The last in a series of eight public hearings to gather input on proposed sites for deepwater marine protected areas was held in Hilton Head Island, SC during the meeting of the South Atlantic Fishery Management Council this past week. “There has been broad support from conservation groups and from some fishermen, but concerns have been raised regarding law enforcement, research and monitoring capability, and having permanent closures,” said Mac Currin, Chairman of the Council’s Snapper Grouper Committee. Others have expressed skepticism in the effectiveness of such areas. The eight marine protected areas included in Amendment 14 to the Snapper Grouper Fishery Management Plan (FMP) are being proposed as a management tool to help protect deepwater species such as snowy grouper, speckled hind, warsaw grouper, and blueline tilefish and their associated habitat.
Following the public hearing, the Council reviewed the alternatives and chose their preferred sites to include in the amendment. These include a deepwater site off the coast of South Carolina proposed as an artificial reef. The Council also removed alternatives to require the use of Vessel Monitoring Systems for commercial vessels because of cost considerations and current technical limitations. Comments are being accepted until September 29, 2006 and may be submitted via email to SGAM14@safmc.net or mailed to the Council office. The projected approval date for Amendment 14 by the Council has been moved to March 2007 in order to allow the Council to consider comments on the Draft Environmental Impact Statement (DEIS). The DEIS is scheduled for filing in October of this year. For more information go to our MPA Information Page.
In other actions, the Council discussed concerns about the socio-economic impacts of regulations requiring reductions in harvest of snowy grouper in Amendment 13C to the Snapper Grouper FMP. Amendment 13C addresses overfishing for snowy grouper and other snapper grouper species. In response to these concerns, language currently in the Amendment 13C related to snowy grouper will be revisited as a component of Amendment 15. Amendment 15 is currently under development and establishes rebuilding schedules for snowy grouper, black sea bass, and red porgy. This change does not affect the implementation of 13C regulations for snowy grouper and other species as outlined in the Final Rule (see below).
The Council also took action on issues affecting the king and Spanish mackerel fisheries. After reviewing a regulatory amendment to address changes in the Total Allowable Catch (TAC) for both Atlantic Migratory Group king and Spanish mackerel and trip limits for Spanish mackerel, the Council has determined that such actions would be better addressed through a plan amendment. Utilizing a plan amendment will give the Council additional flexibility in setting TACs and allow for updates in the framework procedures currently in the regulatory amendment process. The Council also narrowed issues to be included in a scoping document for mackerel management, including separating the joint Coastal Migratory Pelagics management plan currently shared with the Gulf of Mexico Fishery Management Council, and associated boundary and permit issues should such a separation occur. Scoping allows for public input on these issues prior to further consideration by the Council. Public scoping meetings are planned for late 2006 and early 2007.
George Geiger of Sebastian, FL has been elected as the new Chairman of the South Atlantic Council, replacing Dr. Louis Daniel from the NC Division of Marine Fisheries. Mr. Geiger, an inshore charter captain and conservation advocate, previously served as Vice-Chairman. Duane Harris, retired director of the GA Department of Natural Resources' Coastal Resources Division, was elected Vice-Chair.
New Regulations for Snapper Grouper Species
The Final Rule for Amendment 13C to the Snapper Grouper Fishery Management Plan has been published, implementing new regulations addressing overfishing for snowy grouper, golden tilefish, black sea bass and vermilion snapper. The regulations reduce commercial quotas and trip limits, recreational bag limits, increases recreational size limits, addresses black sea bass pot requirements, and changes the fishing year for black sea bass. The amendment also allows for a modest increase in the harvest of red porgy as that stock continues to rebuild. The new regulations become effective October 23, 2006. It is anticipated that the snowy grouper and golden tilefish fisheries will close with the rule change, having met their annual quota. For additional details, contact NOAA Fisheries, Southeast Regional Office, 263 13th Avenue South, St. Petersburg, FL 33701; telephone 727/824-5305 or online at http://sero.nmfs.noaa.gov/ NOAA Fishery Bulletin (PDF)
The next meeting of the Council is scheduled for December 4-8, 2006 in Atlantic Beach, NC. For additional information regarding Council meetings, including briefing book materials and a summary of the motions from the September meeting click here.