Amendment 15A to the Snapper Grouper Fishery Management Plan (FMP) will determine long-term rebuilding plans for overfished stocks of snowy grouper, black sea bass, and red porgy. The Council is required by the Magnuson-Stevens Fishery Conservation and Management Act to develop the rebuilding plans.
The rebuilding plans specify the schedule or timeframe in which the stocks will be rebuilt as well as the management strategies used to recover the stocks. A rebuilding strategy gives managers the ability to establish an annual total allowable catch (TAC) based on the long-term plan for stock recovery. For example, the amendment outlines a rebuilding schedule for black sea bass of 10 years, beginning in 2006.
The rebuilding strategy maintains a constant catch throughout the rebuilding timeframe, with a TAC for 2009 set at 847,000 pounds whole weight. The TAC would remain in effect beyond 2009 until modified through the stock assessment process.
For snowy grouper, a much longer-lived species found in deeper waters, the Council has designated a rebuilding schedule of 34 years with a strategy to continue a 2009 TAC of 102,960 pounds whole weight.
A red porgy TAC of 395,281 pounds whole weight has been set for 2009 and 2010. The TAC can be adjusted as stock assessment data become available and the stock continues to rebuild. Amendment 15A will be submitted later this month to the Secretary of Commerce for final review and approval.
The Council held a series of 10 public hearings from Marathon, Florida to Manteo, North Carolina in November and early December to solicit input on Amendments 15A and 15B to the Snapper Grouper Fishery Management Plan.
While rebuilding plans were approved through Amendment 15A at the December meeting, the Council will continue to receive comments on Amendment 15B until January 11, 2008. The majority of comments received during public hearings involved actions in Amendment 15B, including those to address the sale of recreationally-caught snapper grouper species and allocations of snowy grouper and red porgy between recreational and commercial fishermen.
Opinions were divided regarding the issue of recreational sale, with some supporting the Council's preferred management alternative to eliminate the sale of recreational bag limits for snapper grouper species harvested from federal waters in the South Atlantic. However, comments were received from fishermen, primarily in North Carolina, that supported the ability to sell recreational bag limits without possession of a federal snapper grouper commercial permit in order to allow continued flexibility for area fishermen with a state commercial permit.
Amendment 15B also includes alternatives for the implementation of a plan to monitor and assess bycatch, measures to reduce the impacts of incidental take on sea turtles and smalltooth sawfish, permit renewal and transferability, and management reference points for golden tilefish. Copies of the Amendment 15B Public Hearing Document and details on how to comment can be found on the Council's web site at www.safmc.net.
Work continued on a list of management alternatives required to reduce harvest and end overfishing for vermilion snapper and gag grouper. Alternatives in Amendment 16 to the Snapper Grouper FMP include a gag spawning closure January – April that applies to both recreational and commercial sectors and to all shallow water groupers, a gag quota where harvest and possession of shallow water groupers is prohibited once the quota is met, two separate quotas for gag (one for the Carolinas and another for Georgia and Florida), and modifications to the gag and black grouper aggregate bag limit.
Management measures for vermilion snapper include seasonal closures, two commercial quotas occurring at two different times of the year, and adjustments to the size and bag limits. Additional alternatives include exclusion of the captain and crew on for-hire vessels from possession of the bag limit for shallow water groupers and vermilion snapper, and a requirement of dehooking tools, venting tools, and the use of circle hooks for both commercial and recreational sectors.
Allocation alternatives between commercial and recreational sectors are also included in the document. The Council is scheduled to approve Amendment 16 for public hearings during its March 2008 meeting.
The Council also approved a new approach to public scoping in 2008 that will involve a series of meetings offering the public an opportunity for informal discussion with Council staff and area Council members. Public scoping comments will be taken on the following issues: a Comprehensive Allocation Amendment, Snapper Grouper Amendment 17, Limited Access Privilege Programs, and allocation of the Atlantic commercial king mackerel quota.
The 2008 meetings will be held February 4th in Homestead, FL; February 5th in Port Canaveral, FL; February 6th in Brunswick, GA; February 7th in New Bern, NC; and February 20 in Charleston, SC. Additional information regarding the meetings will be publicized as they become available.
The next meeting of the Council is scheduled for March 3-7, 2008 in Jekyll Island, GA. For additional information regarding Council meetings, including briefing book materials and a summary of the motions from the December meeting, visit www.safmc.net or contact the Council office.