Federal Fishery Managers Decide Against Requirement for VMS

SAFMC logo South Atlantic Fishery Management Council  
News Release  
June 17, 2013 CONTACT: Kim Iverson
Public Information Officer
(843) 571-4366



Federal Fishery Managers Decide Against Requirement for Vessel Monitoring Systems

 Council considers public comment before taking vote on VMS; approves several amendments for public hearings

News Release (Formatted PDF)    

     After considering public comment and recommendations from its advisory panels, the South Atlantic Fishery Management Council has decided not to move forward with an amendment that would have required the use of Vessel Monitoring Systems (VMS) for vessels with a Federal Commercial Snapper Grouper Permit in the South Atlantic.  The decision was made during the Council’s quarterly meeting last week in Stuart, Florida.  The Council received over 300 written comments from the public on Amendment 30 to the Snapper Grouper Fishery Management Plan that proposed the use of the satellite-based systems to enhance enforcement capabilities and data collection.  The Council held a series of public hearings in April regarding the amendment and the majority of participants voiced strong opposition to the requirement.  Fishermen cited costs associated with VMS as a primary concern, including installation, maintenance, and monthly fees for service.  A federal fund is currently available to pay for the units, similar to an onboard computer, up to $3100.  Fishermen and others also cited concerns about being monitored while fishing, referring to the units as “ankle bracelets”, and questioned the need for VMS for data collection purposes.  The Council will continue to explore options to improve electronic data collection.
Amendments Approved for Public Hearing
     The Council also continued to review a broad range of management measures and approved six draft amendments for public hearings to be held August 5–15, 2013.  The hearings will be held from New Bern, North Carolina to Key Largo, Florida and the specific dates and locations will be announced once they are finalized.
Regulatory Amendment 14 to the Snapper Grouper Fishery Management Plan - The draft regulatory amendment addresses proposed changes for species within the snapper grouper management complex including greater amberjack, gag grouper, vermilion snapper, and black sea bass. The Council chose preferred management alternatives including establishing a January 1 through December 31 fishing year for greater amberjack, reducing the commercial trip limit for gag from 1,000 pounds to 300 pounds (gutted weight) after 75% of the commercial Annual Catch Limit (ACL) is landed, and modifying recreational accountability measures for vermilion snapper.  Measures in the draft amendment proposed for black sea bass include changing the beginning of the recreational fishing year from June 1st to April 1st and modifying recreational accountability measures.  The Council is also requesting NOAA Fisheries announce the start and end dates of the recreational black sea bass season each year based on the available annual catch limit.  Management alternatives for the commercial fishery include changing the fishing year from June 1st to January 1st.  Commercial harvest would be allowed with hook-and-line gear under a reduced trip limit beginning in January and the pot fishery would open on May 1st.  The Council also removed items for consideration in draft Regulatory Amendment 14 including changes to the minimum size limit for hogfish, measurement techniques for gray triggerfish for consistency between state and federal regulations, and modifications to the current aggregate grouper bag limit of 3 per person per day. 
Amendment 5 to the Dolphin Wahoo Fishery Management Plan – The draft amendment includes minor revisions to the acceptable biological catch, annual catch limits, and other management parameters for dolphin and wahoo to incorporate updates to the Marine Recreational Information Program.  Additionally, the amendment includes measures for revising the framework procedure for dolphin and wahoo, and establishment of commercial trip limits for dolphin.
Amendments 19, 20 and Framework to the Coastal Migratory Pelagics Fishery Management Plan – Three draft amendments affecting fisheries for king mackerel, Spanish mackerel and cobia are being developed jointly by the South Atlantic Fishery Management Council and the Gulf of Mexico Fishery Management Council.  Issues include: the sale of bag limit king mackerel and Spanish mackerel (including tournament sale of king mackerel); elimination of inactive king mackerel permits; modifications to income requirements for federal permits; transit provisions; annual catch limits and targets for cobia; transfer at sea and gillnet allowances for Spanish mackerel; trip limits for king mackerel; and consideration of regional annual catch limits for king mackerel and Spanish mackerel.
Amendment 8 to the Coral Fishery Management Plan – The amendment includes alternatives for expanding protection of of Deepwater Coral Habitat Areas of Particular Concern (HAPCs) and transit provisions through the Oculina Bank HAPC located off the central east coast of Florida.
Red Snapper
     In January 2013, the Council submitted measures to the Secretary of Commerce in Amendment 28 to the Snapper Grouper Fishery Management Plan to address methods for specifying an Annual Catch Limit for red snapper and criteria for commercial and recreational red snapper fishing seasons based on the available ACL.  The Council received word during last week’s meeting that the amendment has been approved by the Secretary.  The Council has requested that NOAA Fisheries provide projections for the annual red snapper season each year in March to help predict the opening in a timely manner, and the amendment standardizes opening dates for both commercial and recreational seasons if ACLs allow for an opening.
     During last week’s meeting, NOAA Fisheries’ Southeast Fisheries Science Center provided the Council with an update on the calculations used for establishing the ACL for red snapper for 2013 and provided estimates for how long the recreational and commercial mini-season seasons may last this year. According to NOAA Fisheries, the recreational season could last from 3 to 6.8 days depending on the catch rate.  The commercial season was estimated to last as much as 49 days under a 75-pound trip limit.  The final decision regarding the opening of the season for 2013 will be determined by NOAA Fisheries and announced prior to any opening.   
     The next meeting of the South Atlantic Fishery Management Council is scheduled for September 16-20, 2013 in Charleston, SC.  Details for the meeting and meeting materials will be posted as they become available.