South Atlantic Fishery Management Council

Council Approves Management Measures for Red Snapper, Gag, and Black Grouper During March Meeting

March 15, 2023

Members of the South Atlantic Fishery Management Council approved measures to reduce the annual catch limit for Red Snapper and help address release mortality for Red Snapper and other species managed as part of the snapper grouper complex. Snapper Grouper Regulatory Amendment 35 would reduce the total Annual Catch Limit from 42,510 fish to 28,000 fish once implemented. The catch limit reduction is required to address the overfishing status of the stock, primarily due to the continued high number of fish being released by recreational fishermen as the stock continues to rebuild. To help address release mortality, the amendment would limit recreational anglers fishing for snapper grouper species to one hook per line when using natural baits in federal waters in the South Atlantic. If approved by the Secretary of Commerce, the measures are expected to go into place later this year. NOAA Fisheries will make an announcement regarding the 2023 fishing seasons for Red Snapper prior to any opening in July.

Photo: NC Sea Grant

Approval of Regulatory Amendment 35 is part of the Council’s multi-step approach to address the management of red snapper and the entire snapper grouper fishery. A Management Strategy Evaluation (MSE) is being developed for the snapper grouper fishery, exploring various management tools in a holistic approach to management. The Council received a presentation on the development of the MSE during the meeting. In addition, the Council is moving forward with Snapper Grouper Amendment 46 to establish a private recreational permit for the South Atlantic snapper grouper fishery. Public scoping meetings were held earlier this year and the Council will continue to receive input from its advisory panels as the amendment is developed.

The Council also approved Snapper Grouper Amendment 53 to end overfishing for Gag grouper and establish a rebuilding plan. The Council considered public hearing comments before recommending the amendment for Secretarial approval. The amendment will modify annual catch limits and allocations for Gag and create a recreational vessel limit for both Gag and Black Grouper of 2 fish per day or two fish per trip, not to exceed the daily bag limit of 1 fish (either Gag or Black Grouper) per person per day, whichever is more restrictive. The amendment would also prohibit retention of Gag and Black Grouper by the captain and crew of federally permitted for-hire vessels. Black Grouper are included in the measures because of concerns over misidentification between Gag and Black Grouper by the recreational sector. The amendment would also reduce the commercial trip limit for Gag to 300 pounds gutted weight.

Captain Mark Phelps holds a juvenile gag grouper over green tinted water.
Photo: Captain Mark Phelps

Other Business

The Council expressed frustration with the ongoing lack of management advice for Atlantic Spanish Mackerel. NOAA Fisheries Southeast Fisheries Science Center informed the Council that additional assessment analyses requested by the Council’s Scientific and Statistical Committee would not be prepared, and that the SSC should base its catch level recommendations on the existing stock assessment. The Council stressed the importance of receiving catch level recommendations at their June 2023 meeting to move forward with management decisions. The Council’s Scientific and Statistical Committee will once again review the assessment during its upcoming meeting, April 18-20, 2023.

Based on recommendations from the Mackerel Cobia Advisory Panel, the Council is moving forward with plans to conduct port meetings for King and Spanish Mackerel to gain a comprehensive understanding of the fisheries to improve management efforts. The meetings will be open to the public and include opportunities for input from both commercial and recreational fishermen. The advisory panel will meet this spring to provide additional input and port meetings may be scheduled for later this year or early 2024.

Information about the March 2023 Council meeting, including final committee reports, public comments, and meeting materials is available from the March Council Meeting page. The next meeting of the Council is scheduled for June 12-16, 2023 in St. Augustine, Florida.