On August 30, 2022, the American Sportfishing Association (ASA) announced fishing updates from the Gulf of Mexico Fishery Management Council. The council meets regularly throughout the year, and a variety of different fish were the focus of this sessions work.
The Council review advice from scientific advisors and recorded final actions toward modifying red snapper catch limits. If approved, the overall annual catch limit for the red snapper fishery would increase slightly from 15.1 to about 16.3 million pounds starting in 2023. The overfishing limit (OFL) would decrease compared to a previous proposal by the Council which is waiting for approval by the Secretary of Commerce. Additional information can be found on ASA’s blog at “New Issues Facing Gulf Red Snapper.”
Alternatives on setting catch limits for the overfished greater amberjack were discussed. The fishery is facing important catch limit reductions, and ASA supports Action 1, Alternative 3, which would make the cuts necessary to rebuild the fishery. Converting sector allocations to the same “currency” that will be used as the basis for catch limits moving forward and is now considered best available science. Public hearings will be held before the Council is scheduled to take final action at its October meeting.
The Council directed staff to develop an options paper to examine the potential for sector separation for gag grouper, red grouper, greater amberjack, and gray triggerfish. The reason for the sector separation is to split the recreational quotas for these species into separate recreational and federal for-hire components. That new structure would be similar to that used for the Gulf red snapper.
The Council used Florida’s State Reef Fish Survey (SRFS) data for assessment and management of gag grouper moving forward. SRFS provides more accurate, timely, and precise recreational catch and effort data on gag grouper as well as on 12 other reef fish in Florida. Because gag grouper is primarily a Florida fishery with a large recreational component, using SRFS to inform assessment and management is critically important as SRFS will now be used to set quotas and management for the fishery.
Recent research indicates that the gag grouper is overfished, leading to reduced catch limits and shorter seasons for the next few years. Relatively fewer male fish are noted, leading ASA to support measures that protect male gag grouper. Currently the Council is considering a closure of the commercial fishing season which occurs during spawning season. The recreational fishery is already closed during the spawning season and a pending interim rule would shorten the recreational season to September 1 through November 10.
Florida Keys National Marine Sanctuary (FKNMS)
NOAA recently released a draft rule to expand the boundaries of the FKNMS. The draft would add new protected areas, and make numerous other changes to regulations in the FKNMS. Part of the FKNMS occurs in the Council’s jurisdiction of Gulf federal waters, so the Council will provide comments on how the rule affects fishing in the Gulf portion of the FKNMS.
NOAA Highly Migratory Species Division staff attended the Council meeting to listen to fishermen’s concerns about shark depredation. An update of several shark species in the Gulf of Mexico indicates that shark populations in the Gulf of Mexico are generally improving.
The American Sportfishing Association is the sportfishing industry’s nonprofit trade association. Their goal is to safeguard and promote enduring economic, conservation, and social values of recreational fishing for all Americans. For more information, visit the American Sportfishing Association at asafishing.org.