Reef Fish Fishery Management Plan


Original Fishery Management Plan (1984)

The Reef Fish Fishery Management Plan was implemented in November 1984. The regulations, designed to rebuild declining reef fish stocks, included: (1) prohibitions on the use of fish traps, roller trawls, and powerhead-equipped spear guns within an inshore stressed area; (2) a minimum size limit of 13 inches total length (TL) for red snapper with the exceptions that for-hire boats were exempted until 1987 and each angler could keep 5 undersize fish; and, (3) data reporting requirements.

Reef Fish Amendment 1 (1990) and RIR

  • Amendment 1, including environmental assessment (EA), regulatory impact review (RIR), and regulatory flexibility analyses (RFA), to the Reef Fish Fishery Management Plan, implemented in 1990, was a major revision of the original FMP. It set as a primary objective of the FMP the stabilization of long-term population levels of all reef fish species by establishing a survival rate of biomass into the stock of spawning age to achieve at least 20 percent spawning stock biomass per recruit (SSBR), relative to the SSBR that would occur with no fishing. The target date for achieving the 20 percent SSBR goal was set at January 1, 2000. Among the management measures implemented were:
  • Set a red snapper 13-inch total length minimum size limit, 7-fish recreational bag limit and 3.1 million-pound commercial quota that together were to reduce fishing mortality by 20 percent and begin a rebuilding program for that stock;
  • Prohibit the sale of undersized red snapper and delete the allowance to keep 5 undersized red snapper;
  • Set a 20-inch total length minimum size limit on red Nassau, yellowfin, black, and gag groupers;
  • Set a 50-inch total length minimum size limit on goliath grouper (jewfish);
  • Set a 5-grouper recreational bag limit;
  • Allow a 2-day possession limit for charter vessels and head boats on trips that extend beyond 24 hours, provided the vessel has two licensed operators aboard as required by the U.S. Coast Guard, and each passenger can provide a receipt to verify the length of the trip;
  • All other fishermen fishing under a bag limit are limited to a single day possession limit;
  • Set an 11.0 million-pound commercial quota for groupers, with the commercial quota divided into a 9.2 million pound shallow-water grouper quota and a 1.8 million-pound deepwater grouper quota. Shallow-water grouper were defined as black grouper, gag, red grouper, Nassau grouper, yellowfin grouper, yellowmouth grouper, rock hind, red hind, speckled hind, and scamp (until the shallow-water grouper quota is filled). Deep-water grouper were defined as misty grouper, snowy grouper, yellowedge grouper, warsaw grouper, and scamp once the shallow-water grouper quota is filled. Goliath grouper (jewfish) are not included in the quotas;
  • Set a 12-inch total length minimum size limit on gray, mutton, and yellowtail snappers;
  • Set an 8-inch total length minimum size limit on lane and vermilion snappers;
  • Set a 10-snapper recreational bag limit on snappers in aggregate, excluding red, lane, and vermilion snapper;
  • Set an 8-inch total length minimum size limit for black sea bass;
  • Set a 28-inch fork length minimum size limit and 3 fish per person per day bag limit for recreational harvest of greater amberjack, and a 36-inch fork length minimum size limit of greater amberjack for commercial harvest;
  • Establish a framework procedure for specification of TAC to allow for annual management changes;
  • Establish a longline and buoy gear boundary at approximately the 50 fathom depth contour west of Cape San Blas, Florida and the 20 fathom depth contour east of Cape San Blas, inshore of which the directed harvest of reef fish with longlines and buoy gear was prohibited and the retention of reef fish captured incidentally in other longline operations (e.g., sharks) was limited to the recreational bag limit. Subsequent changes to the longline/buoy boundary could be made through the framework procedure for specification of TAC;
  • Limit trawl vessels (other than vessels operating in the unsorted groundfish fishery) to the recreational size and bag limits of reef fish;
  • Establish fish trap permits, allowing up to a maximum of 100 fish traps per permit holder;
  • Prohibit the use of entangling nets for directed harvest of reef fish. Retention of reef fish caught in entangling nets for other fisheries is limited to the recreational bag limit;
  • Establish the fishing year to be January 1 through December 31;
  • Extend the stressed area to the entire Gulf coast;
  • Establish a commercial reef fish vessel permit.

Reef Fish Amendment 2 (1990)

Amendment 2, including EA, RIR and RFA, implemented in 1990, prohibited the harvest of goliath grouper (jewfish) to provide complete protection for this species in federal waters in response to indications that the population abundance throughout its range was greatly depressed. This amendment was initially implemented by emergency rule.

Reef Fish Amendment 3 (1991)

Amendment 3, including EA and RIR, implemented in July 1991, provided additional flexibility in the annual framework procedure for specifying TAC by allowing the target date for rebuilding an overfished stock to be changed depending on changes in scientific advice, except that the rebuilding period cannot exceed 1.5 times the generation time of the species under consideration. It revised the FMP's primary objective, definitions of optimum yield and overfishing and framework procedure for TAC by replacing the 20 percent SSBR target with 20 percent spawning potential ratio (SPR). The amendment also transferred speckled hind from the shallow-water grouper quota category to the deepwater grouper quota category.

Reef Fish Amendment 4 (1992)

Amendment 4, including EA, RIR and initial RFA (IRFA), implemented in May 1992, established a moratorium on the issuance of new reef fish permits for a maximum period of three years. The moratorium was created to moderate short term future increases in fishing effort and to attempt to stabilize fishing mortality while the Council considers a more comprehensive effort limitation program. It allows the transfer of permits between vessels owned by the permittee or between individuals when the permitted vessel is transferred. Amendment 4 also changed the time of the year that TAC is specified from April to August and included additional species in the reef fish management unit.

Reef Fish Amendment 5 (1994)

Amendment 5, including a supplemental EIS (SEIS), RIR and IRFA, implemented in February 1994, established restrictions on the use of fish traps in the Gulf of Mexico EEZ, implemented a three-year moratorium on the use of fish traps by creating a fish trap endorsement and issuing the endorsement only to fishermen who had submitted logbook records of reef fish landings from fish traps between January 1, 1991 and November 19, 1992, created a special management zone (SMZ) with gear restrictions off the Alabama coast, created a framework procedure for establishing future SMZ's, required that all finfish except for oceanic migratory species be landed with head and fins attached, and closed the region of Riley's Hump (near Dry Tortugas, Florida) to all fishing during May and June to protect mutton snapper spawning aggregations.

Reef Fish Amendment 6 (1993)

Amendment 6, including EA, RIR and RFA, implemented in June 1993, extended the provisions of an emergency rule for red snapper endorsements for the remainder of 1993 and 1994, and it allowed the red snapper trip limits for qualifying and non-qualifying permitted vessels to be changed under the framework procedure for specification of TAC.

Reef Fish Amendment 7 (1994)

Amendment 7, including EA, RIR, and IRFA, implemented in February 1994, established reef fish dealer permitting and record keeping requirements, allowed transfer of fish trap permits and endorsements between immediate family members during the fish trap permit moratorium, and allowed transfer of other reef fish permits or endorsements in the event of the death or disability of the person who was the qualifier for the permit or endorsement. A proposed provision of this amendment that would have required permitted vessels to sell harvested reef fish only to permitted dealers was disapproved by the Secretary of Commerce and was not implemented.

Reef Fish Amendment 8 (1995)

Amendment 8, including EA, RIR and IRFA, proposed establishment of a red snapper Individual Transferable Quota (ITQ) system. It was approved by NMFS and final rules were published in the Federal Register on November 29, 1995. However, concerns about Congressional funding of the ITQ system made it inadvisable for the ITQ system to become operational, pending Congressional action. In October 1996, Congress, through reauthorization of the Magnuson-Stevens Act, repealed the red snapper ITQ system and prohibited Councils from submitting, or NOAA Fisheries from approving and implementing, any new individual fishing quota program before October 1, 2000.

Reef Fish Amendment 9 (1994)

Amendment 9, including EA, RIR and IRFA, implemented in July 1994, provided for collection of red snapper landings and eligibility data from commercial fishermen for the years 1990 through 1992. The purpose of this data collection was to evaluate the initial impacts of the limited access measures being considered under Amendment 8 and to identify fishermen who may qualify for initial participation under a limited access system. This amendment also extended the reef fish permit moratorium and red snapper endorsement system through December 31, 1995, in order to continue the existing interim management regime until longer term measures can be implemented. The Council received the results of the data collection in November 1994, at which time consideration of Amendment 8 resumed.

Reef Fish Amendment 10 (not submitted)

Withdrawn Amendment 10, including EA, RIR and IRFA, would have extended the validity of additional fish trap endorsements for the duration of the fish trap moratorium that was implemented under Amendment 5. These additional endorsements were to have been issued under an emergency rule, requested in March 1994, to alleviate economic hardships after the Council heard from fishermen who entered the fish trap fishery after the November 19, 1992 cutoff date and stated that they were unaware of the impending moratorium. The Council rejected the proposed amendment in May 1994 after NOAA Fisheries stated that it had notified fishermen of the pending moratorium and fish trap endorsement criteria during the time between Council final action and NOAA Fisheries implementation if they asked about fish trap rules or if they requested application materials and NOAA Fisheries was aware that it was for purposes of entering the fish trap fishery. The Council also considered arguments that the change in qualifying criteria circumvented the intent of the fish trap moratorium to halt expansion of the fish trap fishery at the November 19, 1992 level. After the Council rejected Amendment 10, NOAA Fisheries subsequently rejected the emergency request.

Reef Fish Amendment 11 (1996)

Amendment 11, including EA, RIR and IRFA, was partially approved by NMFS and implemented in January 1996. The six approved provisions are: (1) limit sale of Gulf reef fish by permitted vessels to permitted reef fish dealers; (2) require that permitted reef fish dealers purchase reef fish caught in Gulf federal waters only from permitted vessels; (3) allow transfer of reef fish permits and fish trap endorsements in the event of death or disability; (4) implement a new reef fish permit moratorium for no more than five years or until December 31, 2000, while the Council considers limited access for the reef fish fishery; (5) allow permit transfers to other persons with vessels by vessel owners (not operators) who qualified for their reef fish permit; and, (6) allow a one time transfer of existing fish trap endorsements to permitted reef fish vessels whose owners have landed reef fish from fish traps in federal waters, as reported on logbooks received by the Science and Research Director of NOAA Fisheries from November 20, 1992 through February 6, 1994. NOAA Fisheries disapproved a proposal to redefine Optimum Yield from 20 percent SPR (the same level as overfishing) to an SPR corresponding to a fishing mortality rate of F0.1 until an alternative operational definition that optimizes ecological, economic, and social benefits to the Nation could be developed. In April 1997, the Council resubmitted the Optimum Yield definition with a new proposal to redefine Optimum Yield as 30 percent SPR. The resubmission document was disapproved by NMFS.

Reef Fish Amendment 12 (1997)

Amendment 12, including EA, RIR and IRFA, implemented in January 1997, reduced the greater amberjack bag limit from three fish to one fish per person, and created an aggregate bag limit of 20 reef fish for all reef fish species not having a bag limit.

Reef Fish Amendment 13 (1996)

Amendment 13, including EA, RIR and IRFA, implemented in September 1996, further extended the red snapper endorsement system through the remainder of 1996 and, if necessary, through 1997, in order to give the Council time to develop a permanent limited access system that was in compliance with the new provisions of the Magnuson-Stevens Act.

Reef Fish Amendment 14 (1997)

Amendment 14, including EA, RIR and IRFA, implemented in March and April 1997, provided for a ten-year phase-out for the fish trap fishery; allowed transfer of fish trap endorsements for the first two years and thereafter only upon death or disability of the endorsement holder, to another vessel owned by the same entity, or to any of the 56 individuals who were fishing traps after November 19, 1992 and were excluded by the moratorium; and prohibited the use of fish traps west of Cape San Blas, Florida. The amendment also provided the Regional Administrator (RA) of NOAA Fisheries with authority to reopen a fishery prematurely closed before the allocation was reached, and modified the provisions for transfer of commercial reef fish vessel permits. In addition, the amendment prohibited the harvest or possession of Nassau grouper in the Gulf EEZ, consistent with similar prohibitions in Florida state waters, the south Atlantic EEZ, and the Caribbean EEZ.

Reef Fish Amendment 15 (pdf - 588 kb) (1998)

Amendment 15, including EA, RIR and IRFA, implemented in January 1998, prohibited harvest of reef fish from traps other than permitted reef fish traps, stone crab traps, or spiny lobster traps.

Reef Fish Amendment 16A (pdf - 235 kb) (1998)

Amendment 16A, including EA, RIR and IRFA, submitted to NMFS in June 1998, was partially approved and implemented on January 10, 2000. The approved measures provided: (1) that the possession of reef fish exhibiting the condition of trap rash on board any vessel with a reef fish permit that is fishing spiny lobster or stone crab traps is prima facie evidence of illegal trap use and is prohibited except for vessels possessing a valid fish trap endorsement; (2) that NOAA Fisheries establish a system design, implementation schedule, and protocol to require implementation of a vessel monitoring system (VMS) for vessels engaged in the fish trap fishery, with the cost of the vessel equipment, installation, and maintenance to be paid or arranged by the owners as appropriate; and, (3) that fish trap vessels submit trip initiation and trip termination reports. Prior to implementing this additional reporting requirement, there will be a one-month fish trap inspection/compliance/education period, at a time determined by the NOAA Fisheries Regional Administrator and published in the Federal Register. During this window of opportunity, fish trap fishermen will be required to have an appointment with NMFS enforcement for the purpose of having their trap gear, permits, and vessels available for inspection. The disapproved measure was a proposal to prohibit fish traps south of 25.05 degrees north latitude beginning February 7, 2001. The status quo 10-year phase-out of fish traps in areas in the Gulf EEZ is therefore maintained.

Reef Fish Amendment 16B (pdf - 244 kb) (1999)

Amendment 16B, including EA, RIR and IRFA, was submitted to NMFS in January 1999, and was implemented by NMFS on November 24, 1999. This amendment set a recreational bag limit of one speckled hind and one warsaw grouper per vessel, with the prohibition on the sale of these species when caught under the bag limit.

Reef Fish Amendment 17 (pdf - 108 kb) (2000)

Amendment 17, including EA, RIR and IRFA, was submitted to NOAA Fisheries in September 1999, and was implemented by NOAA Fisheries on August 10, 2000. This amendment extended the commercial reef fish permit moratorium for another five years, from its previous expiration date of December 31, 2000 to December 31, 2005, unless replaced sooner by a comprehensive controlled access system. The purpose of the moratorium is to provide a stable environment in the fishery necessary for evaluation and development of a more comprehensive controlled access system for the entire commercial reef fish fishery.

Reef Fish Amendment 18A

Amendment 18A, including SEIS, RIR and IRFA, addresses issues primarily involving grouper management.  Issues addressed in this amendment include the following:

Reef Fish Amendment 18B

Amendment 18B , including SEIS, RIR and IRFA, is currently under development. It addresses rebuilding plans for Nassau grouper and goliath grouper, incorporation of the SEDAR process into the framework procedure for setting TAC, and setting of Sustainable Fisheries Act parameters (minimum stock size threshold, maximum fishing mortality rate, and associated parameters) for reef fish species that have not yet had those parameters defined.

Reef Fish Amendment 19 (pdf - 3,128 kb) (2002)
aka Generic Amendment for Tortugas Ecological Reserves

Amendment 19, including a final SEIS, RIR and IRFA, also known as the Generic Amendment Addressing the Establishment of the Tortugas Marine Reserves, was submitted to NMFS in March 2001, and was implemented on August 19, 2002. This amendment, affecting all FMPs for the Gulf fisheries (as Reef Fish Amendment 19, Coastal Pelagics Amendment 13, Coral Amendment 4, Red Drum Amendment 4, Shrimp Amendment 12, Spiny Lobster Amendment 7, and Stone Crab Amendment 8), establishes two marine reserve areas off the Tortugas area and prohibits fishing for any species and anchoring by fishing vessels inside the two marine reserves.

Reef Fish Amendment 20 (pdf - 1,840 kb) (2002)
aka Generic Charter/Headboat Moratorium Amendment

Amendment 20, including EA, RIR and IRFA, also known as the Corrected Charter/Headboat Moratorium Amendment, was initially implemented in July 2002.  It is designated both as Reef Fish Amendment 20 and Coastal Pelagic FMP Amendment 14. This amendment established a 3-year moratorium on the issuance of new charter and headboat vessel permits in the recreational for hire fisheries in the Gulf EEZ. The amendment was approved by NOAA Fisheries and the provisions to determine eligibility and distribute moratorium permits was implemented on July 29, 2002, with the moratorium originally scheduled to become effective on December 26, 2002. However, on December 17, 2002, NMFS published an emergency action that deferred the date when "moratorium" charterboat permits are required from December 26, 2002 until June 16, 2003. This action was required because the final rule implementing the for-hire permit moratorium contained an error regarding eligibility that needed to be resolved before the moratorium could take effect. The purpose of this moratorium is to limit future expansion in the recreational for-hire fishery while the Council monitors the impact of the moratorium and considers the need for a more comprehensive effort management system in the for-hire recreational fishery. The Council set a qualifying cutoff date of March 29, 2001 in order to include all currently permitted vessels and vessels which have applied for a permit as of that date. The qualifying provisions also included persons who had a recreational for-hire vessel under construction prior to March 29, 2001 and who could show expenditures of at least five thousand dollars. In addition, persons who met the eligibility requirements to qualify as a historical captain (USCG licensed and operating as a captain of a for-hire vessel prior to March 29, 2001, will qualify for a permit within 90 days of the final rule, and at least 25 percent of earned income was from recreational for-hire fishing in one of the last four years ending March 29, 2001) were issued a letter of eligibility, which can be replaced by a permit/endorsement valid only on the vessel that is operated by the historical captain.

Reef Fish Amendment 21 (pdf - 772 kb) (2004)

Amendment 21 , including SEIS, RIR and IRFA, implemented in July 2004, continues the Madison-Swanson and Steamboat Lumps marine reserves for an additional 6 years, until July 2010, and modifies the fishing restrictions within the reserves to allow surface trolling on a seasonal basis.

Reef Fish Amendment 22 (pdf - 2,872 kb) (submitted to NMFS June 2004)

Amendment 22 , including SEIS, RIR and IRFA, was implemented July, 2005. It contains a rebuilding plan and sets the SFA parameters for red snapper.  It also establishes bycatch reporting methodologies for the reef fish fishery.

Reef Fish Amendment 23 (pdf - 4,759 kb) (submitted to NMFS October 2004)

Amendment 23, including SEIS, RIR and IRFA, was implemented July, 2005.  It contains a rebuilding plan and sets the SFA parameters for vermilion snapper.

Reef Fish Amendment 24 (pdf - 1,306 kb)

Amendment 24, including EA, RIR and IRFA, was implemented August, 2005.  It establishes a permanent limited access system for the commercial fishery for Gulf reef fish.  Permits issued under the limited access system are renewable and transferable.  This amendment was developed concurrently with Coastal Pelagics FMP Amendment 15, which creates a permanent limited access system for the mackerel fishery. 

Reef Fish Amendment 25

Implemented June, 2006, this amendment establishes a limited access system on for-hire reef fish and CMP permits. Permits are renewable and transferable in the same manner as currently prescribed for such permits. The Council will have periodic review at least every 10 years on the effectiveness of the limited access system.

Reef Fish Amendment 26 and FEIS

Implemented January, 2007, Amendment 26 establishes an individual fishing quota (IFQ) system for the commercial red snapper fishery.

Reef Fish Amendment 27

Amendment 27/14 was implemented in February, 2008, and addresses overfishing and bycatch issues in both the red snapper directed fishery and the shrimp fishery. The amendment sets TAC at 5.0 mp between 2008 and 1020. The commercial sector will receive a quota of 2.55 mp, with the remaining quota of 2.45 mp going to the recreational sector. The amendment also reduces the commercial size limit to 13, reduces the recreational bag limit to two fish, eliminates a bag limit for captain and crew aboard a for-hire vessel, and sets the recreational fishing season from June 1 September 30. In addition, all commercial and recreational reef fish fisheries will be required to use non-stainless steel circle hooks when using natural baits, as well as venting tools and dehooking devices.

For the shrimp fishery, the amendment establishes a target reduction goal for juvenile red snapper mortality of 74% less than the benchmark years of 2001-2003, reducing that target goal to 67% beginning in 2011, eventually reducing the target to 60% by 2032. If necessary, a seasonal closure in the shrimp fishery will occur in conjunction with the annual Texas closure (which begins on or about May 15). The need for a closure will be determined by an annual evaluation by the NMFS Regional Administrator.

Reef Fish Amendment 28

Amendment 28 is under consideration for the possible allocation of red grouper.

Reef Fish Amendment 29

Amendment 29 was approved by the Council in January, 2009 and is currently under Secretarial Review. The amendment establishes an individual fishing quota (IFQ) system for the commercial grouper and tilefish fishery.


Reef Fish Amendment 30A

Implemented August, 2008, Amendment 30A addresses the overfishing and overfished status of Gray Triggerfish and Greater Amberjack. 

The amendment proposes to reduce the harvest of both greater amberjack and gray triggerfish in order to end overfishing and rebuild the stocks. The amendment also proposes to adjust the allocation of gray triggerfish and greater amberjack catches between recreational and commercial fisheries and set management thresholds and targets to comply with the Sustainable Fisheries Act (SFA) for gray triggerfish.


Reef Fish Amendment 30B

Amendment 30B was submitted to NMFS in August, 2008, and proposes to address the overfishing of Gag grouper, as well as define its maximum stock size threshold (MSST) and optimum yield (OY). The amendment also sets interim allocations of gag and red grouper catches between recreational and commercial fisheries, and makes adjustments to the red grouper total allowable catch (TAC) to reflect the current status of the stock, which is currently at OY levels. Additionally, the amendment establishes annual catch limits (ACLs) and accountability measures (AMs) for the commercial and recreational red grouper fisheries, commercial and recreational gag fisheries, and commercial aggregate shallow-water fishery. 

For the commercial sector, the amendment for 2009 reduces the aggregate shallow-water grouper quota from 8.80 mp to 7.8 mp, increases the red grouper quota from 5.31 mp to 5.75 mp, and sets a gag quota of 1.32 mp.  The gag and shallow-water grouper quotas are scheduled to increase in subsequent years as the gag stock rebuilds.  When 80 percent of a grouper species quota is reached, the allowable catch per trip for that species will be reduced to an incidental catch limit of 200 pounds until the species quota is filled in order to reduce discard mortality of that species while fishermen target other species.

The amendment repeals the commercial closed season of February 15 to March 15 on gag, black and red grouper, and replaces it with a January through April seasonal area closure to all fishing at the Edges 40 fathom contour, a 390 nautical square mile gag spawning region northwest of Steamboat Lumps.  In addition, the Steamboat Lumps and Madison-Swanson fishing area restrictions will be continued indefinitely.

For the recreational sector, the amendment reduces the aggregate grouper bag limit from five fish to four, increases the red grouper bag limit from one fish to two, and sets a two-fish bag limit for gag. A recreational closed season on shallow-water grouper was established from February 1 through March 31.

Finally, the amendment requires that all vessels with federal commercial or charter reef fish permits must comply with the more restrictive of state or federal reef fish regulations when fishing in state waters.