Regulations for spiny lobster, king and Spanish mackerel, and cobia determined at joint meetings
Members of the South Atlantic and Gulf of Mexico Fishery Management Councils came to the table recently in Key West, Florida to approve measures impacting species managed jointly by the two councils. The Councils approved Spiny Lobster Amendment 10 for submission to the Secretary of Commerce, establishing Annual Catch Limits (ACLs) and Accountability Measures (AMs) as required by the Magnuson-Stevens Act. Several changes were made during the joint committee meeting, based on input from the council’s Spiny Lobster Advisory Panels and testimony from the public received during public hearings held in April. Important changes include: increasing the Annual Catch Target to 6.6 million pounds (previously 6 million pounds); and delaying action on proposed closed areas for lobster trap fishing as well as new requirements to mark trap lines. Area closures and gear markings would help protect threatened Acropora corals and other protected resources. The protection measures, which are required by law for the lobster fishery, will be addressed in a later amendment. This will allow more time to work with the commercial industry and representatives from the Florida Keys National Marine Sanctuary in order to improve alternatives to better protect the corals.
The two councils moved forward with measures to establish ACLs and AMs for king mackerel, Spanish mackerel, and cobia through Amendment 18 to the Coastal Migratory Pelagics Fishery Management Plan. For Atlantic Migratory Group king mackerel, the amendment would establish an ACL of 10.46 million pounds, with a commercial quota of 3.88 million pounds, up slightly from the current 3.71 million pounds. A recreational ACL of 6.58 million pounds was established, allowing current size and bag limits to remain in place. However, for Spanish mackerel the proposed ACL of 5.69 million pounds represents a decrease in the current total allowable catch of 7.04 million pounds. The South Atlantic Council’s Scientific and Statistical Committee will review the numbers for Spanish mackerel in July. The amendment would also set an ACL of 1,571,399 million pounds for cobia and establish an allocation of 92% recreational and 8% commercial. The current bag limit of two fish per person per day would remain the same. Final approval of the amendment for submission to the Secretary of Commerce is scheduled for August.
South Atlantic Actions
The South Atlantic Council approved Comprehensive Ecosystem-Based Amendment 2 for submission to the Secretary of Commerce during its meeting this past week. The amendment covers a broad range of issues including octocoral management, modifications to sea turtle and smalltooth sawfish gear requirements for the commercial snapper grouper fishery, new regulations in special management zones (SMZs), and the designation of Essential Fish Habitat. If approved by the Secretary of Commerce, the amendment will transfer the new management of octocorals in both federal and state waters off the coast of Florida to the Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation
Commission. Octocorals provide habitat for many marine organisms and are popular in the aquarium trade. The amendment also restricts the harvest of snapper grouper species, mackerel, and cobia to the recreational bag limit in SMZs off the coast of South Carolina.
The Council also moved forward with Regulatory Amendment 11 to the Snapper Grouper Fishery Management Plan, choosing a preferred alternative to eliminate a current restriction on possession or harvest of some deepwater snapper grouper species in waters greater than 240 feet in depth. The regulation was implemented in January 2011 to help protect speckled hind and warsaw grouper. The Council chose the preferred alternative after considering public testimony on the economic impacts of the restriction along with new data indicating the closure may not effectively minimize bycatch. The Council will continue to explore options to help protect specked hind and warsaw grouper. The amendment is scheduled for final approval by the Council during its August 9, 2011 meeting.
Also on schedule for approval during the Council’s August meeting is the Comprehensive Annual Catch Limit Amendment. To meet the requirements of the Magnuson-Stevens Act, the amendment establishes ACLs and AMs for species not undergoing overfishing including snapper grouper complex species, dolphin, wahoo, and golden crab. Accountability measures could close a commercial fishery and/or shorten recreational fishing seasons as necessary to prevent landings from exceeding the ACL.
The next meeting of the South Atlantic Fishery Management Council is scheduled for August 9, 2011 in Charleston, SC. Details, including the meeting agenda and briefing book materials will be posted as they become available at www.safmc.net.