This is a publication of the Gulf of Mexico Fishery Management Council pursuant to National Oceanic and Atmospheric Award No. NA97FC0010.
CONTACT: STEVEN ATRAN
GULF COUNCIL PROPOSES CHANGES TO RED SNAPPER REGULATIONS, AND RECOMMENDS USE OF CIRCLE HOOKS TO REDUCE HOOKING MORTALITY
Tampa, Florida - November 17, 1999 - The Gulf of Mexico Fishery Management Council, at its November meeting in Orlando, Florida, reviewed a new red snapper stock assessment prepared by the National Marine Fisheries Service (NMFS), as well as recommendations from the Council's Reef Fish Stock Assessment Panel, Socioeconomic Panel, and Red Snapper Advisory Panel. The Council also listened to public testimony from 22 individuals representing recreational fishermen, charter and head boat operators, commercial fishermen, seafood dealers, and conservation groups.
Based on the input received at the meeting, the Council decided to maintain the existing red snapper total allowable catch (TAC) of 9.12 million pounds each year for the years 2000 and 2001, pending an annual review of the assessment. This TAC is allocated between the recreational and commercial fisheries based on the historical levels of catch during 1979-1987, with 49 percent (4.47 million pounds) allocated to the recreational fishery and 51 percent (4.65 million pounds) to the commercial fishery. The commercial quota is further subdivided into a Spring sub-quota with two thirds of the allocation (3.1 million pounds) and a Fall sub-quota with the remaining third (1.55 million pounds), adjusted for any over or under harvest during the Spring.
The Council also proposed setting the recreational red snapper minimum size limit at 16 inches total length. This size limit will help to slow the harvest rate and extend the recreational season compared to the previous 15-inch minimum size limit, while reducing the high levels of release mortality that the Council was told occurred in some parts of the Gulf during the temporary implementation of an 18-inch size minimum limit in 1999.
The 4-fish recreational red snapper bag limit will be retained for 2000, and the Council has proposed reinstating the bag limit allowance for captain and crew of for-hire (charter and headboat) vessels. NMFS recently approved a previous Council proposal to set a zero-fish red snapper bag limit for captain and crew of for-hire vessels beginning in 2000 to help extend the recreational season. However, NMFS analyses indicated that the measure will only extend the season by approximately 3 to 5 days, and the Council did not feel that the few additional fishing days justified eliminating a segment of the fishing population from being allowed to retain their recreational catch.
The Council proposed setting a fixed recreational red snapper season for the year 2000 of April 15 through October 31 in order to alleviate uncertainties associated with a quota closure at an unknown future date, reduce the possibility of overfishing, and provide recreational red snapper fishing at a time when it will provide the greatest benefits to all Gulf Coast fishermen. NMFS projected that these dates would result in the recreational fishery filling its year 2000 quota under the 16-inch minimum size limit, 4-fish bag limit, and zero-fish red snapper bag limit for captain and crew of for-hire vessels. They are subject to revision once NMFS analyzes the impact of reinstating the bag limit for captain and crew of for-hire vessels. However, the final opening and closing dates will be announced prior to the opening of the 2000 recreational red snapper season.
For the commercial fishery, the Council proposed shortening the monthly openings in the Spring season (February 1 opening) from 15 days to 10 days (noon on the 1st until noon on the 10th), the same as the monthly openings of the Fall season. The Council also proposed opening the Fall season on October 1 instead of September 1. Both measures are intended to address overfishing and help sustain price stability by spreading out the harvest in the Spring, and by opening the Fall season at a time when fishermen can generally get better prices for their catch. The Council also proposed retaining the 15-inch minimum red snapper size limit for the commercial fishery, due to the probability of increased mortality of discards from commercial gear and operations, and the use of other methods to control harvest in the commercial sector, including monthly openings and limited access.
The above proposals will be submitted to NMFS through a regulatory amendment to the Reef Fish Fishery Management Plan for review, approval and implementation. Since the NMFS review and implementation process for regulatory amendments takes several months, the Council has requested that those measures that must be in place by January 1, 2000 in order to be effective for the 2000 fishing year be approved through an interim rule.
The Council also encourages recreational and commercial fishermen to use circle hooks when fishing for red snapper, in order to reduce hooking mortality. The use of circle hooks is not currently required, but may be considered as a management tool in the future.
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