Remove minimum number of days requirement, open commercial season May 1st
(NEWSLETTER - Fall 2019)
What is the best way to handle a very limited annual catch limit for red snapper each year as the stock continues to rebuild? This question has been challenging fishery managers since 2010, when a red snapper stock assessment showed the stock was in trouble and measures were put into place to end overfishing and begin rebuilding the stock. During its recent September meeting, the Council decided to move forward with actions in Regulatory Amendment 33 to eliminate the current three-day minimum number of fishing days required for the red snapper seasons (commercial or recreational) to open, and to change the start date of the commercial fishery to May 1st from the current 2nd Monday in July opening.
Council members are considering these actions to “increase socio-economic benefits while minimizing discard mortality. Note that the Council cannot increase the number of fishing days allowed and must abide by the established annual catch limits in place. The Council considered actions to revise the start date of the recreational fishery and the days of the week the fishery would be open, but after reviewing public comments and discussing options, they decided not to move forward with those two actions.
A Quick Look Back
To better understand the proposed changes, it is helpful to take a look back at red snapper management. It can get complicated, but generally speaking, since 2010 the Council has managed to avoid regulations to close off large areas to all snapper grouper fishing to end overfishing for red snapper. The closure was considered in 2010 to reduce regulatory discards but was averted through a stock assessment update. With additional amendments to the Snapper Grouper Fishery Management Plan and multiple emergency actions, the red snapper fishery has opened with limited harvest in 2012, 2013, 2014, and again in 2017, 2018, and 2019.
Beginning with the 2014 fishing season, the Council established consistent opening dates for the fishery through Amendment 28 (if NOAA Fisheries determined the fishery could open in a given year). Prior to that, the red snapper season openings had occurred during various months, sometimes through emergency action. During multiple public hearing and scoping meetings, fishermen and others involved in the fishery asked for consistency for when the season might open so they could plan their trips, data collection efforts, etc. in advance. They also wanted the Council to consider such factors as weather, hurricane seasons, accessibility to fishing days (e.g., summer vacations and weekends), and other factors. Amendment 28 established that the recreational season, which consists of weekends only (Fridays, Saturdays, and Sundays), would open on the second Friday in July. The commercial season would begin on the second Monday in July. If the projected commercial or recreational season was three days or less, then the commercial or recreational season would not open for that fishing year.
Public Input and Proposed Actions
The Council has expressed interest in having a periodic review of how limited openings are working for the red snapper fishery and offering the public the opportunity to provide feedback. Public hearings were held in August 2019 via webinar with listening stations in various locations. While the comments were highly varied, almost all fishermen expressed frustration at not having the option to get more fishing days, a request that cannot be addressed by the Council until a new stock assessment is completed. A new stock assessment for red snapper is scheduled for completion in 2023.
After considering input from the public hearings and comments received during the September meeting, the Council decided to move forward to eliminate the minimum number of days required to open the red snapper season to allow for additional flexibility. The Council is also moving forward with an action to move the start date of the commercial season from July to May 1st. Moving the start date of the commercial fishery to coincide with the opening of the shallow water grouper fishery on May 1stwould help reduce regulatory discards in the commercial shallow-water grouper fishery.
Note that the total annual catch limit of 42,510 fish for the red snapper fishery is currently allocated 28.07% to the commercial fishery and 71.93% to recreational fishermen. The allocations were set using an allocation formula based on historic and recent average landings. The commercial fishery has opened with relatively low trip limits (75 pounds in 2019) and closes once the commercial annual catch limit is predicted to be met.
The Council is scheduled to approve Regulatory Amendment 33 during the Dec. 2-6, 2019, meeting in Wilmington, NC. Additional public comment will be taken two weeks prior to the Council meeting online and also at the meeting.
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