NEW ORLEANS, La., — The Gulf of Mexico Fishery Management Council is poised for a final vote on several electronic reporting amendments later this month, potentially ending a decades long discussion about how to acquire better data from for-hire fishing vessels.
Pending the Council’s approval, federally-permitted charter boat and head boat captains could be required to report every trip as it begins or ends, and possibly do so via permanently affixed electronic vessel monitoring systems (VMS) with software that captures vessel position and reported catch in real time.
“Whether electronic or not, what’s important is that it looks like we’re going to have a single, logbook program in the Gulf, and that’s very exciting,” said Capt. Mike Colby, a headboat operator and charter boat owner/operator out of Clearwater, Florida.
“A lot of us are really enthused that this will show which (charter) boat permits are participating, who’s catching what, and where the effort is coming from,” Colby said. “All of this is critical to successful management of the fishery.”
The current default system to estimate catch among the for-hire fleet is the Marine Recreational Information Program (MRIP), dockside intercept survey of landings and reported discards that is being supplanted by state operated surveys in Louisiana and Alabama. Charter boat effort is also calculated with a monthly phone sample of 10% of for-hire vessels operating in Florida, Alabama, and Mississippi. Louisiana generates weekly estimates of catch and effort through their Louisiana Creel program. Texas Parks and Wildlife Department (TPWD) conducts their own creel survey to estimate private and charter landings in Texas.
The Council is expected to vote in favor of increasing the reporting frequency to every trip – both headboats and charter boats – via electronic reporting before arriving at the dock.
“Electronic reporting is so easy that maybe everyone will participate and provide the necessary data to manage our fisheries best,” said David Krebs, a GSI board member who has reported electronically for years as a commercial boat captain.
Such action could end the wrestling match between science and assumptions that has befuddled Gulf resource managers for decades. The changes would put in place a structure for a reporting system that should exceed the accuracy, volume and timeliness of any previous effort in the Gulf.
“We’ve always known that more and better data will help guide better decisions on the annual catch limit, allocations, length of seasons, area closures, and other issues down the road,” said Bob Gill, a GSI board member who serves on numerous Council committees, including the Standing Scientific and Statistical Committee.
“It’s just taken a lot of people, a lot of collaboration and a long time to get there,” Gill said.
ELECTRONIC REPORTING REQUIREMENTS:
The Council is considering several options for better reporting. The first and current preferred alternative would require charter and headboat operators to use a NMFS-approved electronic device with archived GPS capabilities (a cell phone, VMS, or similar instrument) to record and later transmit specific vessel location information (latitude/longitude) along with required fisheries information prior to returning to the dock. The Technical Committee recommended this option.
The next alternative builds on this framework, allowing the use of a tablet or portable VMS device that could record location data and report in real-time. The device used under Alternative 3 would provide enhanced reporting flexibility and enhance safety at sea; however, this could also be more expensive.
The Council’s previous preferred alternative is to require the use of a VMS system that is permanently affixed to the vessel similar to the equipment used on commercial vessels in the Gulf. These units are the most expensive of the devices considered in this action, estimated between $10 million and $14 million to outfit all federally permitted vessels with equipment, hardware and software. However, it would provide the most robust and proven platform for at-sea reporting.
GSI supports this version calling for VMS. The organization has been piloting a $1.7 million data collection initiative with technology partner CLS America, Inc. This project enabled captains with newly installed satellite technology that wirelessly links to mobile devices onboard, allowing creation of a real time database with vessel effort and catch data. The pilot has attracted 230 private-vessel Captains across the Gulf.
AMENDMENT 29 – ALLOCATION SHARING OF COASTAL MIGRATORY PELAGICS
The slate also includes Amendment 29, which calls for temporary allocation sharing among the commercial and recreational sectors with respect to King Mackerel. Currently, the recreational sector in the Gulf has underfished its annual catch limit (ACL), currently 68%, while the commercial sector has either met or exceeded its 32% allocation of the stock ACL. The council has been exploring whether adjustments to the management plan could achieve optimum yield while still ensuring overfishing does not occur.
The Coastal Migratory Pelagics Advisory Panel (AP) recently recommended the Council abstain from reallocating any king mackerel allocation, instead proposing an increase for the Gulf recreational bag limit (from 2 to 3) as a way to increase the recreational harvest. The panel’s recommendation included waiting to see how that change benefits the issue.
“For now, the advisory panel recommended Council take no action on this proposal,” said Krebs, who sits on the Coastal Migratory Pelagics Advisory Panel. “The full recreational allowance has never been caught, so it’s been serving as a buffer.”
“The stock has been healthy under the current model, which means the historic limit has maybe been set arbitrarily high. It’s possible we could change the dynamics of the entire fishery if we catch all that’s allowed. The advisory panel said the king mackerel fishery is working, we don’t want to fool with it right now.”
IF YOU GO: Planned Council Business
The Gulf of Mexico Fishery Management Council will meet January 30 through February 2, 2017 at the Astor Crowne Plaza, 739 Canal Street in New Orleans. You can view the Agenda here and the more comprehensive Briefing Book here.
Committee meetings will run 8:30 a.m. Monday to 11 a.m. Wednesday. The full Council will convene Wednesday morning at 11:15 a.m. and run through 4:30 p.m. Thursday.
Public testimony is scheduled for Wednesday from 2:30 p.m. to 5:30 p.m.
The Gulf Council is comprised of 17 voting members who are collectively responsible for conservation and management of fish stocks in the Gulf. Eleven members are appointed by the Secretary of Commerce, one representative serves on behalf of each of the 5 Gulf states, plus the Southeast Regional Director of NMFS and 4 non-voting members. The Council’s decisions are rolled up to National Marine Fishery Services (NMFS) as recommendations to be signed into law.
“Council meetings are your best shot at moving the fishery to the place you want,” said Bob Gill, who serves on the Gulf Council’s Standing Scientific and Statistical Committee. “This is where the foundation work happens. The earlier you get your comments in, the more likely you are to see those elements carry through the long-term planning that sometimes are years long.”
The meetings are open to the public and are broadcast live over the internet; you can register for the webinar here. The Council will also host a Post Council Wrap-Up Webinar with a quick presentation and follow up questions from webinar attendees, beginning at 6:00 p.m., Wednesday, February 8. , You can register for the post-meeting webinar at this link.