The South Atlantic Fishery Management Council held its final meeting of 2022 during the week of December 5 in Wrightsville Beach, NC. The Council finalized recommendations for regulatory changes for snowy grouper and tilefish and continued discussions on red snapper, a potential recreational snapper grouper permit, and grouper. The new year brings opportunities for anglers to weigh in on all three topics. Read on for updates from the December Council meeting on these issues.
Red snapper: The Council’s short-term plan to help end the overfishing of Atlantic red snapper and reduce dead discards is known as Regulatory Amendment 35. This amendment would reduce catch limits for red snapper based on the most recent stock assessment results, as required by the Magnuson Stevens Act, and could require anglers fishing for snapper grouper to use single hook rigs when fishing for snapper grouper. The purpose of this gear restriction is to reduce the number of red snapper and other snapper grouper that die following their release. ASA recommended to the Council that the single hook rig requirement go into effect in 2024 or late 2023 so that manufacturers, wholesalers, and retailers have time to respond. In a decision that ASA supports, the Council removed consideration of prohibiting electric or hydraulic-powered reels from Regulatory Amendment 35. The Council will gather input on Regulatory Amendment 35 at public hearings starting January 17, then will consider final action at their March 2023 meeting in Jekyll Island, GA.
What does all this mean for the 2023 recreational red snapper season?
Although things do not look promising, there may be hope. NOAA Fisheries indicated that the 2023 season would likely be one day at best, and given the safety at sea issues of such a derby season, NOAA indicated that it might be better to forgo a season altogether rather than have a one-day derby where anglers might experience rough seas to harvest just one red snapper. However, there has been talk of South Atlantic states developing exempted fishing permits (EFPs) that would allow them to set different regulations in federal waters for red snapper and fill critical data gaps on discards to better inform fisheries managers and scientists. In the Gulf, EFPs testing state management was an effective means to achieving longer red snapper seasons while improving recreational harvest and effort information on Gulf red snapper. While ASA recognizes that the Council must reduce catch limits in Regulatory Amendment 35 to comply with federal law, some flexibility in setting red snapper catch limits should be provided so that states can use EFPs to experiment with ways to turn discards into landings.
Recreational Snapper Grouper Permit: For years, ASA and the recreational fishing community have asked for better recreational catch and effort data to inform the assessment and management of red snapper and other snapper grouper species in the South Atlantic. The Council is considering creating a recreational snapper grouper permit as a means to narrow down the universe of anglers who fish for snapper grouper in the South Atlantic. This could then be used to improve recreational fishing surveys that are used to generate harvest estimates for red snapper and other species. A similar approach has already been successful in Florida with its State Reef Fish Survey.
Public scoping meetings on the potential permit will be held via webinar on January 30 and February 6. There are lots of details to work out, such as whether anglers or vessels should be permitted, and which species should be included, so the Council is seeking input from anglers. You can find more information about the webinars and sign up to attend by clicking here.
ASA supports developing a recreational snapper grouper permit for South Atlantic snapper grouper and recommends that the permit be compatible with state permits like Florida’s State Reef Fish Survey.
Gag and black grouper: Gag is overfished and undergoing overfishing. The Council discussed several management actions to rebuild the fishery and end overfishing, including reducing catch limits, setting a recreational vessel limit, and prohibiting harvest by for-hire captains and crew. Similar regulatory changes are being considered for black grouper because gag and black grouper are often misidentified for one another. Public hearings will be held via webinar on January 10 and 11 at 6:00 pm. More information and registration instructions may be found here.
With so many important Council decisions ahead, make sure you are signed up to receive our advocacy alerts to keep up with South Atlantic issues that are important to the recreational industry and anglers.
Editor’s Note: The Council meets next March 6-10 in Jekyll Island, GA. For more information about the South Atlantic Council, contact Martha Guyas at firstname.lastname@example.org or visit the Council’s website.