(NEWSLETTER - Winter 2019)
As I was writing this issue’s column, the government closure continued. The regional fishery management council offices remained open and our staff continued to work. However, many of our federal partners, including those at NOAA Fisheries’ Southeastern Regional Office in St. Petersburg and the Southeast Fishery Science Centers in Miami and Beaufort, NC, had been furloughed since December 22, 2018, making it very difficult if not impossible to move forward with many fishery management needs. Here are a few of the impacts affecting us at the regional level thus far:
- Interdisciplinary Plan Teams (IPT) work – IPTs are comprised of Council and NOAA Fisheries staff and prepare documents/analyses for fishery management plans and amendments. All IPT conference calls were postponed as our federal partners were not allowed to work. As a result, we expect most if not all our amendments to be delayed by at least 2-3 months or more.
- Scientific and Statistical Committee – NOAA Fisheries scientists were unable to participate in a scheduled meeting (via webinar) on January 25th. As a result, the meeting was postponed. The SSC was to review updated stock assessments that may provide some increase in catches for fishermen.
- Southeast Data and Assessment Review (SEDAR) – stock assessments:
- Webinars in January for cobia, red grouper, and red porgy – postponed
- Atlantic Cobia Data Workshop (1/14-18) and South Atlantic Red Porgy Assessment Workshop (2/2-7) – postponed. These two species are part of a multi-species commercial and recreational fishery that contribute to a $21 billion industry and support 113,000 jobs.
- Strategic Planning Workshop for the Southeast Region (1/22-25) – postponed. The Southeast Fisheries Science Center and Southeast Regional Office were meeting to jointly develop a strategic plan for the region and improve collaborations as we move toward improving science advice. The Southeast is arguably the most complex (with respect to fisheries) in the nation.Developing a joint strategic plan and improving efficiency is critical to improving services in the region.
- Amendments Under Review –
- Snapper Grouper Abbreviated Framework 2, currently under Secretarial Review, would increase the commercial vermilion snapper Annual Catch Limit (ACL) by 210,800 pounds (whole weight) and the recreational ACL by 99,200 pounds (ww). Implementation of these increases will be delayed.
- The Final Rule implementing electronic reporting requirements for federally permitted charter vessels will be delayed, which will delay improvements to recreational catch data.
- Permits – There were significant consequences as personnel at the NOAA Fisheries Permit Office remained furloughed and federal permits continued to expire. Many commercial fishermen and federal for-hire permit holders contacted the Council office to determine if anything could be done to allow them to renew their permits, which is critical to their ability to fish and make a living. NOAA Fisheries was aware of the problem and is now working to rectify these issues.
- Quota Tracking – Quotas were still being monitored during the closure and NOAA Fisheries prepared closure notices as quotas were met.
- Impacts on 2020 – The delays in all SEDAR stock assessments and related activities will delay results scheduled for presentation to the Council during its December 2019 meeting. Of much greater concern is how far into 2020 assessments may be delayed and how much lost revenue to both the commercial and recreational sectors will result.
- March 4-8, 2019 Council meeting – The South Atlantic Council meeting will take place as scheduled.
We here at the Council office are the lucky ones. Many others, including our federal fishery partners, remained furloughed or continued to work without pay during the longest government shutdown in history. We ask that you, our constituents, remain patient with our office and with those that have returned to a backlog of work. And that you continue to support those that worked without pay, including the men and women of the USCG, and do your part to help conserve marine resources.