Friday, September 12, 2014

Gulf Council addresses red snapper sector separation

The Gulf of Mexico Fishery Management Council recently met in Biloxi, MS to discuss a number of fishery issues, including recreational red snapper sector separation and accountability measures.

During the meeting, the Council reviewed recommendations made by its Red Snapper Advisory Panel. Council staff also presented public hearing and public comment summaries, along with a revised Reef Fish Amendment 40 – Sector Separation document for Council discussion.

The Reef Fish Amendment 40 divides the recreational red snapper sector into two distinct components – a private angling component and a for-hire component.

The Council, made up of state appointees and federal officials, had a lengthy discussion about sector separation, specifically Action 2 – Allocation of the Recreational Red Snapper Quota between the Components of the Recreational Sector.

The Council’s preferred alternative was originally Alternative 4, which would allocate the recreational red snapper quota based on average landings between 1996 and 2012. Federal for-hire and private angling allocations would be 47.1% and 52.9% respectively.

Public Comment Heard
After hearing public comment, the Council decided to change its preferred alternative to Alternative 7, which would allocate the recreational red snapper quota based on 50% of the average percentages landed by each component between 1986 and 2013 and 50% of the average percentages landed by each component between 2006 and 2013. The year 2010 was excluded from the percentage averages due to the Gulf oil spill.

The new preferred alternative would result in a federal for-hire allocation of 44% and a private angling allocation of 56%.

The Council is expected to take final action on Amendment 40 during its October meeting in Mobile, Alabama.

In June, the Council initiated a temporary rule to establish a recreational red snapper annual catch target using a 20% buffer to the recreational quota, after a recent court ruling found that National Marine Fisheries Service did not have adequate accountability measures in place to keep the recreational harvest of red snapper within the quota.

During the Biloxi meeting, held at the Beau Rivage Resort and Casino, the Council permanently established the annual catch target and initiated an overage adjustment that deducts any overages from the recreational quota from the next year’s quota when red snapper is under a rebuilding plan. The Framework Action will be transmitted to the Secretary of Commerce for approval and implementation.

“I’d certainly like to see us figure out a better way to handle the red snapper issue in the recreational fishery,” said Roy Crabtree, Ph.D., the regional administrator of National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA) Fisheries Service’s Southeast Region Office overseeing Gulf fisheries. “We have other issues with the recreational fisheries beyond red snapper. We have to figure out how to operate under annual catch limits and how to apply those to the recreational fisheries.”

Council’s Other Issues
Amidst all its work on red snapper, the Council did find time to address other pressing issues facing Gulf species.

The Council reviewed a framework action it initiated after the National Marine Fisheries Service announced a 2014 in-season closure for red grouper. The closure is the result of the 2013 annual catch limit being exceeded. The framework action aims to reduce the likelihood of future in-season closures by reducing the bag limit and/or establishing a fixed recreational closed season during the year to prevent the season from closing early.

The Council also reviewed a scoping document that considers modifying the red drum closure in federal waters to give offshore access to recreational anglers. A greater amberjack stock assessment was recently reviewed by the Council’s Scientific and
Statistical Committee, who determined that greater amberjack was overfished and experiencing overfishing and that the stock did not meet the 10-year rebuilding plan that ended in 2012. In order to address this issue, the Council reviewed a draft framework action that considers modifying the greater amberjack allowable harvest and other management measures. The document contains three management actions: 
  • Modifications to annual catch limits and annual catch targets; 
  • Modifications to the recreational size limits and closed seasons; and 
  • Modifications to the commercial trip limit.
The Council also received an update on the referenda requirements for Amendment 36 – Red Snapper IFQ Modifications. A referendum is required if it wants to consider auctions for IFQ shares. It agreed to move forward with developing a scoping document for Amendment 36, excluding any auction alternatives.

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