October 2017 Gulf Council Update

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The Gulf of Mexico Fishery Management Council met in Biloxi, Mississippi, October 2-5, 2017. The Council welcomed new member Phil Dyskow (FL) and returning member Dr. Bob Shipp (AL) to the Council. In addition, Dr. Greg Stunz (TX) was sworn in for an additional 3-year term. The Council re-elected Leann Bosarge as Council Chair and Johnny Green as Council Vice Chair for the upcoming year. The following is a brief summary of the Council’s actions:

Stock Assessment Schedule
The Council discussed the South East Data Assessment and Review (SEDAR) schedule, and concerns it has with the process. The Council directed staff to research stock assessment procedures that could serve as an alternative to the current stock assessment process conducted through SEDAR.

Spiny Lobster
The Council reviewed a draft Options Paper for Spiny Lobster Amendment 13 which considers making federal regulations for commercial spiny lobster bully netting consistent with regulations recently adopted by the State of Florida and allowing Florida to directly submit proposed spiny lobster regulations to National Marine Fisheries Service without requiring Council action. The Council elected to add actions to the document to maintain consistency with Florida regulations that would consider adding a bag limit for commercial divers and bully netters; requiring degradable panels in commercial spiny lobster traps; and defining artificial habitats. The Council will revisit an updated draft of the document at a future meeting.

Coral/Habitat
The Council was presented with a Public Hearing Draft of Coral Amendment 9 which considers creating protections for 15 areas in the Gulf that are known to have an abundance of corals and/or coral diversity that makes them unique. The Council chose to move Actions that would incorporate octocorals into the Fishery Management Unit and establish management benchmarks to the ‘considered but rejected’ portion of the document. The Council selected to designate 23 new areas as Habitat Areas of Particular Concern; 15 of these areas were recommended to have associated fishing regulations.  One of the 15 areas recommended to have regulations is an expanded area of Pulley Ridge; the preferred alternative for Pulley Ridge would have bottom tending gear regulations, but would allow bottom-longlining in the expanded area. The Council also selected a preferred alternative that would prohibit dredging in all existing HAPCs that have fishing regulations. The Council plans to host a webinar and in person public hearings in the following locations before taking final action on this document:

• Brownsville, Texas
• Palacios, Texas
• Galveston/Houston (Clear Lake), Texas
• D’Iberville/Biloxi, Mississippi
• Grand Isle, Louisiana
• Mobile, Alabama
• Madeira Beach, Florida
• Key West, Florida

Sea Turtle Release Gear and Protocol
The Council reviewed Amendment 49, which considers modifying the Sea Turtle Release Gear and Protocol for the Reef Fish Fishery. The Council expects to review a public hearing draft and select preferred alternatives at the January meeting. Since extensive outreach efforts have already been conducted on this issue, public hearings would be held via webinar and online in the spring of next year.

Descending Devices and Venting Tools
The Council looked at an options paper that considers ways to encourage or require venting tools or descending devices on vessels catching reef fish to reduce the mortality of fish that are released, while allowing anglers the flexibility to decide if and when it’s appropriate to use them. Rather than create an amendment, the Council decided to develop a policy statement supporting the use of descending devices or venting tools as needed on board vessels possessing reef fish. Additionally, the Council will develop an outreach program to promote their proper use.

Greater Amberjack Fishing Year and Recreational Season
In August, the Council revised the rebuilding plan for greater amberjack after learning that the stock continues to be overfished and experiencing overfishing.  The Council opted to close the 2018 recreational season at the beginning of the year while it worked to set a recreational season that best balances conservation and stakeholder use. At this meeting, the Council took final action on a Framework Amendment that modifies the recreational fishing year to begin on August 1 and run through July 31 of the following year. The Council also selected a fixed recreational closed season January 1 – April 30, June 1 – July 31, and November 1 – December 31. Meaning, the recreational amberjack fishing season will be open August – October and again in May with any quota closures occurring later in the fishing year rather than the calendar year. The Amendment will be transmitted to the Secretary of Commerce for approval and implementation.

Federal Charter For-Hire Management
After hearing a summary of the Ad-Hoc Red Snapper Charter For-Hire Advisory Panel meeting, the Council reviewed draft Amendment 41 which considers allocation based management approaches for federally permitted charter vessels. The Council’s current preferred alternative would establish a Permit Fishing Quota program that provides participants with shares and annual allocation. For the adaptive management process, the Council selected preferred alternatives that would establish cycles of increasing length and that would use progressively decreasing percentages for reclaiming shares.  The Council selected a preferred alternative that would redistribute reclaimed shares by category proportionally among all participants that harvested species in that category. The Council also supported preferred alternatives that would not allow the transfer of shares, but would allow the transfer of allocation. The Council decided to remove an action that considers harvest tags and to add actions that consider cost recovery for the maintenance of an allocation based management program and that consider quota adjustments. The Council expects to see an updated draft of this document at the January meeting.

Management for Headboat Survey Vessels
The Council heard a summary of the Ad-Hoc Reef Fish Headboat Advisory Panel meeting and examined a draft of Amendment 42, which considers reef fish management approaches for headboat survey vessels. The Council selected preferred alternatives that would require program participants to have a Landings History Vessel (LHV) endorsement. The endorsement would be required for participants to hold shares or allocation, both of which could be transferred. The Council also supported a preferred alternative that would create a share cap that would not allow a single person to hold more shares than the maximum percentage issued to the recipient of the largest shares during initial apportionment. The Council chose preferred alternatives that would apportion initial shares based on the year with the highest landings by vessel for each species during the most recent five years (2011-2015) and distribute those shares proportionally. The Council added alternatives that would consider allowing allocation to be transferred by surrendering it to a NMFS allocation bank for redistribution via lottery or action, and include options for redistribution of withheld annual allocation if the effective date of a final rule implementing a quota reduction has not occurred by a specific date. The Council will review another draft of this document at the January meeting.

State Management for Recreational Red Snapper
The Council reviewed a series of draft amendments that would enable the Gulf States to establish management programs for the recreational harvest of red snapper out to 200 nautical miles. The Council added an alternative for “full delegation” to the Alabama, Louisiana, and Mississippi amendments, which was already included in the Florida and Texas amendments. Staff will send letters to the five Gulf States requesting clarification as to what “full delegation” entails, for discussion at the January meeting. The Council will also receive recommendations from the Scientific and Statistical Committee on the allocation alternative that would use estimates of red snapper biomass off each state and the number of recreational trips.

About the Gulf of Mexico Fishery Management Council
The Gulf of Mexico Fishery Management Council is one of eight regional Fishery Management Councils established by the Fishery Conservation and Management Act of 1976. The Council prepares fishery management plans which are designed to manage fishery resources within the 200-mile limit of the Gulf of Mexico.

Submit comments and stay updated on fishery issues:
Check it out! Go to www.gulfcouncil.org and click on the thermometer in the middle of the page. From there you can read up on all the pending actions, watch the video presentations, read comments, and submit comments. All comments submitted through the online form are automatically posted on our web site for Council review. Other comments are manually posted every couple of days.

There is also a thermometer for each issue that lets you know where the Council is in the process for that particular amendment, whether it’s the scoping phase, final action, or implementation.