August 2019 Council Update


reef fish swimming
The Gulf of Mexico Fishery Management Council met in New Orleans, Louisiana, August 12-15, 2019.  The Council re-elected Dr. Tom Frazer as its Chair and Dale Diaz as its Vice Chair.  The following is a brief summary of the Council’s actions:
Recreational For-Hire Red Snapper Annual Catch Target Buffer
After hearing public comment, the Council took final action to reduce the buffer between the annual catch limit and the annual catch target for the federal for-hire component for red snapper to 9%.  Seasons are set based on the annual catch target and the buffer reduces the chances that the annual catch limit will be exceeded.  A previous framework action modified the buffer by reducing it from 20% to 9% for 2019 only.  Reducing the buffer for the for-hire component on a more permanent basis is expected to allow greater harvest while continuing to constrain landings to the annual catch limit.  The Council will submit this recommendation to the Secretary of Commerce for approval and implementation.
Gray Snapper
The Council took final action on Reef Fish Amendment 51, which considers establishing or revising gray snapper status determination criteria and modifying annual catch limits.  The Council chose alternatives that minimize buffers and are consistent with the idea that the gray snapper stock is quite resilient.
The Council established an 11% buffer between the Acceptable Biological Catch and Annual Catch Limit.  The resulting harvest levels are as follows:
OFL (mp ww)
ABC (mp ww)
ACL (mp ww)
The Council also set status determination criteria that define the thresholds where the stock is considered to be overfished or experiencing overfishing.  Based on the Council’s recommendations, the gray snapper maximum sustainable yield proxy will be set at a spawning potential ratio of 26%.  The maximum fishing mortality threshold will be set consistent with the maximum sustainable yield proxy.  The minimum stock size threshold will be set equal to 50% of the biomass at maximum sustainable yield and the optimum yield will be set at 90% of the fishing mortality at maximum sustainable yield.
The Council will submit these proposed changes to the Secretary of Commerce for approval and implementation.
Trip Limits on Multi-Day Federal For-Hire Trips
Anglers on federal for-hire trips may possess two daily bag limits of reef fish and king and Spanish mackerel if, among other things, the trip lasts longer than 24 hours, has two licensed captains onboard, and all anglers are in possession of a receipt showing the duration of the trip.  Currently, anglers on such trips may not possess their second daily bag limit until 24 hours have passed.  However, this is not how many operators have fished historically.  The Council reviewed a Framework Action that considers modifying the possession of the two-day bag limit.  The Council selected a preferred alternative that would allow the second daily bag limit to be possessed anytime during a trip that is greater than 30 hours in duration.  The Council’s Law Enforcement Technical Committee will look at this document before the Council takes final action at its October meeting.
Status Determination Criteria and Optimum yield for Reef Fish and Red Drum
The Council looked at a draft of Reef Fish Amendment 48/Red Drum Amendment 5, which aim to define, and in some cases modify, existing biological reference points for reef fish and red drum.  The Council must define a maximum sustainable yield, a maximum fishing mortality threshold, a minimum stock size threshold, and an optimum yield for all managed stocks.  These reference points are the basis for determining the health of each stock and are required under the Magnuson-Stevens Act and National Standard 1 guidelines.   The Council reviewed the actions and alternatives and plans to continue work on the document at its next meeting.
Modifications to Commercial Individual Fishing Quota Programs
The Council reviewed a draft of Reef Fish Amendment 36B, which considers modifying the commercial individual fishing quota (IFQ) programs with the intent of assisting small participants and new entrants to the IFQ programs, to reduce discards, and to increase access to shares for actively fishing and eligible commercial fishermen.
The Council decided to address actions that consider requiring a commercial reef fish permit to obtain or hold IFQ shares in a separate amendment.  This will allow the Council to expedite a decision on these actions while continuing to develop the remaining actions in the document.
The Council modified the alternatives that consider redistributing reclaimed shares held by NOAA. The Council also removed consideration of a NOAA-administered quota bank and instructed staff to explore the feasibility of establishing a non-NOAA run quota bank.  The Council expects to continue work on this amendment at its next meeting.
Recreational Greater Amberjack
The Council worked on a framework action that considers modifying recreational management measures for greater amberjack with the goal of allowing recreational harvest in both spring and fall.  Recent recreational management changes modified the fishing year so that the quota renews on August 1 instead of January 1.  The fishing season opens in the fall from August – October with the new quota, and then any remaining quota is used to open a May season in the following year. These changes went into effect in 2018, and the entire quota was harvested in the 2018 August – October season, with no May 2019 season.  The document includes options that consider changing the fishing year, bag limit, and modifications to the current season structure.
The Council added an alternative that would consider opening the season July 1 through September 30 and again May 1 through May 20th.  The Council also added an alternative that would reduce the possession limit on multi-day for-hire trips to 1 per person.  Finally, the Council decided to consider managing recreational amberjack with different zones across the Gulf.  The Council plans to continue work on this document at a future meeting.
Red Snapper Allocation
The Council briefly worked on a Draft of Amendment 52, which considers modifying the allocation of red snapper between the commercial and recreational sectors.   The Council decided to delay further work on the amendment until January 2020.  This delay will allow the Council’s Government Accountability Office report on allocation to be published, and the Marine Recreational Information Program data recalibration efforts to progress further before the Council continues work on the amendment.