Friday, November 5, 2010

Secretary of Commerce Approves Amendment 17A to End Overfishing of Red Snapper

The South Atlantic Fishery Management Council (SAFMC) received notification on October 27th that the Secretary of Commerce gave final approval to Amendment 17A to the Snapper Grouper Fishery Management Plan. The amendment action plans include:
  • Annual catch limit and accountability measures for red snapper in the South Atlantic
  • A rebuilding plan for red snapper
  • A prohibition on all harvest and possession of South Atlantic red snapper
  • An area closure off southern George and north/central Florida where fishing for all snapper grouper species will be prohibited, except when using spearfishing gear or black sea bass pots to fish for species other than red snapper
  • A requirement for circle hooks in the snapper grouper fishery north of 28 degrees N. latitude
  • A requirement for a program to monitor red snapper
According to the letter sent to the Council, "the final rule to implement Amendment 17A will likely publish in the Federal Register in the second-half of November". Until this final rule is published the actual date that the regulations will be implemented is unknown.
The measures currently in Amendment 17A are based on a 2008 stock assessment for red snapper conducted through the Southeast Data, Assessment, and Review (SEDAR) program. But a new stock assessment was recently completed for red snapper that includes updated information on red snapper. The assessment (known as SEDAR 24) will be reviewed by the Scientific and Statistical Committee in November before being presented to SAFMC in December, but preliminary results show the stock may be improving.  SEDAR 24 includes data through 2009 with significant additional age samples in the updated assessment. "While the red snapper stock remains overfished and overfishing continues, the three additional years of data and increased age sampling intensity, along with indications of a very good year class, and the impacts of the current regulations in place, have combined to show improvement in the stock," said John Carmichael, the SAFMC's Science and Statistics Program Manager and SEDAR program coordinator. Other modifications to the new assessment include some changes in the estimates of historical recreational catches, changes to estimates for bycatch mortality, and changes in fishery selectivity patterns. Both commercial and recreational fishermen participated in the 3-step series of workshops, including a week-long Data Workshop held in May, a series of webinars for the Assessment Workshop, and the Review Workshop held in mid-October.  
The SAFMC developed preliminary options for modifications to the area closure during its September meeting that would depend on the information in the new stock assessment. The options are being included in Regulatory Amendment 10 and will be reviewed again by SAFMC during its December meeting. The regulatory amendment process would allow SAFMC to expedite any changes more quickly through the management process.
For more information and other news, visit the SAFMC Fall 2010 newsletter, South Atlantic Update.