek input from its advisory panels and Scientific and Statistical Committee during the development of CEBA 3 and public hearings will be scheduled for August 2012. 

     The next meeting of the South Atlantic Fishery Management Council is scheduled for June 11-15, 2012 in Orlando, FL.  Details for the meeting and meeting materials will be posted on the Council’s website at safmc.net/cms 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.

Federal Fishery Managers Approve Measures to Help Protect Corals