Greetings from Mobile, Alabama at the Gulf of Mexico Fishery Management Council Meeting. We have had the pleasure this week to work with fishermen and fishery management officials as we continue an effort to improve our nations' fisheries through sustainable management practices developed by all user groups involved. It's been a relatively quiet week, but there are some crucial decisions coming up at the next meeting in Corpus Christi, Texas this April. Among the highlights of the week were an update on the Grey Triggerfish population, moving forward on the proposed Greater Amberjack regulations, and a step towards adding artificial reefs as an Essential Fish Habitat.
The update on Grey Triggerfish revealed a concern that the population is declining, and will possibly be closed in the near future. Further exploration should reveal more insight as to why the population is decreasing. There were suggestions made by several fisherman during public testimony that Red Snapper predation may be a source of this decline. Possibly the most important of the topics discussed for our industry was with Greater Amberjack. The council entertained possibilities of increasing the size limit and changing the season. After much debate among council members and input during public testimony, the amendment was moved forward and will recieve final action in April. The concern by fishermen as well as some council members is that by raising the size limit and adjusting the season we will be disregarding our current plan after only one year. The largest concern with respect to size limit is that although from a biological standpoint, 34 inches is the best for the stock. The increase in discard mortality to catch fish of that size will be very high while at the same time reaching the total allowable catch faster as larger fish are being targeted. The proposed seasonal closure in March, April, and May does not offer flexibility to any recreational fishermen any prized species to target outside of the expected Red Snapper season. This will drastically cut the number of fishing days of all recreational fisherman and essentially cripple charter guides already hurting from a very short Red Snapper season. There is also work being done to attempt to add artificial reefs to the list of essential fish habitats, but this possibility will be further explored in April after reviewing the current language of the EFH definition.
The actions taken and items discussed in Mobile this week set the stage for some possibly monumental decisions coming out of the meeting in April with regards to the charter for hire industry and recreational fishermen. The biggest and most heated topic will be a scoping document regarding sector separation for the charter boat fleet. Sector separation in the recreational fishery would essentially be giving recreational and charter fishermen the ability to create a flexible, accountable fishery management plan that allows more access to the fishery for the American public. Adding the final action on Greater Amberjack, possibly making artificial reef an essential fish habitat, and the announcement of the federal Red Snapoer season coming in between make for a very packed agenda effecting recreational fishermen across the Gulf of Mexico.
For more information about the Charter Fisherman's Association visit charterfisherman.org