Public hearings scheduled in January for measures proposed for Red Snapper, Gag, and Black Grouper
After considering recommendations from its advisory panels, Scientific and Statistical Committee, and public input, the South Atlantic Fishery Management Council approved three amendments for Secretarial review during its December meeting at Wrightsville Beach, North Carolina. If approved by the Secretary of Commerce, measures proposed in the amendments would likely be implemented in 2023.
The Council approved Amendment 51 to the Snapper Grouper Fishery Management Plan to address Snowy Grouper management. The stock remains overfished and is experiencing overfishing, and a harvest reduction of approximately 43% is needed to achieve sustainable harvest levels and rebuild the stock. The amendment would adjust catch levels for both the commercial and recreational sectors, modify allocations, and implement management measures that include shortening the current recreational season (May 1 through August 31) to end June 30th. The current 1 fish per vessel per day possession limit would remain the same. Recreational accountability measures would also be modified.
Because the Golden Tilefish stock is not overfished nor undergoing overfishing, the Council has been working to allow a catch increase for the fishery. Snapper Grouper Amendment 52 will adjust catch levels for Golden Tilefish and also modify recreational measures for Blueline Tilefish. Recreational landings for Blueline Tilefish have exceeded the annual catch limit in recent years. The amendment would reduce the current bag limit from 3 fish to 2 fish per person per day, prohibit bag limit retention of Blueline Tilefish by captain and crew on federally permitted for-hire vessels, and modify the current accountability measures.
The Council also approved the Comprehensive Acceptable Biological Catch (ABC) Control Rule Amendment, outlining the method used to determine how much buffer (or reduction from the Overfishing Limit) is necessary to provide an acceptable risk of overfishing. The ABC control rule addresses uncertainty and risk in the management process. Risk specification is the responsibility of the Council and is based on the Council’s tolerance for overfishing occurring. Evaluating risk involves considering the characteristics of the species, the stock, and the fishery. Per the Magnuson-Stevens Act, the risk of overfishing can not exceed 50%.
Red Snapper and Snapper Grouper Regulatory Amendment 35
The Council continued work on Snapper Grouper Regulatory Amendment 35 and approved the amendment for public hearings. The draft amendment contains options to reduce the Annual Catch Limit (ACL) for Red Snapper as required to address overfishing.
The Council’s preferred alternative would set the total ACL equal to the Acceptable Biological Catch (ABC), which must be reduced from 42,510 fish to 28,000 fish following the last stock assessment. This alternative allows for some harvest as the stock continues to rebuild. The ABC was recommended by the Council’s Scientific and Statistical Committee following the 2021 stock assessment and may not be exceeded by the Council.
The amendment also includes an action to reduce release mortality for all snapper grouper species by restricting the recreational sector to the use of single hook rigs when targeting snapper grouper species. As the Red Snapper stock continues to rebuild, so do the number of released fish that die, driven primarily by the recreational sector targeting co-occurring snapper grouper species. Amendment 35 includes a comprehensive plan to expand outreach for best fishing practices, including continued promotion of descending devices. “This is not simply a Red Snapper issue, but a management challenge for the entire snapper grouper fishery,” explained Council Chair Dr. Carolyn Belcher. “The Council recognizes the frustration of anglers as Red Snapper harvest remains constricted, but we must get a handle on the release mortality occurring within the recreational fishery and are working through several avenues to do so.”
In addition to the regulatory actions in Regulatory Amendment 35, the Council is pursuing several courses of action to address release mortality in the snapper grouper fishery and end the overfishing of red snapper. The Council is developing a Management Strategy Evaluation (MSE) to provide a more holistic approach to evaluating snapper grouper fishery management options. An amendment to require recreational permits for the snapper grouper fishery is also in development. In addition, ongoing research to estimate the number of Red Snapper in the South Atlantic from North Carolina to south Florida may improve the information available to the Council for managing Red Snapper.
Public hearings for Snapper Grouper Regulatory Amendment 35 are scheduled for January 17-19, 2023 in Pooler, GA, Charleston, SC, and Morehead City, NC. Hearings will be held in Florida from January 24-26 with hearings planned in Jacksonville, Cocoa Beach, and Key Largo. An additional hearing via webinar will also be scheduled. Details will be available from the Council’s website at: https://safmc.net/public-hearings-and-scoping/ as they become available.
Amendment 53 – Gag and Black Grouper
The South Atlantic Gag stock is overfished and undergoing overfishing. Amendment 53 to the Snapper Grouper Fishery Management plan will establish a rebuilding plan for Gag, revise catch levels, and implement management measures to end overfishing and rebuild the stock. The amendment includes actions to reduce the commercial trip limit for Gag, establish a recreational vessel limit, and prohibit retention by captain and crew on federally permitted for-hire vessels. Recreational measures would also apply to Black Grouper to reduce misidentification issues.
The Council will hold two public hearings via webinar on January 10 and 11, 2023 for Snapper Grouper Amendment 53 and is scheduled to approve the amendment for Secretarial review during its March meeting.
Information about the December 2022 Council meeting, including final committee reports, public comments, and meeting materials is available from the Council’s website at: https://safmc.net/events/december-2022-council-meeting/. The next meeting of the Council is scheduled for March 6-10, 2023, in Jekyll Island, GA.
Photo credit for feature photo: NOAA Fisheries