NOAA Fisheries Seeks Public Comment on a Draft Environmental Impact Statement for Establishing Habitat Areas of Particular Concern in the Gulf of Mexico

May 21, 2018

FB18-034 Gulf of Mexico Fishery Bulletin; For More Information, Contact: Lauren Waters, (727) 824-5305, Lauren.Waters@noaa.gov

KEY MESSAGE:

NOAA Fisheries is seeking public comment on a draft environmental impact statement for Amendment 9 to the Fishery Management Plan for Coral and Coral Reef Resources of the Gulf of Mexico.  The Environmental Protection Agency announced the availability of the draft environmental impact statement on May 21, 2018 (83 FR 23461).

The Gulf of Mexico Fishery Management Council (Council) is considering an action to establish 15 new habitat areas of particular concern (HAPC) with fishing regulations, establish 7 new HAPCs without fishing regulations, and prohibit dredge fishing in all HAPCs with fishing regulations in the Gulf of Mexico (Gulf).

 

SUMMARY OF PROPOSED CHANGES:
For the proposed changes below, except where otherwise stated, bottom-tending gear is defined as:  bottom longline, bottom trawl, buoy gear, dredge, pot or trap, and bottom anchoring by fishing vessels.  Buoy gear does not refer to highly migratory species buoy gear, which is not a bottom-tending gear.

  • Establish the following areas as HAPCs with regulations prohibiting fishing with bottom tending gear: West Florida Wall, Alabama Alps, L&W Pinnacles, Scamp Reef, Mississippi Canyon 118, Roughtongue Reef, Viosca Knoll 826, Green Canyon 852, and AT 357.
  • Establish Viosca Knoll 862/906 as an HAPC with regulations prohibiting fishing with bottom tending gear, but allow royal red shrimp fisherman to keep their nets in the water in this area.
  • Within the current Pulley Ridge HAPC, establish a new HAPC with fishing regulations prohibiting all fishing with bottom tending gear, except for long line gear.
  • Establish the following areas as HAPCs without fishing regulation: Harte Bank, Southern Bank, South Reed; Garden Banks 299 and 535; Green Canyon 140, 272,234, and 354; Mississippi Canyon 751 and 885.
  • An interactive map of existing and proposed areas can be found online at http://portal.gulfcouncil.org/coralhapc.html

 

REQUEST FOR COMMENT:
Please provide comments on this draft environmental impact statement no later than July 5, 2018. You may obtain electronic copies of the draft amendment and environmental impact statement from the NOAA Fisheries Web site.

 

HOW TO COMMENT:
The comment period is open now through July 5,2018.  You may submit comments by electronic submission or by postal mail.  Comments sent by any other method (such as e-mail), to any other address or individual, or received after the end of the comment period, may not be considered by NOAA Fisheries.

 

FORMAL FEDERAL REGISTER NAME/NUMBER: NOAA-NMFS-2017-0146, published May 21, 2018.

 

Electronic Submissions: Submit all electronic public comments via the Federal e-Rulemaking Portal. 

  1. Go to: http://www.regulations.gov/#!docketDetail;D=NOAA-NMFS-2017-0146.
  2. Click the "Comment Now!" icon, complete the required fields.
  3. Enter or attach your comments.

Mail: Submit written comments to Lauren Waters, Southeast Regional Office, NMFS, 263 13th Avenue South, St. Petersburg, FL 33701.


FREQUENTLY ASKED QUESTIONS (FAQs)

 

What is essential fish habitat (EFH) and a habitat areas of particular concern (HAPC)?

  • EFH are those waters and substrate necessary to fish (including coral) for spawning, breeding, feeding, or growth to maturity.
  • HAPCs are a subset of EFH that meets one or more of the following criteria: 1) importance of ecological function provided by the habitat; 2) area or habitat is sensitive to human induced degradation; 3) the habitat is stressed; 4) is considered rare.

 

Why are these measures necessary?

  • Corals and coral habitat meet the criteria as HAPCs because they are especially sensitive to human-induced degradation by fishing and non-fishing activities.
  • Each fishery management plan must minimize adverse effects to EFH caused by fishing. Designating these areas as HAPCs helps identify these areas as important to protect and manage regarding fishing impacts.
  • This amendment would protect coral species and essential fish habitat and maintain suitable marine fishery habitat quality and quantity to support sustainable fisheries.

 

How were the areas chosen?

  • In 2014, the Council convened a working group of scientists to discuss which areas in the Gulf may warrant more specific coral protection. The group identified 47 areas.  The Council’s Special Coral Scientific and Statistical Committee, Coral Advisory Panel (AP), Shrimp AP, Reef Fish AP, Spiny Lobster AP, Law Enforcement Technical Committee, members of the shrimping community, including royal red shrimp fishermen, and bottom longline fishermen, met throughout 2015 and 2016 to review and provide input on the recommended areas resulting in identifying 15 priority areas to have fishing regulations.
  • This amendment would protect coral species and essential fish habitat and maintain suitable marine fishery habitat quality and quantity to support sustainable fisheries.

 

What is an environmental impact statement?

  • The National Environmental Policy Actrequires an assessment of the environmental impacts associated with a regulatory action.  An environmental impact statement is developed if there is the potential for the actions to be significantly beneficial or impactful to the natural or human environment.
  • This draft environmental impact statement analyzes the impacts of a reasonable range of alternatives.

 

Where can I find more information on Coral Amendment 9?

  • Amendment 9 may be found online at the NOAA Fisheries Southeast Regional Office Web site.   
  • Contact NOAA Fisheries, Southeast Regional Office: 
         By Mail: Lauren WatersNOAA Fisheries, 
         Southeast Regional Office
         Sustainable Fisheries Division
         263 13th Avenue South
         St. Petersburg, Florida 33701-5505
         By Phone: (727) 824-5305

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Last updated by Southeast Regional Office on November 16, 2018