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:
Amendment 30B, in its entirety, is expected to become effective in late 2009 or early 2010, and sets up the following rules:
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.
ASA’s goal is to retain optimal recreational fishing opportunity while conserving the gag grouper fishery in the Gulf of Mexico.
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.