Members of the South Atlantic Fishery Management Council wrapped up a busy meeting week in Jekyll Island, Georgia addressing federal fishery management issues and approving two amendments for review by the Secretary of Commerce. Amendment 34 to the Coastal Migratory Pelagics Fishery Management Plan in the Gulf of Mexico and Atlantic Region would increase annual catch limits for Atlantic migratory King Mackerel following the most recent stock assessment, with a total annual catch limit of 31,160,000 pounds beginning with the 2022-23 fishing year. Sector allocations would remain at 62.9% recreational and 37.1% commercial. The amendment would increase the recreational bag limit King Mackerel in federal waters off the east coast of Florida from 2 fish to 3 fish per person per day.
“The King Mackerel fishery along the Atlantic coast continues to be a success story,” said Mel Bell, Council Chair. “The bag limit increase was requested by fishermen and the Council’s Mackerel Cobia Advisory panel for consistency with federal regulations in the rest of the Gulf, South Atlantic, and Mid-Atlantic regions. In addition, recreational fishermen have not been meeting their annual catch limits and it is anticipated a higher bag limit may increase harvest,” explained Bell. Amendment 34 would also allow the retention of cut-off (damaged) Atlantic King Mackerel and Spanish Mackerel by recreational fishermen. The fish would still need to meet minimum size limits and must be damaged by natural predation. Current regulations require bag-limit fish to be landed with heads and fins intact. Fishermen have reported increasing interactions with sharks and barracuda and similar provisions for cut-off fish currently exist for the commercial mackerel fishery.
King and Spanish Mackerel are managed jointly by the Gulf of Mexico and South Atlantic Fishery Management Councils with a jurisdictional boundary established at the Dade/Monroe County line. The Gulf Council is expected to approve Amendment 34 for Secretarial Review during its April 2022 meeting.
The Red Porgy stock has been experiencing low recruitment for many years and management efforts to rebuild the stock have had limited success. The stock continues to be overfished and overfishing is occurring. The Council must end overfishing and implement a new rebuilding plan. Red Porgy are harvested incidentally with other snapper grouper species such as Vermilion Snapper and Gray Triggerfish by commercial fishermen and are not generally targeted recreationally.
Amendment 50 to the Snapper Grouper Fishery Management Plan will establish a new rebuilding plan for Red Porgy and catch levels based on recommendations from the Council’s Scientific and Statistical Committee. The amendment would reduce the commercial trip limit from 60 fish to 15 fish and the recreational bag limit from 3 fish to 1 fish per person per day, or 1 fish per person per trip, whichever is more restrictive. A recreational season would be established for Red Porgy, with harvest allowed May through June. The amendment also addresses allocations and recreational accountability measures. Amendment 50 was approved by the Council during its meeting this week. If approved by the Secretary of Commerce, management measures are anticipated to go into place in later this year.
Council members received an update from NOAA Fisheries on Red Snapper landings and were advised that NOAA Fisheries will make an announcement regarding the 2022 Red Snapper season in the South Atlantic at the end of May. Annually, if a season is allowed, the recreational season would open the second Friday in July and the commercial season the second Monday in July. The Council is developing Framework Amendment 35 to the Snapper Grouper Fishery Management Plan to reduce the number dead releases in the snapper grouper fishery and address Red Snapper catch levels based on the most recent recommendations by the Scientific and Statistical Committee.
After receiving recommendations from the Recreational Reporting Workgroup, the Council is considering options for private recreational Snapper Grouper permitting and reporting requirements. The Council will develop an Advisory Panel focused on this topic to assist with guidance during the development of the Private Recreational Permitting and Reporting Amendment (Snapper Grouper Amendment 46).
The Council continued to work on amendments affecting Gag, Snowy Grouper, golden Tilefish and Blueline Tilefish. An action to restrict spearfishing gear in the snapper grouper fishery relative to the rebuilding plan for Gag was removed from Amendment 53 after reviewing public comment and considering available data. The Council will get additional input from its Snapper Grouper Advisory Panel during its April 2022 meeting on management measures proposed in Snapper Grouper Amendments 51 (Snowy Grouper), 52 (golden Tilefish and Blueline Tilefish) and Amendment 53 addressing Gag.
The Council continued discussion of future management measures to consider for Dolphin through Regulatory Amendment 2 to the Dolphin Wahoo Fishery Management Plan for the Atlantic Region. The amendment includes options to extend the recreational 20” minimum size limit for Dolphin currently in place for federal waters (greater than 3 nautical miles) off the east coast of Florida, Georgia, and South Carolina northward, reduce the recreational daily bag limit of 10 fish per person, modify recreational vessel limits, and modify retention limits by captain and crew onboard charter vessels. The measures will be discussed again during the Council’s June meeting and public scoping will be scheduled at a later date.
The next meeting of the South Atlantic Fishery Management Council is scheduled for June 13-17, 2022, at the Marriott Beachside in Key West, Florida. Visit the following link for additional information on this week’s Council meeting.