Members of the South Atlantic Fishery Management Council concluded their week-long meeting in Beaufort, North Carolina after addressing a broad range of federal fisheries management issues. Janet Coit, Assistant Administrator for NOAA Fisheries attended a portion of the meeting and addressed the Council. She recognized the Council’s and NOAA Fisheries’ regional efforts in supporting management and science, including the Council’s Citizen Science Program, and highlighted national fisheries issues.
After a thorough review and much discussion, the Council rescinded its March 2023 approval to submit Snapper Grouper Regulatory Amendment 35. The amendment has been developed to address overfishing for Red Snapper, reduce the number of fish that are caught and released, and reduce mortality of released fish. The Council will continue work on the amendment and further explore actions to reduce release mortality while maintaining access to the overall snapper grouper fishery. The Council acknowledged that while the Red Snapper stock is deemed to be overfished and undergoing overfishing, taking additional time to work on the regulatory amendment poses little risk to the stock as it is rebuilding faster than expected and exhibiting strong recruitment, increasing abundance, and an expanding age structure.
“Implementation of the Acceptable Biological Catch specified in Regulatory Amendment 35 would reduce access to a Red Snapper stock that is at high level of abundance,” explained Council member Spud Woodward. He noted fishermen, including members of the Snapper Grouper Advisory Panel, continue to be frustrated by the increasing numbers of Red Snapper they encounter. “The reductions proposed in Reg 35 would further erode stakeholder confidence in and support of the federal fishery management process.
The Council continues work on a holistic approach for managing the snapper grouper fishery via a management strategy evaluation and expanding outreach for best fishing practices. NOAA Fisheries is also currently considering project proposals to evaluate actions that could reduce recreational discards of Red Snapper in the South Atlantic. Work also continues via the South Atlantic Red Snapper Research Program to better improve understanding of the South Atlantic Red Snapper stock.
Private Recreational Snapper Grouper Federal Permit
The Council is considering a private recreational permit for the snapper grouper fishery through Amendment 46. The Council reviewed input from its advisory panels and created a Private Recreational Angler Ad-Hoc Advisory Panel to provide further stakeholder input on permit and education program alternatives. The Council chose preferred alternatives that would apply permit requirements to individuals as opposed to a vessel, and would require a permit to fish for all species in the snapper grouper management complex. The Council will receive additional input from its advisory panels at upcoming meetings and public hearings will be scheduled for later in 2024.
Federal For-Hire Limited Entry
The Council approved initiating an amendment to consider limited entry for the for-hire components of the snapper grouper, coastal migratory pelagics, and dolphin wahoo fisheries. Limited entry has been discussed before by both the Council and its advisory panels as a way to improve the for-hire fishery. To prevent speculative entry into the fishery, the Council established a control date of December 8, 2023 that it may use to determine eligible fishery participants. Additionally, the Council stipulated that federal for-hire permit holders who have not reported catch through the mandatory SEFHIER reporting program prior to December 5, 2023 will not be assured of future access should limited entry be implemented. “Fishermen have had two years to comply with these reporting requirements,” said Andy Strelcheck, Regional Administrator for NOAA Fisheries. “These measures are needed to improve the data being reported through the program.”
Mackerel Port Meetings – The Council approved the 2024 schedule to hold a series of port meetings along the Atlantic coast from New England to south Florida to gather input on the King Mackerel and Spanish Mackerel fisheries. The Council reviewed topics to include for discussion, including the sale of tournament-caught King Mackerel and commercial harvest in state waters after the federal season closes. Work on Framework Amendment 13 to address catch levels and recreational accountability measures for Spanish Mackerel will continue following the 2024 port meetings.
Citizen Science – Research priorities were updated for the Citizen Science Program. The Council received an update on the SciFish mobile application for collecting citizen science data and beta testing of a shared platform to develop new projects within SciFish. The platform is scheduled to be online in the spring of 2024.
Dolphin Management Strategy Evaluation (MSE) – The Council received an update from NOAA Fisheries Southeast Fisheries Science Center with results expected to be available to the Council in mid-2025. The Council appointed members to a Dolphin MSE Stakeholder Workgroup during the meeting. The workgroup will help build the framework for operating models and provide advice on management objectives and procedures.
Coral Amendment 10 – The amendment to establish a Shrimp Fishery Access Area along the eastern boundary of the Oculina Bank Habitat Area of Particular Concern off the east coast of Florida will be addressed again by the Council during its June 2024 meeting.
Information from the December 4-8, 2023 Council meeting, including committee reports and reports from meetings of the Full Council, is available from the Council’s website here. The next meeting of the South Atlantic Fishery Management Council is scheduled for March 4-8, 2024 in Jekyll Island, Georgia.