Request for Comments: Limited Opening of Recreational and Commercial Red Snapper Fishery in South Atlantic Federal Waters

Key Message:

NOAA Fisheries requests comments on Amendment 43 to the Fishery Management Plan for the Snapper-Grouper Fishery of the South Atlantic Region (Amendment 43). The proposed actions would specify recreational and commercial annual catch limits for red snapper beginning in 2018.

  • Red snapper recreational and commercial seasons would open in South Atlantic federal waters for limited harvest in 2018.
  • The South Atlantic Fishery Management Council approved Amendment 43 after recent scientific information indicated an increase in the red snapper population since 2014.
  • NOAA Fisheries determined the proposed limited harvest in 2018 is neither expected to result in overfishing, nor prevent continued rebuilding of the population.

*Comment period begins on May 17, 2018, and comments are due by June 18, 2018*

Summary of Proposed Changes for Red Snapper:

  • The total annual catch limit would be 42,510 fish.
  • The recreational annual catch limit would be 29,656 fish.
  • The recreational bag limit would be one red snapper per person per day. This applies to private and charterboat/headboat vessels (the captain and crew on for-hire vessels may retain the recreational bag limit).
  • The commercial annual catch limit would be 124,815 pounds whole weight.
  • The commercial trip limit would be 75 pounds gutted weight.
  • There would be no minimum size limit for the recreational or commercial sectors.
  • The opening and closing of the recreational sector would be specified before the recreational season begins and would be weekends only (Friday, Saturday, Sunday).
  • The commercial sector would close when the commercial annual catch limit is projected to be met.
  • Amendment 43 specifies that the commercial sector would open the 2nd Monday in July and the recreational sector would open the 2nd Friday in July. If the fishing seasons do not open exactly on these dates, they would open as close to these dates as possible.
  • NOAA Fisheries will announce the opening dates, if the amendment is approved, in a future Fishery Bulletin.

Please Note: The timing of the 2018 season is contingent on when the final rule for Amendment 43 is implemented, if approved.

How to Comment on the Notice of Availability:

The comment period begins on April 16, 2018, and comments are due by June 15, 2018. You may submit comments by electronic submission or by postal mail. Comments sent by any other method (such as e-mail), to any other address or individual, or received after the end of the comment period, may not be considered by NOAA Fisheries.

    Electronic Submissions: Submit all electronic public comments via the Federal e-Rulemaking Portal.
    1. Click here.
    2. Click the “Comment Now!” icon, complete the required fields.
    3. Enter or attach your comments.
    Mail: Submit written comments to Frank Helies, Southeast Regional Office, NMFS, 263 13th Avenue South, St. Petersburg, FL 33701.
    This bulletin serves as a Small Entity Compliance Guide, complying with section 212 of the Small Business Regulatory Enforcement Fairness Act of 1996.

Frequently Asked Questions

Why is limited harvest of south Atlantic red snapper being proposed to begin in 2018?

  • Recent studies show red snapper abundance has increased in the South Atlantic since 2014, and was highest in 2017.
  • Southeast Reef Fish Survey Program
    Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission

  • The Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission study also shows a greater number of large red snapper and a broader range of ages in recent years suggesting the red snapper population is rebuilding despite the limited harvest allowed in 2012, 2013, and 2014.
  • The proposed total annual catch limit equals the landings of red snapper when harvest occurred in 2014, the highest observed landings during the limited openings in 2012-2014.
  • The harvest prohibitions of red snapper since 2010 have resulted in adverse socio-economic effects to fishermen and fishing communities such as loss of additional revenue and recreational opportunities, as well as indirect benefits to businesses that provide supplies for fishing trips.
  • There is also a need for red snapper fishery dependent data. Federal and state personnel would collect information, including catch data and biological samples during the proposed open season in 2018, which would inform future population assessments for red snapper.

How would the proposed limited harvest in 2018 affect the overfishing and overfished status of red snapper?

  • NOAA Fisheries has determined that the proposed limited harvest beginning in 2018 is not expected to result in overfishing and would not prevent the continued rebuilding of the red snapper population.

What would the regulations be for red snapper during these proposed seasons?

  • The recreational bag limit would be one red snapper per person per day.
  • The commercial trip limit would be 75 pounds gutted weight.
  • There would be no minimum size limit for either the recreational or commercial sector.

What is the history of south Atlantic red snapper harvest and prohibitions since 2010?

  • Harvest of red snapper from South Atlantic federal waters was prohibited in 2010 when the population was determined to be severely overfished and undergoing overfishing (See 2008 population assessment – Southeast Data, Assessment, and Review [SEDAR] 15).
  • Amendment 28 to the Fishery Management Plan for the Snapper-Grouper Fishery of the South Atlantic Region established a process that allowed harvest if total removals (landings plus dead discards) were below the acceptable biological catch in the previous year.
  • Limited harvest of red snapper was allowed in 2012, 2013, and 2014.
  • The estimated total removals of red snapper exceeded the acceptable biological catch in 2014, 2015, and 2016, resulting in no allowable harvest since 2014.
  • NOAA Fisheries temporarily allowed limited harvest of red snapper beginning November 2, 2017, by a temporary rule through emergency action. The temporary rule was effective through December 31, 2017.

What is the current status of the red snapper population in the south Atlantic region?

  • The latest population assessment (SEDAR 41) was completed in 2016 and revised in 2017. It indicated the South Atlantic red snapper population is overfished and undergoing overfishing; however, the population is rebuilding.
  • The red snapper overfishing determination in the assessment came from 2012-2014 when only a small amount of harvest was allowed to occur. However, discards during this time period were high due to fishermen targeting other species that co-occur with red snapper, which likely contributed to the overfishing determination.
  • SEDAR 41 stated that recreational discards were one of the most important and uncertain sources of information used in the stock assessment during the harvest prohibition from 2010-2014.
  • Recent results from fishery-independent studies suggest that the relative abundance of red snapper has increased since 2014.

What are some best fishing practices while fishing for red snapper?

The South Atlantic Fishery Management Council identified the following best practices to reduce release mortality and further protect the population as it rebuilds:

  • Avoid areas likely to have red snapper if you already have met your recreational bag limit. If you are approaching your commercial vessel limit, move to a different area.
  • When red snapper are out of season, avoid areas where they are common.
  • Use single hook rigs since the recreational bag limit for red snapper during the proposed limited fishing season would be one per person per day. This will potentially reduce the number of red snapper that are caught on one drop.
  • Use a dehooking device to remove the hook. Keep fish in the water if you plan to release them or return them as quickly as possible.
  • Use descending devices when releasing fish with signs of barotrauma.

Where can I find more information on the environmental assessment?

Contact NOAA Fisheries Southeast Regional Office

    By Mail: Frank Helies
    NOAA Fisheries, Southeast Regional Office
    Sustainable Fisheries Division
    263 13th Avenue South
    St. Petersburg, Florida 33701-5505
    By Phone: (727) 824-5305
    By FAX: (727) 824-5308

The environmental assessment may be found online at the NOAA Fisheries Southeast Regional Office website.

Additional information on management of red snapper in the South Atlantic may be found here.

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