data to estimate discards in the commercial fishery. The result was a slight improvement in the total allowable catch for 2011, from 1.01 to 1.28 million pounds. That means 781,000 pounds (61%) for the recreational sector and 499,000 pounds (39%) for the commercial sector. The 781,000 pound recreational allocation allows enough catch for a two-month fall season, provided Florida adopts a consistent closed season by June 1. Without Florida consistency, it is projected the entire recreational allocation will be caught in state waters, leaving no allocation available for federal waters. The September 16 through November 15 recreational season is contingent upon Florida consistency.
For the commercial sector, a major unknown factor is the levels of dead discards due to the small amount of gag individual fishing quota (IFQ) available, and whether commercial fishermen can successfully avoid catching gag while fishing for red grouper. Because the grouper IFQ system has only been in place for one year, the commercial sector has not established a track record to demonstrate how successfully fishermen can avoid catching fish for which they do not have IFQ shares. As a result, the Council set the 2011 commercial quota at a precautionary level of 430,000 pounds. This includes the 100,000 pounds previously released via interim rule at the beginning of the year.
The Council also continued work on Draft Reef Fish Amendment 32 to establish a rebuilding plan for gag, which has been declared by NOAA Fisheries to be overfished and undergoing overfishing. Amendment 32 will be implemented in 2012 and should allow for an increase in the 2012 total allowable catch of gag, provided that the 2011 catches from recreational and commercial fishing do not exceed the levels needed to
rebuild. To help assure that the rebuilding plan stays on track, the Council directed staff to include alternatives for recreational quota closure authority for the NOAA Fisheries Regional Administrator, and overage adjustments if a sector exceeds its allocation. This is similar to the quota closure authority and overage adjustments of the greater amberjack fishery, which is also under a rebuilding plan. The Council also streamlined the amendment by removing several alternatives that were intended to address bycatch, and by moving a section on data collection and monitoring programs out of Amendment 32 and into a more appropriate amendment. In addition, alternatives to increase the recreational bag limit of red grouper will be added to the amendment. Public hearings on Amendment 32 will be scheduled around the Gulf coast this spring or summer.
Another unknown is whether goliath grouper change sex like gag and some other grouper species. Also, the assessment, which was conducted by the Florida Fish and Wildlife Research Institute, focused on the south Florida portion of the stock. While that area is the center of abundance, goliath grouper are found throughout the Gulf of Mexico and in the Caribbean, and information about the status of the stock in areas not covered by the assessment is lacking. Because of the biological uncertainties and the limited geographic scope of the assessment, the Council’s Scientific and Statistical Committee was unable to set a level of acceptable biological catch. Instead, they recommended that the moratorium be continued through 2015, and that during this period, a coordinated scientific sampling plan be produced to address the data needs. The Florida Wildlife Conservation Commission will review the assessment during its February meeting and may consider some sort of limited harvest of Goliath in state waters.
To view the entire Gulf Council Update visit:http://www.gulfcouncil.org/news_resources/Press%20Releases/FebruaryUpdate.pdf