Gag Grouper in the Gulf of Mexico

Gag Grouper in the Gulf of Mexico

The Gulf of Mexico Fishery Management Council has imposed an interim rule to address the problems facing grouper in the Gulf of Mexico. At the Council’s August 2008 meeting, members voted to send Reef Fish Amendment 30B, which deals with gag and red grouper in the Gulf of Mexico, to the Secretary of Commerce for approval and implementation. In the meantime, the Council requested that NOAA Fisheries immediately implement an interim rule for those portions of Amendment 30B that pertain to ending overfishing of gag, red snapper, greater amberjack and gray triggerfish. The interim rule is expected to become effective by January 1, 2009, and will put in place temporary regulations until Amendment 30B can be fully implemented.  The interim rule:

  • establishes a recreational gag bag and possession limit to 2 per person, per day, with an aggregate bag limit of 5;
  • extends the recreational closed season for gag from February 1 through March 31. The closed season for black and red grouper will remain February 15 to March 15; and
  • mandates that charter boat and headboat operators who possess a Gulf reef fish permit must comply with Federal regulations those reef fish species experiencing overfishing regardless of where the fish are harvested, if those regulations are more restrictive than state regulations.
  • sets allocation of total allowable catch (TAC) between the recreational and commercial fisheries at 61% recreational and 39% commercial for gag, and 24% recreational, 76% commercial for red grouper.
  • reduces the minimum size limit for commercial red grouper to 18” and repeals the commercial February 15 to March 15 closed season on gag, black grouper and red grouper. A commercial January through April seasonal area closure is established at the Edges 40 fathom contour, a 390 nautical square mile gag spawning region northwest of Steamboat Lumps.

Amendment 30B, in its entirety, is expected to become effective in late 2009 or early 2010, and sets up the following rules:

  • establishes a recreational grouper aggregate of 4 fish with a 2 gag and 2 red grouper bag and possession limit;
  • establishes a recreational closed season for all shallow-water grouper from February 1, through March 31;
  • charter and headboat operators who possess a Gulf reef fish permit must comply with Federal regulations when more restrictive than state regulations, for those reef fish species experiencing overfishing (gag, red snapper, greater amberjack, and gray triggerfish), regardless of where the fish are harvested; and
  • sets TAC for both gag and red grouper, with gag TAC at variable levels – 3.38 mp in 2009, 3.62 mp in 2010, and 3.82 mp in 2011 – and the red grouper TAC set at 7.57 mp.
  • sets annual catch limits and accountability measures for recreational and commercial gag and red grouper, and for the commercial shallow-water grouper aggregate. For the commercial sector, the shallow-water grouper fishery will close when gag, red grouper, or the shallow-water grouper (SWG) quota is met. For the recreational sector, if at the end of the fishing year it is determined that the gag or red grouper annual catch limit has been exceeded, then any scheduled increase in the recreational quota will not occur.

Background

In order to address problems facing gag grouper in the Gulf of Mexico, the Gulf of Mexico Fishery Management Council proposed Amendment 30B to the Reef Fish Fishery Management Plan. The amendment included a suite of catch reductions for the entire Gulf grouper complex; expansion of marine protected areas (MPAs); and transferring fishing rights from recreational anglers to commercial fishing fleets.

The Council proposed a forty-five percent reduction in gag grouper take; limiting the recreational angler to only one gag grouper in an aggregate bag of three fish. In addition, the Council recommended closing the recreational fishing season for the entire Gulf grouper complex from January 15 to April 15 each year. While proposing these reductions to recreational anglers, the Council proposed that the commercial fleet could retain its current gag grouper take and have only a one month closure of the Gulf grouper commercial fishery. The Council also proposed expanded MPAs in which recreational fishing would have potentially been prohibited year-round.

Our Goal

ASA’s goal is to retain optimal recreational fishing opportunity while conserving the gag grouper fishery in the Gulf of Mexico.

Our Position

ASA believed there are better ways to address the recovery of gag grouper in the Gulf of Mexico.

ASA opposed attempts to recover the gag grouper fishery primarily at the expense of recreational fishing opportunity and the associated economic impacts. ASA suggested that the Council develop management measures that distribute fishing reductions for gag and other Gulf grouper between the recreational and commercial fishing sectors. In order to provide optimal recreational opportunity while conserving the gag grouper resource, ASA recommended to the Council that the gag grouper season be closed only for three months (January 15 to April 15) to recreational fishing while allowing other grouper to be recreationally taken in an aggregate bag. There was no indication that other species of grouper, or reef fish, were being overfished. ASA stated that reducing recreational fishing opportunity for the entire grouper complex would cause a significant economic loss to the recreational fishing industry and the businesses it supports across the Gulf. Closing the season during this time for both commercial and recreational fishing protects gag grouper during the time they aggregate for spawning and are more vulnerable to take.

ASA strongly opposed the expansion of marine protected areas, in which recreational fishing would potentially be prohibited year-round. The designation of MPAs should always be based on sound science. However, there is no data to support that the recent closures benefit gag grouper, or the grouper complex as a whole. ASA suggested that seasonal spawning closures to commercial fishing throughout the entire Gulf grouper fishery complex would yield a much higher conservation benefit than additional marine protected areas.