Wednesday, December 29, 2010
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
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
Posted by Collier County Sea Grant Agent at 10:47 AM