The Gulf of Mexico Fishery Management Council took final action on Reef Fish Amendment 53: Red Grouper Allocations and Annual Catch Levels and Targets. The most recent red grouper stock assessment (SEDAR 61) included information through 2017 and showed that the biomass of spawning red grouper is lower than it has ever been. Additionally, the assessment used the new Marine Recreational Information Program’s calibrated Fishing Effort Survey (MRIP-FES) landings and effort estimates, which increased the estimates of recreational harvest.
The Council chose to revise the allocations between commercial and recreational fishing sectors by using the average adjusted MRIP-FES landings from 1986-2005. This results in a 59.3% commercial allocation and a 40.7% recreational allocation. The Council also chose to revise the red grouper overfishing limit, acceptable biological catch, and annual catch limits based on SEDAR 61.
The new catch limits appear higher than previous catch limits; however, they are effectively lower because they have been converted to the new MRIP-FES recreational data estimates. In the commercial sector, a lower annual catch limit will reduce the amount of allocation distributed for each share of red grouper individual fishing quota. The lower recreational annual catch limit is expected to shorten the fishing season, and once the amendment is implemented, a recreational in-season closure may occur.
The Council also decided to retain the current 5% commercial buffer between the commercial annual catch limit and annual catch target to allow for the continued use of gag-multiuse allocation in the Individual Fishing Quota Program. The Council chose to use the ACL/ACT Control Rule to create a 9% buffer between the recreational annual catch limit and annual catch target.
The resulting catch limits expressed in pounds gutted weight are:
Since completion of the stock assessment, anecdotal information indicates that the red grouper stock has grown since the 2017 (the last year of data incorporated in SEDAR 61). To investigate this further, the Council has requested an interim red grouper analysis that will incorporate more recent changes in the relative stock abundance into management advice. The Council will submit the proposed changes in Reef Fish Amendment 53 to the Secretary of Commerce for approval and implementation as soon as practicable.