Check out the video where I talk about everything that happened last week at the Gulf of Mexico Fisheries Management Council meeting!
Thank you for moving forward on reef fish ap recommendation on continuation of the annual interim analysis. We feel strongly that as we move forward the cyclical nature of the gag grouper biomass will start to show in the science the rebound, we are seeing on the water. As far as the current discussions at the council on gag grouper. I strongly would continue to encourage and implore the council to remove ANY consideration for combining the black grouper with the gag grouper management. Also, as far as the bag limit changes proposed for gag grouper management, I would strongly suggest the council follow the reef fish ap’s recommendation of not moving forward with any consideration of bag limit reductions as the gag grouper bag limit reduction of 50% doesn’t have any negligible positive impact on increasing access or preserving season lengths.
I would also implore the council to avoid any consideration in vessel limits for gag grouper as well just as the reef fish ap suggested. These vessel limits are extremely predatory to multi passenger vessels, and it does NOT impact positively any of our goals in the gag grouper management objectives. It would not increase season length unless we move to extremely draconian measures and even at those unacceptable levels it still doesn’t increase the season significantly.
One additional concern I have was in regards to spawning area closure conversations. It was brought up in committee that perhaps we aren’t seeing the increase in male ratios in these aggregation areas due to the temporal closures perhaps not being long enough. However, the real issue that is ever present is the unenforceability of keeping the area closed to fishing mortality. Even if we are able to get one of those vessels poaching in these closed areas caught and cases made the penalties are laughable at best and its more and more well-known every day that even if you do get caught the slap on the wrist is such that it only encourages more poaching in closed areas. Thus, spatial, and temporal area closures only harm those who have something to lose like those operating under moratorium permits we are constantly under threat of losing.
It was extremely alarming to hear in the reef fish ap discussion interruption illustrating the likely inability to restrict amberjack landings in the commercial sector to the catch limits. Under a rebuilding plan with an overage already on the books from last year, I feel this council should demand immediate emergency action to ensure the trip limit that has already been voted along and discussed thoroughly to be put in place in time for the start of the 2024 fishing year.
For recreational amberjack, I support an September 1st opening like the reef fish ap suggested and in agreement with the public comment Emily presented in committee.
Recreational Data collection
I suggest the council move forward expeditiously on standing up a new recreational for hire data collection program to replace the gap created by the setting aside of Sefhier. We need to have a new program in place with a better rollout plan in place with an emphasis on explanation of the data requirements and validation needs to ensure the data can be used for science and management after compliance, benchmarking and calibration is completed. The goal should be accountability and a more full utilization of our catch levels lowering buffers through minimizing and eliminating science and management uncertainties.
This should be a top priority to the council during this era of waiting for the MRIP FES pilot program to be worked through and those data issues being worked through.
We have a huge problem in our southeast region with lack of funding for enforcement. We have some issues that face our council process, and when we tackle those issues often, we have these further exacerbated by the constraint of enforcement coverage on the water. It is becoming more and more well known that the law enforcement coverage on the water isn’t sufficient enough to cover the increasing numbers of users over a larger area.
Also, its even more frustrating that when the law enforcement officers that are on the water are able to make a case on a fisher in a closed area or operating without proper licensing or permitting the penalties are such that they only encourage more issues. Penalties are not commiserate to discourage fishery violations.
In committee the discussion came up that we need longer closures in these gag spawning aggregation sites to encourage more male gags. However, the main issue in these areas is not lack of time of closures but the inability to curb the rampant poaching in these closed areas. Lengthening the temporal closure only further penalizes those who are operating under moratorium permits that they cannot afford to lose.
MRIP FES data issues
I strongly encourage the council to hold off on any allocation discussions that involve or consider MRIP FES data. Also, I would like to see the council focus on fisheries like lane snapper, vermillion and others without sector allocations that are complicated with MRIP FES discussions. There is plenty on the council worklist that doesn’t depend on MRIP FES data that can be worked through as the council waits for 2026 completion of the pilot project.
We have an extremely healthy fishery, let’s keep this going and leave management measures in place while ensuring we do not see quota closures in this extremely healthy fishery.
We continue to see more issues with quota closures due to the spatial expansion of this vibrant fishery. We are seeing a larger average size in the biomass as they expand their range exponentially along the gulf coast and also both deeper and more shallow areas as well. We need to address this issue by increasing catch levels to ensure we avoid the quota closures due to the catch level projected to be met. This has been an ongoing issue since 2017 and we still aren’t seeing much significant movement towards a positive and substantial increases in catch levels to address this issue.
I encourage the council to put off action on this document until the completion of the pilot project for MRIP FES unless SRFS data can be used to analyze this and move forward. However, I would like to emphasize to this council you need to ensure the gulf allocation is preserved and protected as much as possible or even expanded. We are seeing more and more yellowtail snapper further and further north along the gulf coast of Florida and a much larger average size too! I would like to avoid the issues we have in lane snapper expanding to the lane snapper.