Further Reductions in Red Porgy Harvest Anticipated [Fall 2020]

Recent red porgy assessment shows stock remains overfished

and undergoing overfishing

[Fall 2020 South Atlantic Update Newsletter]

Few fishermen heading offshore have ever said with excitement ‘I’m going Red Porgy fishing today!’, yet there are days when a few Red Porgy can add to the success of a bottom fishing trip. Also known as pink or silver snapper, or pink porgy, they are often caught when fishing for Vermilion Snapper, Gray Triggerfish and groupers. Younger fish are found closer to shore at depths of around 60 feet with older fish moving further offshore to depths ranging from 90 to 350 feet or more. They are targeted by both commercial and recreational fishermen and are popular for their white flaky meat, although their shelf-life is considered limited.

Red Porgy, sometimes referred to as 'silver snapper', or 'pinkies', are added to stringers of snappers and groupers customers take back to shore from headboat trips.

For the past three decades the Red Porgy stock has presented challenges to fishery managers. Attempts to rebuild the stock have failed, despite reductions in the commercial trip limits, closing commercial harvest during the Red Porgy spawning season, and reductions in recreational bag limits. Harvest has even been prohibited in the past.

“In the 1980s this was the bread and butter fish,” said Randy McKinley, a member of the South Atlantic Fishery Management Council’s Snapper Grouper Advisory Panel and commercial fisherman from North Carolina. “We could always depend on 2-3 boxes of pinkies. This is a less expensive fish and we’ve fought hard to keep it on the market,” explained McKinley during a recent meeting of the advisory panel. “No one wants to see it closed.”

Based on the latest stock assessment for Red Porgy, both commercial and recreational fishermen are once again facing significant reductions in the number of fish that can be brought back to the dock. In June 2020 the Council received notification that the Red Porgy stock remains overfished and is undergoing overfishing. Ending overfishing will require a reduction of about 70% from average catches in recent years. Under the Magnuson Stevens Act, the Council has a statutory deadline of two years to implement a new rebuilding plan.

A single box of Red Porgy is offloaded at a commercial dock in Mt. Pleasant, SC. Despite reductions in commercial trip limits, seasonal closures, and recreational bag limits, the Red Porgy stock is not rebuilding.

The Council is considering a range of management options to end overfishing and rebuild the Red Porgy stock including reductions in commercial trip limits and recreational bag limits, closed seasons, and modifications to current allocations and accountability measures. These options are being considered through Amendment 50 to the Snapper Grouper Fishery Management Plan. The Council will consider recommendations from its Snapper Grouper Advisory Panel and public comment at its December meeting as it moves forward with options to take to public scoping in early 2021.

A History of Poor Recruitment

Red Porgy are found along the east coast of the U.S. from New York southward and in the Gulf of Mexico. They are protogynous, meaning fish transition from female to male once they reach a certain size. In the South Atlantic this occurs when fish are between thirteen to fifteen inches long. They are winter spawners, with the peak of the spawning season being December through March.

Management of Red Porgy dates back to 1991 when the stock was first found to be overfished and overfishing was occurring. A minimum size limit was established, and a 10-year rebuilding plan put into place. It would be the first of what would become multiple rebuilding plans for the stock. A 1999 assessment showed Red Porgy remained overfished and undergoing overfishing and the fishery was closed for a year through emergency action.

Figure 1. Estimated recruitment of age-1 fish. Horizontal dashed line indicates Rmsy (Source: SEDAR 60 2020).

Red Porgy was the first stock assessed through the Southeast Data, Assessment and Review (SEDAR) stock assessment process in 2002. The assessment determined the stock was overfished but not undergoing overfishing. An 18-year rebuilding plan was implemented for the Red Porgy stock and harvest reductions put into place. But subsequent updates in 2006 and 2012 showed the stock was not rebuilding, despite management efforts.

The Red Porgy stock has continued to show poor recruitment (the number of fish born in any given year) for over 20 years. Council members discussed the issue during their September 2020 meeting, recognizing the continued reduced spawning stock size as a factor in the low recruitment numbers, but also noting the need to consider other factors. “There are things going on in the environment and the ecosystem that are affecting the rebuilding of Red Porgy, and we really don’t know if those are going to turn around or change,” explained Dr. Roy Crabtree, Regional Administrator for NOAA Fisheries Southeast Regional Office and Council member. He noted the uncertainty associated with rebuilding the stock and the need to be cautionary in management decisions.

What’s Next

During its December 7-10, 2020 meeting, the Council will review the recommendations from the Snapper Grouper Advisory Panel and public comment, and is currently scheduled to approve Amendment 50 for public scoping meetings in January/February 2021. During those scoping meetings members of the public may provide input on options to consider.

Modifications will be made to the amendment as needed and public hearings are currently scheduled for Summer 2021. If the amendment is approved by the Council late next year, regulations could become effective in mid-2022.

Current Regulations for Red Porgy

 Commercial Trip Limits and Size Limits

  • Trip Limit:
    • Season 1: (January 1 – April 30): 60 fish
    • Season 2: (May 1 – December 31): 120 fish
  • Minimum Size Limit: 14-inches total length

 

Recreational Regulations

  • Season open year-round under an annual catch limit.
  • 3 fish per person/day or 3 fish per person/trip, whichever is more restrictive
  • Minimum Size Limit: 14-inches total length
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