Florida Sea Grant Extension in Collier County

Welcome to the Collier County Sea Grant Extension Blog

This blog is an opportunity for me to share with you my extension outreach efforts and useful information to make you a more informed coastal citizen. If you have any questions about what you see, feel free to contact me at fluech@ufl.edu.

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Wednesday, December 29, 2010

New Federal Gag Grouper Rules Start Jan 1

Starting January 1, 2011 gag grouper in Gulf federal waters will be off limits to recreational fishermen for at least six months.
A 2009 stock assessment conducted by a cooperative group of fisheries scientists and managers indicated that gag are both overfished (population abundance is too low) and experiencing overfishing (rate of removal too high). According to the assessment, gag populations are 40% of what they should be for a sustainable fishery.
As a result, the Gulf of Mexico Fishery Management Council is mandated by The Magnuson-Stevens Fishery Conservation and Management Act to take immediate action to rebuild gag stocks to acceptable levels within ten years. The rebuilding plan is expected to be approved by the Council and implemented by NOAA Fisheries sometime in the fall. In the meantime an interim rule has been approved to mitigate overfishing while the long-term plan (Amendment 32 to the Reef Fish Fishery Management Plan) is developed and finalized.
The interim rule prohibits the recreational harvest of gag grouper in federal Gulf waters (beyond 9 nautical miles from shore) and establishes a 100,000 lb gag quota for the commercial fishing sector beginning January 1, 2011. As of now the interim rule lasts for 180 days. If new data presented at the Gulf Council's February meeting reflects that gag populations are in worse shape than previously thought, however, the Council can request a new interim rule, which could last another 186 days. If this happens, it is possible the recreational gag fishery could remain closed until the final gag rule is approved.
On a somewhat "brighter" note, the harvest of gag in Gulf state waters (within 9 nautical miles of shore) will remain open until the normal Feb 1-March 31 closure and all other state regulations remain the same. Typically the Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission does not adopt federal regulations until a final rule has been implemented. To view the current state saltwater regulations visit: http://myfwc.com/RULESANDREGS/SaltwaterRules_index.htm

A logical question you may ask yourself is why the commercial sector will still be allowed to harvest gag when the recreational anglers cannot. First off, it is important to remember the commercial gag fishery is managed under an individual fishing quota system and that the 100,000 pounds quota means each commercial fisherman with gag shares only gets 7% of his/her individual gag quota during the interim rule time period. The Gulf Council reasoned that the commercial sector incidentally catches gag on trips where they target other species. Commercial fishermen fish in deeper waters than recreational anglers, on average, and fish caught in deeper water are less likely to survive upon release than fish caught in shallow water. Therefore, the commercial fishery has a higher rate of release mortality (fish that die after they are caught and released) than the recreational sector. The 100,000 lbs quota will serve to prevent the wasteful discard of dead gags and instead, count the otherwise dead fish against the annual commercial quota, which will be established in the final gag grouper rule.
To learn more about the gag grouper closure and frequently asked questions regarding the subject visit: http://sero.nmfs.noaa.gov/sf/pdfs/Gulf_Gag_and_Red_Grouper_FAQs.pdf

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