Amendment 30b Final Rule
Elements of the Rule

For the recreational fishery, the rule:

* Establishes annual catch limits (ACLs) and accountability measures (AMs) for gag and redgrouper.

* Reduces the gag bag limit to two fish per person per day and the aggregate grouper bag limit to four fish per person per day.

* Increases the red grouper bag limit to two fish per person per day.

* Extends the closed season for recreational shall

The final rule to implement Amendment 30B which establishes annual catch limits (ACLs) and accountability measures (AMs) for commercial and recreational gag, red grouper, and shallow-water grouper (SWG); establishes a commercial quota for gag; adjusts the commercial quotas for red grouper and SWG; removes the commercial closed season for SWG; establishes an incidental bycatch allowance trip limit for commercial gag and red grouper; reduces the commercial minimum size limit for red grouper; reduces the gag bag limit and the aggregate grouper bag limit; increases the red grouper bag limit; extends the closed season for recreational SWG; eliminates the end date for the Madison-Swanson and Steamboat Lumps marine reserves; and requires that federally permitted reef fish vessels comply with the more restrictive of Federal or state reef fish regulations when fishing in state waters.

In addition, Amendment 30B establishes management targets and thresholds for gag consistent with the requirements of the Sustainable Fisheries Act (SFA); sets the gag and red grouper total allowable catch (TAC); and establishes interim allocations for the commercial and recreational gag and red grouper fisheries. This final rule is intended to end overfishing of gag and maintain catch levels of red grouper consistent with achieving optimum yield.

Several comments opposed requiring vessels with Federal permits to follow the more restrictive of Federal or state regulations when fishing in state waters. The comments stated that this regulation would discriminate against federally permitted for-hire vessels and would place these vessels at a competitive disadvantage against vessels that possessed only state permits. While this rule would require adherence to the more restrictive measures by federally permitted vessels, this measure is expected to help prevent harvest overages, particularly for species that are overfished or undergoing overfishing. If such overages were not prevented, more stringent Federal regulations would subsequently be required, resulting in much larger adverse economic effects for all federally permitted for-hire vessels, regardless of where they fish. It should also be noted that, even under the final rule, federally permitted vessels may be able to maintain a competitive advantage over vessels that only possess state permits because of the flexibility to fish in both Federal and state waters.

Changes from the Proposed Rule

    This final rule does not include the measures to implement a new seasonal/area closure called the Edges, as contained in the proposed rule published on November 18, 2008 (73 FR 68390). The proposed rule inadvertently included a provision regarding the Edges seasonal/area closure that was not contained in Amendment 30B. The Edges seasonal/area closure will be implemented through separate additional rulemaking.

The final rule is expected to directly affect vessels that operate n the Gulf of Mexico commercial reef fish fishery and for-hire reef fish fisheries. The Small Business Administration (SBA) has established size criteria for all major industry sectors in the U.S. including fish harvesters, for-hire operations, fish processors, and fish dealers. A business involved in fish harvesting is classified as a small business if it is independently owned and operated, is not dominant in its field of operation (including its affiliates), and has combined annual receipts not in excess of $4.0 million (NAICS code 114111, finfish fishing) for all affiliated operations worldwide. For for-hire operations, the other qualifiers apply and the annual receipts threshold is $7 million (NAICS code 713990, recreational industries).

An estimated 1,692 vessels are permitted to operate in the Gulf of Mexico reef fish for-hire fishery. It is unknown how many of these vessels operate as headboats or charterboats, a distinction which is based on pricing behavior, and individual vessels may operate as both types of operations at different times. However, 76 vessels participate in the Federal headboat logbook program. Several entities own multiple for-hire permits, and at least one entity is believed to own as many as 12 permits.

    The average charterboat is estimated to generate approximately $77,000 (2005 dollars) in annual revenues, while the comparable figure for an average headboat is approximately $404,000 (2005 dollars). Based on the average annual gross revenue information for these vessels, NMFS determines, for the purpose of this analysis, that all for-hire entities potentially affected by this final rule are small business entities.

Although for-hire vessels do not derive revenues from grouper sales, most vessels target these species at some time during the year. Assuming angler demand declines in response to the restrictions for these species, revenue and profit reductions can be projected. As a result of the final action on grouper, the for-hire sector is projected to experience a loss in net income of approximately $405,000 to $794,000 per year. If these losses were distributed equally across all the 1,692 for-hire vessels in the fishery, the resulting loss per vessel would be between $239 and $469 per vessel. Some for-hire vessels, such as those in Florida, are likely more dependent on grouper than other vessels due to where they fish and client preferences and thus may be more severely affected by the final action.

It should be noted that under the final action, the recreational:commercial allocation would be 61:39 for gag and 24:76 for red grouper.

DATES:  This rule is effective May 18, 2009.

ADDRESSES:  Copies of the final regulatory flexibility analysis (FRFA)

may be obtained from Peter Hood, NMFS, Southeast Regional Office, 263

13th Avenue South, St. Petersburg, FL 33701.


Public Comments Wanted on 4 month closure of “The Edges”

NOAA Fisheries Service is seeking public comment on a proposed rule that would establish a 4-month closure in an area in the Gulf of Mexico called “The Edges.”

During the January 1 through April 30 closure, all commercial and recreational fishing for and possession of fish managed by the Gulf of Mexico Fishery Management Council (Gulf Council) would be prohibited in the closed area except possession would be allowed when transiting the area with gear stowed in accordance with federal regulations. The boundaries of the closed area would be within lines drawn between the following coordinates:
 Northwest corner = 28º 51’N, 85º 16’W
 Northeast corner = 28º 51’N, 85º 04’W
 Southwest corner = 28º 14’N, 84º 54’W
 Southeast corner = 28º 14’N, 84º 42’W

The intent of the closure is to protect gag and other groupers during their respective spawning seasons. This measure is outlined in Amendment 30B to the Fishery Management Plan for the Reef Fish Resources of the Gulf of Mexico submitted by the Gulf Council. The proposed rule was published in the Federal Register on April 17, 2009, with the comment period ending May 4, 2009.

“The Edges” closure was originally included in the proposed rule for Amendment 30B. However that proposed rule contained an error relative to the “The Edges” seasonal-area closure, and the measure was removed from the Amendment 30B final rule. The closure provision has been revised to reflect the intent of Amendment 30B and is contained in this proposed rule.

Dates and Addresses

Written comments must be received no later than 5 p.m., Eastern time, on May 4, 2009. You may submit comments by any of the following methods:

  • ·        Electronic Submissions: Federal e-Rulemaking

Portal: All comments received are part of the public record and will generallyposted to without change.

All personal identifying information (for example, name, address, etc.) voluntarily submitted by the commenter may be publicly accessible. Do not submit confidential business information or otherwise sensitive or protected

information. NOAA Fisheries Service will accept anonymous comments. To submit comments enter NOAA-NMFS-2009-0098” in the keyword search and

then select for the proposed rule “send a comment or submission.” Attachments to electronic comments will accepted in Microsoft Word, Excel, WordPerfect, or

Adobe PDF file formats only.

  • ·        Mail: Peter Hood, Southeast Regional Office, NOAA Fisheries Service, 263 13th Avenue South, St.Petersburg, Florida 33701.
  • ·        Fax: 727-824-5308, Attention: Peter Hood.

Red Snapper Season Opens June 1 Closure Will Be Either August 2 or 14th Depending on What Action Florida Takes

The 2009 recreational red snapper season will open June 1 and close at 12:01 a.m. August 15, 2009, as long as the State of Florida agrees to adopt compatible regulations.  Early indications are that the state will comply.

An early closure is necessary because new data shows that the 2008 recreational catch in the Gulf exceeded the quota by approximately 1.2 million pounds, and Federal rules require a reduction in harvest when the quota is met or projected to be met.

Red snapper are overfished and undergoing overfishing in the Gulf.  Shortening the fishing season will reduce the harvest of Gulf red snapper and help rebuild the fishery’s population.

Annual Catch Limits and Accountability Measures

The Gulf Council is currently developing a generic amendment to implement catch limits (ACLs) and accountability measures (AMs) for the remainder of the stocks it manages. For stocks managed jointly but the South Atlantic and Gulf Councils (coastal migratory pelagics and spiny lobster) separate joint ACL amendments will be developed.

The new provisions of the Magnuson-Stevens Act require the Gulf Council to set annual catch limits for stocks managed under its fishery management plans to ensure that overfishing does not occur.

In the event that the catch limits are exceeded, accountability measures are predetermined actions to either prevent further catches in the current fishing year or return catches to the specified levels in the following year, depending upon the availability of real-time data and the current status of the stock.

Additionally, the Council is required to prevent overfishing and rebuild stocks to levels that will support maximum sustainable yield - the largest catch that can be taken from a stock over an indefinite period.

Annual catch limits must be established by 2010 for all fisheries where overfishing is occurring, and by 2011 for all other fisheries.

Council staff is currently in the process of drafting a scoping document to discuss the new requirements and possible approaches to establishing ACLs and AMs.  A draft scoping document is tentatively scheduled to be reviewed by the Council in June. Scoping meetings will be held later this summer to garner public input and to identify issues and a reasonable range of alternatives to address those issues.

The Council has established ACLs and AMs for those stocks that are classified as overfished or undergoing overfishing (greater amberjack, gray triggerfish, red snapper and gag), as well as for red grouper.  These ACLs are subject to adjustment when new stock assessments are completed.



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