by Gulf Council Staff and Ed Lallo/Gulf Seafood News Editor
The Gulf of Mexico Fishery Management Council recently met in Orange Beach, AL, home to miles and miles of sugar-white sand beaches, as well the largest charter-for-hire recreational fishing fleet in the U.S. equipped with electronic data collection, to discuss numerous fishery issues, including electronic reporting for for-hire vessels, regional management for recreational red snapper, and the shrimp permit moratorium.
Regional Management of Recreational Red Snapper, or Reef Fish Amendment 39, was at the top of the agenda for the 17 voting members of the Council which is comprised of the directors of the five Gulf state marine resource management agencies, or their designees, and 11 members nominated by the state governors and appointed by the Secretary of Commerce. Amendment 39 would affect recreational fishing for red snapper in federal and state waters.
Amendment 39 was developed to divide the recreational red snapper quota among regions to allow region-specific management measures. After reviewing the Amendment and public hearing summaries, the Gulf states’ marine resource directors rejected the amendment leading the Council to postpone further discussion while they explore other options for recreational red snapper management.
Both charter-for-hire and commercial representatives sitting on the Council fought for the private recreational sector to establish a management plans to no avail.
“It is sad to see the five Gulf State directors fail to reach an agreement with each other and foster a real solution for private recreational anglers,” said Gulf Seafood Institute (GSI) member Captain Troy Frady of Distraction Charters in Orange Beach. “If this amendment had not been abandoned, it would have created a path to provide much needed relief for private recreational angler’s short federal fishing season. Now, there is nothing meaningful in the works that is being done for recreational fishermen.”
Commercial fisherman and GSI Florida Board member David Krebs, president of Ariel Seafood, said that he also was disappointed in the Council and that the recreational representatives did not pursue working on the amendment to protect the recreational interests.
“We are once again seeing an assault on the commercial IFQ’s (Individual Fishing Quotas) filled with lies and mistruths,” he said. We are hoping the Council will appoint a recreational advisory panel to work through the details to give recreational fishermen some relief in flexibility and sustainability.”
According to GSI member Captain Mike Colby of Double Hook Charters in Clearwater Beach, Fl, the Council’s inaction has guaranteed private recreational anglers a limited red snapper fishing season. “With the state waters being extended to nine miles, the red snapper catches will come off the federal days,” he said. “Private boat owners will have even more limited fishing days in the Gulf because state directors cannot agree on a management plan.”
While disappointed in Council inaction on regional management, Colby sees the federally permitted charter-for-hire fleet’s new voluntary electronic data collection as a role model for the recreational industry. “The more than 220 federally permitted boats participating in the program will allow fishery managers to develop future options to guarantee increased access to fish for the federally permitted charter-for-hire customers,” he said.
Additional Council Actions
New Reef Fish Actions
The Council initiated a new amendment to examine extending or eliminating the sunset provision on sector separation created by Amendment 40 which created a separate fishery component for federally permitted charterboats and also established separate red snapper season closure provisions for the two components.
The Council also initiated work on two new reef fish framework actions. One would adjust the red grouper annual catch limit. The other would develop a mechanism to allow the recreational red snapper season to reopen in the event that the annual catch limit is not met during the regular season.
Reef Fish Amendment 43 – Hogfish
The Council reviewed a document proposing to set a management boundary between Gulf and South Atlantic hogfish stocks near the Cape Sable area of South Florida. The amendment also considers setting status determination criteria, revising the annual catch limit, and increasing the minimum size limit. The Council will review a public hearing draft of the document during its April, 2016 Council meeting. Public hearings will be held sometime after the April meeting.
Yellowtail Snapper Framework Action to Modify Gear Restrictions
This framework action addresses inconsistencies between the Gulf and South Atlantic Councils’ circle hook requirements for yellowtail snapper commercial fishing in Gulf waters and increases the operational efficiency of the commercial yellowtail snapper fishery. The Council added a new action to the document that modifies the fishing year for Gulf yellowtail snapper. The Council chose alternatives establish commercial and recreational seasons of August 1 – July 31.
Two public hearings were also scheduled: Key West March 1, 2016, and Sarasota March 2, 2016.
Reef Fish Amendment 36 – Red Snapper IFQ Modifications
The Gulf Council reviewed potential management actions and decided to divide Amendment 36 into two Amendments in an effort to expedite items that can be addressed quickly.
Amendment 36A will include actions related to the enforcement of commercial reef fish trips, inactive shareholder accounts, and mid-year quota changes and could apply to both the red snapper and grouper/tilefish IFQ programs. Amendment 36B will address issues such as eligibility requirements, caps on the use or possession of IFQ shares and allocation, and other issues.
Reef Fish Amendments 41 and 42
The Council heard summaries of the scoping meetings and public comments for Amendments 41 and 42, two distinct amendments addressing management of red snapper for the charter vessel fishery (Reef Fish Amendment 41) and the management of reef fish for headboats (Reef Fish Amendment 42). Amendment 41 would develop a flexible management approach for federally permitted charter vessels and Amendment 42 would establish a management program for federally permitted headboats participating in the Southeast Region Headboat Survey.
“Amendment 41 needs to move forward without the tiring delays that seem to plague the Council process,” said Louisiana GSI member Captain Steve Tomney of Steve Tomney Charters in Houma. “We have had a good start with the charter advisory panel and I hope to see continued progress with a fair and equitable plan that will serve federally permitted charter operators across the entire Gulf. Let the federally permitted charter operators run with the process.”
Both Amendments are aimed at providing flexibility, reducing management uncertainty and improving economic conditions for operators and their clients.
The Council reviewed a proposed amendment to modify the frequency and method of reporting for charter and headboats fishing for reef fish and coastal migratory pelagics in the Gulf of Mexico. After reviewing public comments on the amendment, the Council decided to postpone taking final action. Instead, it requested that the Southeast Fishery Science Center develop a flowchart illustrating alternatives for implementing electronic reporting in the federally permitted for-hire component.
“Anything that slows down real-time electronic data collection is going in the wrong direction,” said GSI President Harlon Pearce, the former Chairman of the Gulf Council’s Data Collection Committee. “I understand the concerns, but this is too important for the future of Gulf fisheries. Every postponement sets back fishermen’s access to accurate data.”
Alternatives will be presented to the Council during its April 2016 Council meeting.
The Gulf Council took final action on Shrimp Amendment 17A to extend the shrimp permit moratorium for ten years and maintain the endorsement requirement for royal red shrimp.
Amendment 17A will be transmitted to the Secretary of Commerce for review and implementation.
Coastal Migratory Pelagics (Mackerel)
The Council reviewed and chose preferred alternatives for a public hearing draft of Amendment 26, which considers making modifications to allocations, stock boundaries, and sale provisions of king mackerel. Public hearings will be held February 22, 2016 – March 3, 2016. The Council is expected to take final action during the April Council meeting.
The Council also decided to start a framework action to remove the prohibition on retaining the recreational king mackerel bag limit on vessels with a commercial king mackerel permits or dually permitted charter vessels, when the king mackerel commercial season is closed but while the king mackerel recreational season is open.