Gulf of Mexico Federal Regulations Update

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Gulf of Mexico Federal Regulations Update

Sector Allocations, Gag Grouper, Goliath Grouper, Amberjack

Sector Allocations
Council has decided to remove the sector allocation issue, most commonly referred to as sector separation, out of the generic ACL/AM amendment and put it in its own standalone amendment. The ALC/AM amendment is scheduled to be finished some time this summer, and removing sector allocation from its current amendment will allow for more thorough consideration of the issue. Placing sector allocation into its own amendment essentially starts the clock over on the issue, and the new amendment will be sent out to scoping and public hearings, and be analyzed thoroughly before any final commitments are made either way.

The results from the 2009 gag update assessment were presented to the council during the reef fish committee meeting. The re-run made a couple of changes to the 2009 update assessment that ultimately led to a slight increase in the perceived size of the gag stock in the Gulf of Mexico. Because of the stock size increase the Councils Scientific and Statistical Committee increased both the over fishing limit (OFL) and the acceptable biological catch (ABC) level for gag for 2011. The over fishing limit is threshold at which the most fish can be taken from a stock without compromising the stock’s ability to reproduce and maintain a balanced population size for the future. The acceptable biological catch is the amount of fish that can be removed from a stock and is set lower than the overfishing limit to account for scientific uncertainty and natural fluctuations in stock size. The acceptable biological catch for gag is then split between commercial and recreational sectors (commercial gets 39% and recreational gets 61%).
Here are the changes from the 2009 update assessment to the re-run:
2009 Update assessment Re-run
Over Fishing Limit 1.32 MP GW 1.67 MP GW
Acceptable Biological Catch 1.17 MP GW 1.58 MP GW

* MP GW = millions of pounds gutted weight

In addition, the scientific and statistical committee (SSC) suggested a stepwise increase in both the over fishing limit and the acceptable biological catch levels through 2015. The gag stock is overfished, and these numbers are consistent with the rebuilding plan that must rebuild the gag stock to a healthy size within 10 years. The scheduled increases are as follows:

2011 1.58 MP GW 1.67 MP GW
2012 2.02 MP GW 2.11 MP GW
2013 2.45 MP GW 2.54 MP GW
2014 2.82 MP GW 2.91 MP GW
2015 3.12 MP GW 3.19 MP GW

The reef fish committee also discussed the fate of the gag season for the remainder of 2011. Currently an interim rule prohibits the recreational possession of gag in federal waters through May 31st, 2011. The state of Florida did not limit the recreational harvest of gag along with the federal closure, and without compliance from Florida there is no option to allow for a gag fishing season in federal waters. The Council’s reef fish committee discussed some management options that would allow for a gag season opening in federal waters sometime this year and managed to recommend that staff develop a rule that the federal waters open to gag fishing from September 16st through November 15th, 2011. This recommendation is contingent upon both council support and compliance from the state of Florida who plans to meet later this month to discuss gag management options. This proposed interim rule will be discussed further at the April meeting of the Gulf of Mexico Fishery Management Council.

Goliath Grouper
Each fish stock that is considered for management by the Council must first undergo a benchmark stock assessment to determine the health of the fish population. This assessment of the fish stock is done by SEDAR process, which is essentially a gathering of all the experts on the species who analyze all of the scientific knowledge associated with that fish. The review of the Goliath SEDAR was inconclusive and scientists were unable to determine, with a reasonable level of confidence, the health of the goliath grouper population.

The Council’s Scientific and Statistical Committee reviewed the Goliath SEDAR and determined that although the stock seems to be increasing, the inconclusive stock assessment does not currently promote any consideration of management options that would allow for the harvest of goliath. The committee recommended that a workshop be convened to address the gaps and uncertainties in the assessment data sometime in the next 3-5 years. The State of Florida is currently considering some type of management plan that might open a limited goliath fishery in state waters.

Amberjack Seasonal Closure Reminder
In October of 2010 the Council selected to close the recreational greater amberjack season for the months of June and July. Current projections estimate that the 2011 quota will be reached by late August if no in-season closure is made. Council chose to have an in-season closure to avoid the early seasonal closure, and allow the amberjack season to extend further into the fall than projected. I want to make it clear that this is not limiting the number of amberjack fishing days for 2011, it is simply re-arranging the time of year that the fishing days are allowed. This change was made so that the closure of amberjack coincides with the opening of red snapper season, which essentially ensures that at least one offshore species can be targeted year round.

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