This is a publication of the Gulf of Mexico Fishery Management Council pursuant to National Oceanic and Atmospheric Award No. NA04NMF4410020.

Gulf Council logoNEWS RELEASE
RELEASE: AS APPROPRIATE
CONTACT: WAYNE E. SWINGLE

SUCCESSFUL MANAGEMENT OF U.S. MARINE FISHERIES DOCUMENTED

Tampa, Florida -May 5, 2004 - The proceedings of a November 2003 national fisheries conference, sponsored by the eight Regional Fishery Management Councils and NOAA Fisheries, were published and released on May 3rd. The 254 page document - "Managing our Nationís Fisheries: Past, Present, and Future" - documents substantial progress toward improving the health of our marine fisheries resources and securing their long-term viability. Currently, recreational and commercial fisheries contribute 60 billion dollars to the gross national product each year, and further economic growth is expected as the fish stocks continue to rebuild.

The proceedings will be widely distributed, and are now available on the conference web-site at www.managingfisheries.org. The conference proceedings provide a region-by-region report card on the management of U.S. marine fisheries, and contain the summaries of 10 different panel discussions on contemporary issues such as fisheries governance, bycatch, fish habitat, community considerations, and ecosystem-based approaches, and how ecosystem considerations are currently being incorporated into fishery management decisions. It is anticipated that this document will be extremely useful in charting the course of future U.S. fishery management policy, including implementation of the recent recommendations of the U.S. Commission on Ocean Policy and pending reauthorization of the Magnuson-Stevens Fishery Conservation and Management Act.

The meeting, held in Washington, D.C. last November, was convened by the Nationís eight Regional Fishery Management Councils and NOAA Fisheries to review and evaluate our domestic fishery management programs. In addition to documenting the successful aspects of the current fisheries management process, the conference also highlighted remaining challenges, and explored various approaches to meeting those challenges. Keynote speakers at the conference included U.S. Senator Ted Stevens, Coast Guard Admiral Thomas Collins, NOAA Administrator Admiral Conrad Lautenbacher, Deputy Secretary of Commerce Sam Bodman, NOAA Fisheries Administrator Dr. Bill Hogarth, and Admiral James Watkins from the U.S. Commission on Ocean Policy.

Conference attendees, numbering nearly 600, concluded that the future looks bright for U.S. fisheries and fish resources. Pollock, flounder, sea bass, scallops, and many other species that have been the mainstay of fishermen and seafood consumers, are currently at or near all-time high abundance levels, and other stocks are showing signs of rebuilding to healthy levels. Fishery managers are also focusing attention on minimizing the effects of fisheries on seafloor habitat, further incorporating ecosystem considerations in their management plans, developing capacity limitations or associated rationalization measures, and minimizing interactions of fisheries with protected species such as whales, seals, sea turtles, and seabirds.

Under the current fisheries management process, decisions on how to best manage the fisheries are made at the regional level with the appropriate scientific expertise and with direct participation by the affected industry and the public. The U.S. Commission on Ocean Policy, which recently released a comprehensive review of ocean policy, supports the current fisheries management partnership between NOAA and the Regional Fishery Management Councils, and offers a number of recommendations to further strengthen that process.

FOCUS ON GULF OF MEXICO

Rebuilding Stocks: In 2004, the Gulf Council completed or initiated regulatory actions for rebuilding of all the stocks that were classified as overfished or subject to overfishing. These regulatory actions were initiated in the 1985-87 period for king and Spanish mackerels, that are important recreational stocks. The Spanish mackerel stock was restored by 1994 and king mackerel by 2003. In 1987, the Council prohibited harvest or possession of red drum from the EEZ and the states modified their rules to allow escapement of at least 30% of each cohort to the spawning stock. The Council initiated rebuilding actions for red snapper and goliath grouper in 1990 through Amendments 1 and 2, respectively. Amendment 2 prohibits any harvest or possession of goliath grouper in the EEZ. In 1997, the Council prohibited harvest or possession of Nassau grouper from the EEZ through Amendment 14 to help assist the rebuilding of this Pan-Caribbean stock.

During the period 2001 through 2004, the Council developed and approved revised rebuilding plans for the following stocks to arrest overfishing and/or restore overfished stocks:

"During my terms on the Council, we have completed or developed rebuilding plans for all the Gulf stocks that were classified as overfished or subject to overfishing, except for red drum, which will be completed by the states," said Ms. Bobbi Walker, Chair of the Gulf of Mexico Fishery Management Council. "We are proud of this achievement, and I feel sure we will manage these stocks to assure overfishing does not occur again."

Excess Fishing Capacity: When the Council was established in 1976, Gulf commercial fishermen had several distant-water fleets that fished in foreign waters. These included fisheries for spiny lobsters off the Bahamas, and for shrimp and reef fish off Mexico and Central America. Shortly after Congress established the U.S. Fishery Conservation Zone (currently the Exclusive Economic Zone [EEZ]) these foreign nations prohibited U.S. vessels from fishing their 200-mile zones. These vessels returned to U.S. waters creating excess fishing capacity in those domestic fisheries. Under open access of U.S. fisheries which existed at that time, the trend toward excess capacity in terms of vessels and/or gear deployed increased.

"It was during the 1980's that we began documenting the social, economic and biological problems associated with excess harvesting capacity," said Wayne Swingle, Executive Director of the Council. "In the 1990's, we also began examining the environmental problems as well, and the Council began development of limited access systems."

Currently, the following commercial fisheries are subject to limited access programs: reef fish vessels, red snapper vessels, king mackerel vessels, fish trap vessels, king mackerel gill net vessels, spiny lobster traps, and stone crab traps. During 2004, the Council will be developing an IFQ program for red snapper and a license limitation program for shrimp vessels. The limited access system for recreational charter and head boats established by the Council may be extended for 4 to 6 years. These programs are, and have resulted, in reducing excess capacity (e.g., reef fish vessel permits declined by 50%, king mackerel vessels declined by 36%, and spiny lobster traps declined by nearly 40%).

Essential Fish Habitat (EFH): The Council and NOAA Fisheries jointly completed a Final Environmental Impact State (EIS) for the Generic EFH Amendment which will be filed with EPA in June. This large, comprehensive document will serve for years as a reference for Supplemental EISs prepared for subsequent FMP amendments.

Ecosystem Management: NOAA Fisheries has provided the Council with a grant to initiate work on an Ecosystem FMP. The Gulf region encompasses many different ecosystems ranging from tropical coral reefs to temperate estuarine dependent systems.

Bycatch: Amendments 9 and 10 to the Shrimp FMP require bycatch reduction devices (BRDs) in all shrimp trawls fished in the EEZ. Standardized bycatch reporting methodologies are being developed for the coastal migratory pelagic (CMP), shrimp, and reef fish fisheries in amendments to be submitted in 2004.

Other Sustainable Fisheries Actions: The Council developed criteria for assessing the status of its stocks of coastal migratory pelagics (CMP), shrimp and reef fish. The CMP amendment has been approved by NOAA Fisheries and the shrimp and reef fish amendments will be submitted in 2004. The Council reviewed the effectiveness of 2 marine reserves located on spawning aggregation sites for gag grouper, and extended the implementing rules for 6 additional years. The SEDAR process, providing for peer-reviewed stock assessments, was initiated by NOAA Fisheries and the Southeast Councils.

The Gulf of Mexico Fishery Management Council is 1 of 8 regional fishery management councils that were established by the Magnuson-Stevens Fishery Conservation and Management Act of 1976. The Council prepares fishery management plans that are designed to manage fishery resources in the Exclusive Economic Zone (EEZ) of the U.S. Gulf of Mexico.  

This news release, and other Council news releases, can be viewed at the Councilís web site at http://www.gulfcouncil.org. In addition, Council press releases may be received via e-mail by sending a blank e-mail message to pressreleases@gulfcouncil.org with SUBSCRIBE as the subject.

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