NOAA Fisheries Announces Gear Modifications for the Snapper-Grouper Fishery

June 12, 2020

FB20-038: South Atlantic Fishery Bulletin; For more information, contact: Frank Helies, 727-824-5305, frank.helies@noaa.gov

KEY MESSAGE:

NOAA Fisheries announces the final rule for Regulatory Amendment 29 to the Fishery Management Plan for the Snapper-Grouper Fishery of the South Atlantic Region (Regulatory Amendment 29).  This final rule modifies gear requirements for the fishery and encourages best fishing practices.

 

WHEN RULE WILL TAKE EFFECT:

Regulations will be effective July 15, 2020.

 

SUMMARY OF CHANGES FOR SNAPPER-GROUPER:

The final rule:

  • requires descending devices be on board and readily available for use on commercial, for-hire, and private recreational vessels while fishing for or possessing snapper-grouper species;
  • requires the use of non-offset, non-stainless steel circle hooks when fishing for snapper-grouper species with hook-and-line gear and natural baits north of 28º north latitude;
  • requires all hooks be non-stainless steel when fishing for snapper-grouper species with hook-and-line gear and natural baits south of 28º north latitude; and
  • allows the use of powerheads in federal waters off South Carolina.

Please see the Frequently Asked Questions below for more information on these actions.


FREQUENTLY ASKED QUESTIONS (FAQs)

 

Why are changes being made to snapper-grouper fishing gear requirements?

  • Commercial and recreational fishermen have expressed concern about regulations that result in released fish that do not survive.
  • Some released fish die due to foul hooking (hooking the fish in the stomach or throat), injuries caused by barotrauma (injury due to expansion of gas when reeled up from depth), handling damage, stress from the fishing process, and predation.
  • To improve the survivorship of released fish, the South Atlantic Fishery Management Council considered measures that would encourage the use of best fishing practices that aim to minimize the impact of capture.
  • Fishermen have also expressed concern regarding inequitable access for the dive component of the snapper-grouper fishery.  To allow for more consistent regulations, the final rule will remove the powerhead prohibition in federal waters off South Carolina.

 

What constitutes an allowable descending device?

  • Descending device means an instrument to which is attached a minimum of a 16 ounce weight and a length of line that will release the fish at the depth from which the fish was caught or a minimum of 60 feet.
  • The descending device attaches to the fish’s mouth or is a container that will hold the fish.  The device MUST be capable of releasing the fish automatically, by the actions of the operator of the device, or by allowing the fish to escape on its own.
  • Since minimizing surface time is critical to increasing survival, descending devices shall be readily available for use while engaged in fishing.
  • Examples of descending devices that meet the requirements can be found in Regulatory Amendment 29 and the table below.

 

When and how should descending devices be used?

  • It is the intent of the South Atlantic Fishery Management Council that descending devices only be used when a fish may be experiencing barotrauma (e.g., caught in deep water, protruding stomach, etc.).
  • This final rule does not prohibit the use of venting tools for those individuals that know how to use them properly (e.g., trained crew on charter vessels or headboats).

 

 

 

Readily Available for Use

Video Instructions

Examples

Weighted Hooks

Attached to an easily accessible, separate rod and reel or handline capable of reeling up a sizable lead with weight sufficient to descend targeted fish.

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=AT9K-zyVpB4

  • Captain Roy’s Fish Saver Device
  • Shelton Fish Descender
  • Homemade weighted hook.

Lip Clamp Devices

Attached to an easily accessible, separate rod and reel or handline capable of reeling up a sizable lead with weight sufficient to descend targeted fish.

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=ZqBEPBdbqJg

  • Seaqualizer
  • RokLees EcoLeeser
  • Blacktip Catch and Release Tool

Box Type Devices

Attached to length of rope sufficient to descend fish to a minimum of 50 feet or, ideally, the depth of capture.

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=oaXpBMY0_rM

  • Inverted utility crate with a mounted weight
  • Recompression cage with mounted weights.

 

What are the new hook requirements?

  • Currently, non-stainless steel circle hooks are required to be used when fishing for snapper-grouper species with hook-and-line gear and natural baits north of 28º north latitude, which is a line running east to west approximately 25 miles south of Cape Canaveral, Florida.
  • The final rule requires the use of non-offset, non-stainless steel circle hooks when fishing for snapper-grouper species with hook-and-line gear and natural baits north of 28º north latitude.  Non-offset circle hooks can reduce the occurrence of hooking-related mortality (when compared to offset circle hooks and J-hooks) and can improve survivorship of released fish.
  • This final rule also requires the use of non-stainless steel hooks when fishing for snapper-grouper species with hook-and-line gear and natural baits south of 28º north latitude.  All hooks, regardless of type, will need to be constructed of non-stainless steel.  Non-stainless steel hooks degrade faster than stainless steel hooks, so fish that are released with an embedded hook would likely have a greater chance of survival through their use.

 

What are powerheads and why is the prohibition on powerhead use off South Carolina being lifted?

  • Powerheads, also known as bang-sticks, are any device with an explosive charge, usually attached to a spear gun, spear, pole, or stick, that fires a projectile upon contact.
  • Currently, powerheads may not be used to harvest snapper-grouper species in federal waters off South Carolina but are allowed in federal waters off North Carolina, Georgia, and Florida.
  • The final rule removes the powerhead prohibition in federal waters off South Carolina, making regulations more consistent for the dive component of the fishery.

 

Where can I find more information on best fishing practices?

  • The South Atlantic Fishery Management Council intends to conduct a substantial education and outreach effort to ensure fishermen participating in the snapper-grouper fishery understand the new regulations and how to properly use descending devices.
  • Regulatory Amendment 29 also contains a Research and Monitoring Plan for Descending Devices (Appendix E).
  • The South Atlantic Fishery Management Council developed a best fishing practices tutorial, available at https://safmc.net/bestpracticestutorial/story_html5.html.

 

Where can I find more information on Regulatory Amendment 29?

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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Last updated by Southeast Regional Office on June 12, 2020