Gulf Council to Consider Critical State Management Amendments

On October 22-25, the Gulf of Mexico Fishery Management Council will meet in Mobile, Alabama for their final meeting in 2018. The agenda will include discussing the draft amendments to the Reef Fish Fishery Management Plan and the opportunity to permanently allow for state management of the recreational red snapper fishery.

Earlier this year, National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA) Fisheries approved exempted fishing permits (EFPs) for each of the five Gulf States that allowed individual states to manage their portion of the private recreational red snapper quota in both state and federal waters. EFPs allow for an exemption to federal regulations in support of fisheries-related research. In this case, the EFPs were intended to test whether the states could constrain harvest by private recreational fishermen to state-specific harvest quotas using their own tailored red snapper landings data reporting programs, while also allowing the flexibility for each state to set season dates and lengths to accommodate their recreational anglers. While the final numbers are still pending, the 2018 red snapper harvest by the private recreational sector is on track to be at or near targets for each state. By all accounts, the first year of the state management under the EFPs was successful.

The EFPs will again be in effect for the 2019 fishing season. However, in order for the states to continue managing the recreational fishery beyond 2019, there must be amendments to the Reef Fish Fishery Management Plan approved by the Secretary of Commerce prior to the 2020 fishing season. In order to meet this timeline, the draft amendments must soon proceed to the public hearing phase of the amendment process, which requires the Council to develop a list of actions and alternatives for the public to review at one of the next two meetings.

The two most challenging components of the amendments are dividing the allocation of the overall Gulf red snapper quota between individual states and whether or not to include the charter/for-hire sector of the recreational fishery under state management. While the states are close to reaching agreement on the quota allocation, the decision to include, or not to include, the charter/for-hire component remains problematic. Unfortunately, NOAA Fisheries has been unwilling to support amendment alternatives to allow individual states to work with their charter captains on an opt-in/opt-out option for state management. At this point, all five states must agree to either include the charter/for-hire fishery in state management or leave them under federal management.

A public testimony session for recreational anglers and charter boat captions to provide feedback on draft state management amendments will take place during the upcoming meeting on Wednesday, October 24 from 1:30 – 4:30pm.

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