Options Narrowed to End Overfishing of Gag Grouper and Vermilion Snapper

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News Release  
September 24, 2007 CONTACT: Kim Iverson
Public Information Officer
(843) 571-4366

Options Narrowed to End Overfishing of Gag Grouper and Vermilion Snapper

Attendance high at scoping meetings, new assessment for vermilion snapper scheduled

September Meeting Summary Motions (PDF)

Nearly 100 fishermen attended the final in a series of public scoping meetings held by the South Atlantic Fishery Management Council last week in North Myrtle Beach, South Carolina. The scoping meeting, held in conjunction with the Council’s quarterly week-long meeting, was the last in a series of six meetings held along the South Atlantic coast in September. The Council solicited input from the public on measures needed to reduce the harvest of gag grouper and vermilion snapper in order to end overfishing for these species. In June 2007, stock assessments of these economically important species identified that overfishing was occurring. Fishermen face a 37% reduction in the harvest of gag and a 61% reduction in the harvest of vermilion snapper. By law, the Council has one year to end overfishing for these species.

In public scoping meetings and through written comments, fishermen expressed their concerns about the economic impacts of the proposed reductions and questioned the validity of data used in the stock assessments that determined the overfishing status. “We’ve been going in the right direction and we’ve seen improvements with the stocks,” said Chris Long, a commercial fisherman from Little River, South Carolina. “But these new cuts will put us out of business. It’s that simple.” Many of the other fishermen attending the scoping meetings, including charter captains and headboat operators, agreed.

After reviewing the comments received from the public scoping process and recommendations from the Snapper Grouper Advisory Panel, Council members approved a list of management alternatives to include in Amendment 16 to the Snapper Grouper Fishery Management Plan to achieve the necessary reductions. These include an option for establishing two management “regions”, one that includes North Carolina and South Carolina and another for Florida and Georgia. This regional approach acknowledges differences in the snapper grouper fishery for these two areas. Allocation alternatives between commercial and recreational sectors will also be included in the document. A public hearing document that includes economic, social, and biological impacts of the alternatives is expected to be approved by the Council during its December 3-7, 2007 meeting in Atlantic Beach, North Carolina. Public hearings for Amendment 16 are currently scheduled for early 2008.

In response to a request by the North Carolina Marine Fisheries Commission, Dr. Roy Crabtree, Regional Administrator for the National Marine Fisheries Service, also committed to conducting an age-based assessment of vermilion snapper for the South Atlantic region. The overfishing status of vermilion snapper was determined earlier by using length-based data. Using samples of ear bones from fish, known as otoliths, the age-based assessment is expected to be completed in time to provide NMFS the opportunity to review the assessment results prior to implementing any vermilion snapper regulations proposed by the Council. Fishermen spoke in support of the age-based assessment, hoping that it supports their observations of large quantities of larger vermilion snapper being reported by both commercial and recreational fishermen.

The Council also approved Amendments 15A and 15B to the Snapper Grouper Fishery Management Plan for public hearings. Amendment 15A addresses stock rebuilding alternatives for snowy grouper, black sea bass, and red porgy, while Amendment 15B includes actions to prohibit the sale of recreationally-caught fish, reduce effects on sea turtles and smalltooth sawfish if hooked, implement a plan to monitor and assess bycatch, address commercial permit renewal periods and transferability, and establish allocations for snowy grouper and red porgy. Public hearings for both amendments are scheduled for November 2007.

In other actions, George J. Geiger, an inshore charter captain from Sebastian, Florida was reappointed to serve a second consecutive year as Chairman of the South Atlantic Fishery Management Council. Duane Harris of St. Simon’s Island, Georgia has been reappointed to serve as Vice-Chair. Mr. Harris is retired as Director of the Georgia Department of Natural Resources, Coastal Resources Division.

The next meeting of the Council is scheduled for December 3-7, 2007 in Atlantic Beach, North Carolina.

Options Narrowed to End Overfishing of Gag Grouper and Vermilion Snapper