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Council Weighs Input from Scientific Committee and Advisors
Thursday, December 14, 2006 @ 07:18:57 EST

Council Weighs Input from Scientific Committee and Advisors

Members of the South Atlantic Fishery Management Council utilized input from its Scientific and Statistical Committee (SSC) and advisory panels during its meeting in Atlantic Beach, North Carolina last week regarding a broad range of fisheries issues in the South Atlantic. Agenda items for review included marine protected areas, rebuilding stocks of overfished snapper grouper species, sale of recreationally caught fish, total allowable catches (TAC) for king and Spanish mackerel, and development of a Fishery Ecosystem Plan and Comprehensive Amendment. The SSC as well as members of the Council’s Snapper Grouper Advisory Panel and Law Enforcement Advisory Panel reviewed details and provided recommendations to the Council regarding changes to management plans.

A series of 8 marine protected areas in the South Atlantic are being proposed by the Council as a means to protect deep water snapper grouper species and their associated habitat and spawning. Following a review of the proposed areas, fishermen on the Snapper Grouper Advisory Panel discussed possible changes to the size and locations of some areas and recommended that a transit provision be included in the amendment to allow commercial fishermen to cross the areas with fish onboard but with all gear stowed. A similar provision is allowed for marine protected areas in the Gulf of Mexico. The Council will address these and any other recommended changes to Amendment 14 to the Snapper Grouper Fishery Management Plan (FMP) establishing the marine protected areas following the comment period for the Draft Environmental Impact Statement (DEIS). Dependent upon the timing of the DEIS, the Council is expected to give final approval of Amendment 14 at its March 5-9, 2007 meeting in Jekyll Island, Georgia.

The Council also received recommendations regarding Amendment 15 to the Snapper Grouper FMP. This amendment addresses rebuilding of overfished stocks of snowy grouper, black sea bass, and red porgy, bycatch reduction of deep water species, methods to monitor and assess bycatch, measures to minimize impacts of incidental catches of sea turtles and smalltooth sawfish, the sale of recreationally caught snapper grouper species, and permit transferability. At the recommendation of the SSC, the Council approved inclusion of bycatch estimates in calculations for rebuilding these overfished stocks. The move, not supported by the Snapper Grouper Advisory Panel, could result in reductions of allocations as the Council develops rebuilding strategies and timelines. The Council has requested updated landings data for both commercial and recreational sectors and will address allocation issues during its March 5-9, 2007 meeting. The Council is currently scheduled to approve Amendment 15 to take to public hearings during its June 11-15, 2007 meeting. A series of public hearings would then be planned for later in the year.

As interest in exploring options for developing a limited access program for the commercial snapper grouper fishery increases, the Council has agreed to hold a meeting of its Controlled Access Committee in January 2007 to discuss possible needs for such programs. The Council will establish a work group with members from its advisory panels, interested fishermen, non-governmental representatives, scientists, sociologists, economists, and others interested in such a program. Details regarding the meeting will be posted on the Council’s web site at
www.safmc.net as they become available.

In measures affecting the mackerel fishery, the Council approved Amendment 18 to the Coastal Migratory Pelagics FMP for public hearings. The amendment would reduce the Total Allowable Catch (TAC) for both king and Spanish mackerel. While neither species are currently overfished or experiencing overfishing, the Council is concerned over possible shifts to the mackerel fishery as other fisheries such as snapper grouper face increasing restrictions. Public hearings will be scheduled in early 2007. The Council also received input regarding 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. The Council is scheduled to approve the scoping document at its March 5-9, 2007 meeting.

The Council received an update on development of its Fishery Ecosystem Plan (FEP) and FEP Comprehensive Amendment. The FEP will serve as a source document, providing a platform for updated information for an ecosystem-based approach to management. Comprehensive Amendments to the FEP allow for regulatory action. With input from its SSC and advisory panels, the Council continued to refine items in the Comprehensive Amendment, including removal of a provision to require vessel monitoring systems (VMS) and inclusion of measures to further protect habitat. The Council will continue to develop both the FEP and Comprehensive Amendment, with approval for public hearings expected in late 2007.
The next meeting of the Council is scheduled for March 5-9, 2007 in Jekyll Island, GA. For additional information regarding Council meetings, including briefing book materials and a summary of the motions from the December meeting, visit
www.safmc.net or contact the Council office.

The South Atlantic Fishery Management Council, one of eight regional councils, conserves and manages fish stocks from three to 200 miles offshore of North Carolina, South Carolina, Georgia and east Florida.

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