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Request for Comments: Changes to the Acceptable Biological Catch Control Rules for the Fishery Management Plans for the Snapper-Grouper and Golden Crab Fisheries in the South Atlantic, and Dolphin and Wahoo Fishery in the Atlantic

September 11, 2023

FB23-061: South Atlantic Fishery Bulletin. For more information, contact: Nikhil Mehta: (727) 824-5304; Nikhil.Mehta@noaa.gov.

Key Messages:

NOAA Fisheries requests your comments on the notice of availability and proposed rule for the Comprehensive Acceptable Biological Catch (ABC) Control Rule Amendment to the Fishery Management Plans (FMP) for the Snapper-Grouper and Golden Crab Fisheries of the South Atlantic Region (Snapper-Grouper FMP and Golden Crab FMP, respectively), and Dolphin and Wahoo Fishery of the Atlantic (Dolphin and Wahoo FMP).  The purpose of the amendment is to provide flexibility in setting catch limits and improve the incorporation of scientific uncertainty and management risk.


If implemented, the Comprehensive ABC Control Rule Amendment and the proposed rule would modify the ABC control rules for the respective FMPs, to allow phase-in of ABC changes, allow carry-over of unharvested portion of the annual catch limit (ACL), and modify framework procedures to implement carry-overs of ACLs when allowed.  Current catch levels for species under the Snapper-Grouper, Golden Crab, and Dolphin and Wahoo FMPs would not change under the Comprehensive ABC Control Rule Amendment and its proposed rule. 


Comments are due by November 13, 2023.


Summary of Proposed Changes:

  • ABC Control Rules
    • The proposed ABC control rules would categorize fish stocks based on the available information and scientific uncertainty evaluation.
    • When possible, the South Atlantic Fishery Management Council’s (Council) Scientific and Statistical Committee (SSC) would estimate the overfishing limit (OFL) and characterize its uncertainty based on, primarily, the stock assessment or, secondarily, the SSC’s expert opinion.
    • For unassessed fish stocks, the proposed modifications would expand the number of methods that could be considered for estimating OFL and ABC.
    • For overfished stocks, the Council would specify a stock rebuilding plan, considering recommendations from the SSC and fishery management plan advisory panel (AP).
    • When requested by the Council, the SSC would recommend an ABC for up to 5 years as both a constant value across years and as individual annual values for the same period of years.
  • Phase-in of ABC changes
    • Phase-in of increases to the ABC would be allowed as specified by the Council with advice from the SSC and AP.
    • Phase-in of decreases to the ABC would be allowed when a new ABC is less than 80% of the existing ABC.
    • Phase-in of decreases to the ABC would be allowed over no more than 3 years.
  • Carry-over of ACLs
    • Carry-over of the unharvested portion of a sector’s ACL could occur if:
    • The stock status is known, and it is neither overfished nor undergoing overfishing.
    • An OFL for the stock is defined.
    • ABC decreases are not being phased-in.
    • There are measures that restrict annual landings to the ACL and post-season accountability measures that reduce the ACL in the following year according to any landings overages in place for that stock and sector.
    • The ABC and the total ACL may be temporarily increased to allow this carry-over.  The temporary ABC may not exceed the OFL.
    • If both sectors are eligible, both the commercial and recreational sectors may use carry-over in the same year.
    • Sector-specific amounts being carried over would be allocated entirely to the sector from which they came unless the sum of the specified total ACL and all sector-specific amounts that could be carried over exceeds the OFL.  If this happens, the temporary ABC would be set equal to the OFL and the difference between the temporary ABC and the specified total ACL would be allocated according to sector allocation percentages defined in the FMP.
  • Framework procedures
    • Section I of the existing framework procedures in the Snapper-Grouper, Golden Crab, and Dolphin and Wahoo FMPs would be modified to allow single season adjustments to ABC and ACL.
    • An amendment or framework that specifies carry-over for a stock would include analysis of the relevant biological, economic, and social information necessary to meet the criteria and guidance of the existing ABC control rule.
    • Additional details of the framework procedures can be found in Section 2.4.1 of the Comprehensive ABC Control Rule Amendment.

How to Comment on the Notice of Availability and Proposed Rule:

The comment period for the notice of availability is open now through November 13, 2023.  The comment period on the proposed rule is expected to fall within this same timeframe, and comments on both the amendment and proposed rule will be considered in the final rule.  You may submit comments by electronic submission (described below) or by postal mail.  Comments received after the end of the comment period may not be considered by NOAA Fisheries.


Federal Register Citation: 88 FR 62309, published September 11, 2023


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

1. Go to https://www.regulations.gov/docket/NOAA-NMFS-2023-0067/document.

2. Click the "Comment" icon, complete the required fields.

3. Enter or attach your comments.


Mail: Submit written comments to Nikhil Mehta, Southeast Regional Office, NOAA Fisheries, 263 13th Avenue South, St. Petersburg, Florida 33701.


Where can I find more information on Comprehensive ABC Control Rule Amendment?

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


Frequently Asked Questions (FAQs)


Why are changes to the ABC control rules for the Snapper-Grouper, Golden Crab, and Dolphin and Wahoo FMPs being proposed?

  • The existing ABC control rules for the three FMPs were implemented in 2012 and updated for the Snapper-Grouper FMP in 2015.  The existing regulations do not allow phase-in and carry-over of catch limits, and do not provide the additional flexibility and incorporation of uncertainty and risk tolerance compared with the proposed changes.
  • In 2020, NOAA Fisheries provided best practices and recommendations on how to develop and apply phase-in and carry-over of catch limits.
  • The proposed ABC control rules would provide the Council’s SSC the ability to adjust or derive uncertainty of stock assessment results (ultimately impacting projections of future catch) if they determine uncertainty is not adequately estimated through information used in the stock assessment.
  • Evaluation of risk tolerance would be improved by considering factors beyond the current productivity and susceptibility analysis and expanding the range of reference points used to describe and incorporate relative biomass.
  • The addition of economic factors would allow the Council to better consider the long-term economic implications when examining management risk, which could lead to better economic outcomes and increase net economic benefits in a fishery for a given species.
  • The inclusion of social factors would allow the Council to directly consider the importance of a given species to fishing communities and businesses when determining risk tolerance, providing long-term social benefits.

How does allowing phase-in of ABC changes help manage our fisheries better?

  • Phase-in of the ABC is an option the Council could consider to address the social and economic effects from management changes.
  • Adopting this flexibility would not require the Council to phase-in all ABC changes, nor does adopting one approach prevent the Council from choosing a more restrictive schedule of ABC phase-in (less than three years).
  • Management strategy evaluations could be used to quantify such trade-offs.

How does allowing carry-over of unharvested portions of the ACL help manage our fisheries better?

  • Allowing carry-over of unused ACL would allow for increased harvest which would increase associated economic benefits.
  • For the recreational sector, these increased economic benefits could be characterized by improved consumer surplus for anglers from elevated harvest levels and increased producer surplus for for-hire businesses if higher ACLs result in increases in demand for trips onboard charter vessels or headboats.
  • For the commercial sector, these increased economic benefits could be characterized by improved net operating revenue and thus producer surplus for commercial fishing vessels and dealers.

Why are the framework procedures for the Snapper-Grouper, Golden Crab, and Dolphin and Wahoo being modified?

  • The current process to implement changes to catch levels is not efficient, given the timing of Council and SSC meetings, and the need to implement changes to ABC and ACL within a fishing year based on landings from the previous year.
  • The proposed process would allow carry-overs to occur in a timelier manner than that of a plan amendment.
  • A faster process is necessary due to the year-to-year nature of carry-overs.  Under-harvest may only be carried over in the immediate next year.  Therefore, definition of a stock’s eligibility and the amount of ACL being carried over must occur fast enough that the fishery has time to harvest the carried over amount within the fishing year following a year of under-harvest.

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Quick Glance Contact List for the NOAA Fisheries Southeast Regional Office

Permits Mailbox: The Permits Office in St. Petersburg, Florida, now has a Permits mailbox in the front lobby (263 13th Ave. South, St. Petersburg, FL 33701).  You can now drop off original permits for permit transfers.  Envelopes with information labels will be provided so that your documents can be attached to the correct application.  The mailbox will be checked daily.  For more information, contact the Permits Office at 877-376-4877.

Media Contact: Allison Garrett, 727-551-5750

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Last updated by Southeast Regional Office on September 20, 2023