The Council made subsequent decisions regarding management of these species as it concluded its week-long meeting in Wilmington, NC. The assessments, conducted through the Southeast Data, Assessment, and Review (SEDAR) stock assessment process, concluded that king mackerel stocks are not overfished while the overfished status of Spanish mackerel is unknown. Overfishing is not occurring for Spanish mackerel, and although the assessment results were inconclusive for determining overfishing for king mackerel, if overfishing is occurring, it is minimal. The Council concluded that no immediate management measures were necessary for the two stocks.
A recently completed age-based stock assessment for vermilion snapper shows the stock is not overfished but continues to experience overfishing at levels lower than indicated in an earlier length-based assessment. Amendment 16 to the Snapper Grouper Fishery Management Plan, approved by the Council in September and currently under review by NOAA Fisheries, allows for adjustments to the reductions in harvest of vermilion snapper necessary to end overfishing during the review process.
The new assessment will result in the Total Allowable Catch being increased from an original 566,179 pounds to 960,350 pounds (gutted weight). The larger TAC will allow for an increase of the originally proposed recreational bag limit from 4 to 5 fish, and reduce the length of a recreational closure for the fishery by two months, resulting in a November through March closure. The change in TAC also allows for an increase in the commercial quota. Upon final approval by the Secretary of Commerce, management measures in Amendment 16 are expected to be in place later in 2009.
During the meeting week, the Council considered using an interim rule request to close the red snapper fishery for both commercial and recreational fishermen to help address overfishing and the overfished stock status. A SEDAR stock assessment conducted in 2007 found red snapper stocks in the South Atlantic experiencing overfishing and severely overfished. However, even with such a closure, the estimated number of red snapper that die as a result of discards associated with fishing for other snapper grouper species would still exceed allowable levels to end overfishing.
It is complicated to deal with severe overfishing, stated Council Chairman Duane Harris. Traditional measures such as bag limits or spawning season closures wont resolve the problem.
The Council is considering options for time/area closures to address overfishing of red snapper in Amendment 17 to the Snapper Grouper Fishery Management Plan. The Council will also address Allowable Biological Catch (ABC) levels and associated harvest levels in Amendment 17 for the other species currently undergoing overfishing. The Council chose not to request an interim rule to close the red snapper fishery at this time, but will continue to consider a closure for the fishery as it explores options to end overfishing.
In September, the Council submitted a request for an interim rule to address overfishing for gag, black grouper, and red grouper to NOAA Fisheries with the intent to have management measures in place by January 2009. The request includes a January through April spawning season closure for the three species for both recreational and commercial fishermen. If approved, the interim rule would be in effect for 180 days. NOAA Fisheries informed the Council that the interim rule request is still under review.
The Council approved a Fisheries Ecosystem Plan and Comprehensive Ecosystem-Based Amendment for public hearings that include options to protect over 24,000 square miles of deepwater coral habitat from fishing impacts in federal waters off the South Atlantic coast.
In addition, the Council approved a control date of December 4, 2008 for both the commercial black sea bass pot fishery and golden tilefish fishery, and determined a list of management alternatives for public scoping, including restrictions for participation in the commercial black sea bass and golden tilefish fisheries.
The Council is concerned about possible shifts to these fisheries as reductions in harvest are implemented for other fisheries. The Council will hold a series of public hearings and scoping meetings January 26 through February 5, 2009. A complete schedule and additional information will be posted on the web site as it becomes availalbe.
The next meeting of the Council is scheduled for March 2-6, 2009 in Jekyll Island, GA. Additional information regarding Council meetings is available at the SAFMC website, www.safmc.net.