AUGUST 8, 2019

NOAA: Request for Comments on Red Snapper Fishing in the Gulf of Mexico

Request for Comments on Red Snapper Fishing in the Gulf of Mexico

KEY MESSAGES:

·The Gulf of Mexico Fishery Management Council (Gulf Council) developed six amendments to the Fishery Management Plan for Reef Fish Resources in the Gulf of Mexico (Reef Fish FMP) to allow the five Gulf of Mexico states some management authority for private angler red snapper recreational fishing. The Council has transmitted these Amendments to NOAA Fisheries.

·NOAA Fisheries requests your comments regarding the changes these Amendments would make to Gulf of Mexico private recreational red snapper management in federal waters. Comments are due by October 7, 2019.

·Amendment 50A includes actions that affect all states and Amendments 50B-F analyze actions specific to each Gulf of Mexico state (Louisiana, Mississippi, Alabama, Florida, and Texas, respectively).

·NOAA Fisheries will also publish a proposed rule to implement these changes and will send another Fishery Bulletin to request comments at that time. Comments on both the amendment and proposed rule will be considered in the final rule.

SUMMARY OF PROPOSED CHANGES:

Amendments 50A-F propose the following:

·Allow each Gulf of Mexico state limited authority to manage the red snapper recreational private angling component in state and federal waters off each state, which would include setting the season, bag limit, and minimum size limit (between 14 and 18 inches total length), and the option to establish a maximum size limit.

·Divide the private angling component red snapper quota among the states as follows:

State

Louisiana

Mississippi

Alabama

Florida

Texas

Percentage of Total Private Angling Quota

19.120

3.550

26.298

44.822

6.210

Amount of Quota (pounds)

816,233

151,550

1,122,662

1,913,451

265,105

·Develop a procedure to allow states to request closure of areas of federal waters adjacent to state waters.

·Establishing post-season quota adjustments, by state, in the case of a quota overage.

REQUEST FOR COMMENT:

NOAA Fisheries must receive comments on the amendments no later than October 7, 2019. You may obtain electronic copies of the draft amendments and environmental impact statement from the NOAA Fisheries Web site at https://www.fisheries.noaa.gov/action/amendment-50-state-management-program-recreational-red-snapper.

HOW TO COMMENT:

The comment period for the notice of availability of the amendments is open now through October 7, 2019. 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.

FORMAL FEDERAL REGISTER NAME/NUMBER: 84 FR 38198, published August 6, 2019.

Electronic Submissions: Submit all electronic public comments via the Federal e-Rulemaking Portal.

1. Go to: https://www.regulations.gov/docket?D=NOAA-NMFS-2017-0122.

2. Click the "Comment Now!" icon, complete the required fields.

3. Enter or attach your comments.

Mail: Submit written comments to Lauren Waters, Southeast Regional Office, NMFS, 263 13th Avenue South, St. Petersburg, FL 33701.

FREQUENTLY ASKED QUESTIONS (FAQs)

Why is NOAA Fisheries delegating management to the Gulf of Mexico states?

·Recreational fishermen throughout the Gulf of Mexico requested more flexibility in recreational red snapper management to provide greater socioeconomic benefits to their local area. The purpose of these amendments is to increase fishing opportunities and economic benefits by allowing each Gulf of Mexico state to establish specific management measures for the recreational harvest of red snapper in Federal waters by anglers landing in that state.

Why are there six amendments?

·Amendment 50A includes actions that would affect the overall federal management of red snapper, regardless of whether or not all states pursue a state management program. This includes which components of the recreational sector the states would be delegated management, dividing the recreational quota among the states, and the procedure for allowing a state to request closure of federal waters. Amendment 50A also contains an environmental impact statement that analyzes the effects of the actions in all six amendments.

·Amendments 50B-F includes only actions applicable to the individual Gulf of Mexico states, including the mechanism by which management authority would be granted to a state and post-season quota adjustments.

What is the post-season quota adjustment?

·Currently if red snapper is classified as overfished (population too low) and there is an overage of the recreational sector's quota, NOAA Fisheries will reduce the recreational sector quota in the year following by the amount of the overage.

·These amendments propose to add payback adjustments for states with an active delegation. If the landings of a state exceed that state's quota, then in the following year that state's component quota would be reduced by the amount of the overage in the prior fishing year, even if the stock is not classified as overfished.

What was the basis for the state-specific quotas?

·For the 2018 and 2019 red snapper fishing years, NOAA Fisheries issued exempted fishing permits to the five Gulf of Mexico states approving those states to set the fishing season for the private angling component and test data collection programs for monitoring landings.

·The quota allocation is based on the allocations requested by each state in its exempted fishing permit application, which totaled 96.22%. The remaining 3.78% would be apportioned between Florida and Alabama, proportionally, based on their allocation request.

How can a state request closure of areas of federal waters adjacent to state waters?

·The state would request the closure by letter, providing dates and geographic coordinates for the closure.

·If the request is within the scope of the analysis in Amendment 50A, NOAA Fisheries would publish a notice in the Federal Register implementing the closure as requested.

o Texas would be able to request closure of all federal waters off Texas when a portion of the Texas quota has been landed.

o Florida would be able to request a closure of federal waters adjacent to Florida seaward of an approximation of the 20-fathom depth contour or 35-fathom depth contour.

o Alabama would be able to request a closure of federal waters adjacent to Alabama seaward of an approximation of the 20-fathom depth contour or 35-fathom depth contour.

o Neither Louisiana nor Mississippi provided a potential closure to analyze.

How will NOAA Fisheries ensure the states are managing red snapper appropriately?

·Management measures under a state's approved state management program must achieve the same conservation goals as the current federal management measures (for example, constrain harvest to the state's allocated quota).

·The Gulf Council would still determine the total recreational sector, component, and state quotas.

·If at any time NOAA Fisheries determines a state's delegation is inconsistent with the Fishery Management Plan for Reef Fish Resources in the Gulf of Mexico, the delegation could be revoked.

How will red snapper regulations on the private angling component in Gulf of Mexico federal waters be enforced?

·A private angler must be in compliance with the fishing license (permit) requirements of the state in which they intend to land the fish, and may not possess red snapper in Gulf of Mexico federal waters off that state when that state season is closed.

·In federal waters, enforcement agents would use the least restrictive state management measures in place at the time, to determine regulatory compliance. For example, if Mississippi implements a two-fish bag limit while the other states implement a one-fish bag limit, a private angler in possession of three fish in federal waters would not be in compliance.

Where can I find more information on Reef Fish Amendment 50?

·Amendments 50A-F may be found online at the NOAA Fisheries Southeast Regional Office Web site at: https://www.fisheries.noaa.gov/action/amendment-50-state-management-program-recreational-red-snapper.

·A public hearing video can be found on the Gulf Council Web site at: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=f7M-6P4fZ84&feature=youtu.be

·Contact NOAA Fisheries, Southeast Regional Office:

By Mail: Lauren Waters

NOAA Fisheries,

Southeast Regional Office

Sustainable Fisheries Division

263 13th Avenue South

St. Petersburg, Florida 33701-5505

By FAX: (727) 824-5308

By Phone: (727) 824-5305

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