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Larger closed areas, longer closed season, grouper tags, mandatory reporting?

(For the complete story see page 24 of the May Issue)

Recreational Gulf grouper anglers could face little to no offshore fishing in 2011, and/or larger areas designated as off-limits to bottom fishing, under a number of proposal rules being consideration by NOAA’s Fishery Service and the Gulf of Mexico Fisheries Management Council (Gulf Council).

According to NOAA’s National Marine Fisheries Service (NMFS), a 2009 stock assessment update for gag grouper indicated the stock is overfished and undergoing overfishing.

Also, according to the NMFS, red grouper are neither overfished or undergoing overfishing, but numbers have declined since 2005. NMFS claims the decline in both gag and red grouper stocks is attributed, in large part, to a large number of grouper deaths (18-20% of all stocks) in 2005 – most likely due to red tide.

Under the Magnuson-Stevens Act National Standard Guidelines, once a council is notified that a stock is overfished or undergoing overfishing it must develop a plan within two years that will end overfishing and rebuild the stock within 10 years.

A wide range of options were discussed at April’s meeting, but no “proposed alternatives” were identified.

Some of the possible rules under consideration include:

• A grouper tag, stamp or vessel permit for all for-hire, and/or all recreational vessels,

• Complete closure for gag, all grouper or all bottom fishing in depths beyond 90, 150 or 210 feet – creating a large no-fishing area stretching from the Panhandle to the Florida Keys,

• Closed areas to be in effect for two, four or eight months and possibly year-round,

• Reduce the minimum size for gag from 22 inches to 20, 18 or have no minimum size limit,

• Voluntary or mandatory electronic reporting system for all vessels or a telephone or web-based reporting system for recreational fishermen,

• Expanding or increasing the size of existing closed areas (Madison Swanson, Steamboat Lumps, etc.).

In January, the Gulf Council held eight public meetings around the Gulf coast to solicit input on the proposed amendment and discussed options at their April meeting.

More specific rule proposals are expected to be discussed in June.

The Gulf Council also sent a request to the Southeast Fisheries Science Center to make fishery independent data collection for reef fish species in the Gulf of Mexico the highest priority.

Congressman seeks to block catch share program

As a result of the Feb. 24 Angler’s “March on Washington,” North Carolina Congressman Walter B. Jones has filed a request to block federal funding for NOAA to expand its National Catch Share Program.

“The last thing the federal government should be doing in these economic times is spending millions of taxpayer dollars to expand a program that will put even more Americans out of work,” Jones said.

The move comes in response to NOAA’s Fiscal Year 2011 budget request, which included proposals to cut funding for fisheries science and add $36.6 million to expand implementation of catch share programs across the nation. Catch share programs grant shares of the total allowable catch in a given fishery to particular fishermen or groups.

Jones asked the House Appropriations Subcommittee on Commerce, Justice and Science to include language in its 2011 appropriations bill to block funding for new catch share programs in any fisheries under the jurisdiction of the Mid-Atlantic and South Atlantic Fisheries Management Councils.

All five Gulf state Governors, along with Gulf charterboat, recreational angler and commercial associations, have sent letters opposing catch shares.