Request for Comments: Exempted Fishing Permits to Allow State Pilot Projects for the Management of Recreational Red Snapper Fishing in the Gulf of Mexico

March 12, 2018

FB18-016 Gulf of Mexico Fishery Bulletin; For More Information, Contact: Sustainable Fisheries, 727-824-5305

640x427-red-snapper.png

Key Message:

NOAA Fisheries announces a comment period on five exempted fishing permits (EFPs) submitted by each of the five Gulf of Mexico (Gulf) states.  Each Gulf state marine resource agency has submitted an EFP that would allow them to set the season(s) for recreationally caught red snapper from state and federal waters that are landed in each respective state for 2018 and 2019.  The purpose of these EFPs is to allow states to demonstrate the effectiveness of state management of recreationally caught red snapper and data collection methods through 2-year pilot programs.
 

Comments are due by April 2, 2018.   

 

Summary of the Proposed Exempted Fishing Permits:

  • States would establish seasons when red snapper could be landed.
  • Recreational fishermen with the appropriate licenses from the state would be able to land fish caught in federal waters during the state season.
  • States would require fishermen to land their red snapper following state-specific rules.
  • States would monitor red snapper landings and close their seasons if a state’s assigned quota is reached or projected to be reached.

 

How to Comment on the Exempted Fishing Permits:

The comment period is open now through April 2, 2018.  You may submit comments on the EFPs 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: FR#10683, published March 12, 2018.

  1. Go to www.regulations.gov.
  2. Click the "Comment Now!" icon, complete the required fields.
  3. Enter or attach your comments.

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


 

Frequently Asked Questions (FAQs)

 

What is being proposed?

  • Each Gulf of Mexico (Gulf) state marine resource agency has submitted an application for an EFP that would allow them to set private angler and/or for-hire fishing season(s) for red snapper landed in each respective state for 2018 and 2019.
  • The EFPs would do so by exempting persons landing red snapper in the participating states from the closed federal fishing season.
  • The purpose of these EFPs is to allow states to demonstrate the effectiveness of state management of recreationally caught red snapper and data collection methods through 2-year pilot programs.

 

Why is this action needed?

  • Although red snapper are recovering quickly in the Gulf, the federal recreational fishing season for private anglers has been getting shorter each year.
  • Many fishermen are frustrated with the increasingly restrictive federal management of red snapper and see a need for increased cooperation between state and federal governments.
  • NOAA Fisheries recognizes new and innovative solutions are needed to manage the Gulf recreational red snapper fishery.
  • Gulf state marine resource agencies have expressed an interest in managing recreational fishing for red snapper in the waters off their states.
  • In Senate Report 114-239, NOAA was directed to develop and support a fishery management pilot program for reef fish in designated artificial reef zones.  Through EFPs, NOAA Fisheries can authorize activities that would otherwise be prohibited by federal fishery regulations, including the testing of new management pilot programs. 
  • Earlier this year NOAA Fisheries encouraged the states to submit EFP applications to test new ways to manage recreational red snapper fishing.

 

What is an exempted fishing permit (EFP)?

  • EFPs are issued for activities in support of fisheries-related research.
  • Examples include seafood product development and market research, exploratory fishing, fishing gear testing, the collection of fish for public display, and pilot management programs. 
  • These state EFPs would exempt state-licensed fishers from the federal red snapper recreational season closure. 
  • Specific activities exempt from fishing regulations would be specified in each EFP.
  • NOAA Fisheries may approve all or only part of a request, and may impose conditions to ensure compliance with the purpose of the EFPs, consistent with objectives of the fishery management plan and other federal law.

 

How would the state pilot programs work?

  • States would establish seasons when red snapper could be landed, and recreational fishermen with the appropriate licenses from the state would be able to land fish caught in federal waters during the state season.
  • States would require fishers to land their red snapper following specific rules.
  • States would monitor red snapper landings and close their seasons when the state’s assigned quota is reached or projected to be reached.
  • A more detailed description of each state’s EFP request is provided at the end of this FAQ

 

Would the EFPs apply to all recreational red snapper fishing? 

  • Currently, the recreational red snapper sector is divided into two components, the private angling component and the federal for-hire component, that have separate quotas and seasons.
  • The private angling component includes state-permitted for-hire vessels and any red snapper landings by these for-hire vessel are counted against the private angling component quota. However, these state-permitted for-hire vessels are not able to fish in Federal waters.
  • The EFP applications from Florida, Alabama, and Mississippi only request managing the private angling component.
  • The EFP applications from Louisiana and Texas apply to both the private angling component and federal for-hire components.
  • NOAA Fisheries will determine if the entire recreational sector or just a portion of it will be covered by the EFPs based on input from the public and the Gulf of Mexico Fishery Management Council (Council).

    Report Recreational Sector Components

    Private angling component - private recreational anglers and other for-hire vessel operators who do not have a federal reef fish charter vessel/headboat permit.

    Federal for-hire component - all for-hire vessel operators with a valid or renewable federal reef fish charter vessel/headboat permit.

     

Has the Council reviewed the applications and made a recommendation to NOAA Fisheries?

  • Yes, the Council reviewed the EFP applications at its January 2018 meeting.
  • The Council recommended approval of each state’s EFP application as long as the length of the Gulf-wide federal for-hire component season is not affected by the issuance of these EFPs.

 

If some states propose to manage the for-hire component and others do not, how would NOAA Fisheries manage the federal for-hire component? 

  • For the federal for-hire component, only the Louisiana and Texas applications have proposed including this component in their EFPs.
  • If EFPs are approved as submitted by the five Gulf states, NOAA Fisheries would still set a federal season throughout the federal waters of the Gulf for the federal for-hire component.
  • NOAA Fisheries has no authority in issuing EFPs to open federal waters only off certain states, and NOAA Fisheries could not, through the EFPs, prohibit Texas and Louisiana federally permitted for-hire vessels from fishing during the both the season covered under the EFP and the Gulf-wide federal for-hire season.
  • In addition, the quotas requested by Texas and Louisiana are based on higher landings from past years rather than landings in recent years.
  • Because NOAA Fisheries projects the federal season based on recent landings, NOAA Fisheries would have to reduce the length of the Gulf-wide federal for-hire component season to account for the additional pounds of fish requested by Texas and Louisiana.
  • This would be inconsistent with the Council’s recommendation that NOAA Fisheries issue the EFPs as long as the length of the Gulf-wide federal for-hire component season is not affected.

 

What happens with the private angling season if a state EFP request is denied or the state withdraws its application?

  • If all the EFPs are issued, the private angling component’s overall Gulf quota would be divided among the states, as requested, and landings would be regulated through each state’s management program covered under the EFP.
  • The EFP would exempt persons landing red snapper in the participating states from the closed federal fishing season and allow them to land during the season established by the participating state.
  • However, if not all of the states receive EFPs, NOAA Fisheries would set a Gulf-wide federal private angling season to allow those anglers from the non-participating states to fish for red snapper in federal waters  Similar to the for-hire component, NOAA Fisheries has no authority to open federal waters off of only some states and not other states.  Therefore, NOAA Fisheries could not prohibit private anglers from fishing during both the season covered under a state’s EFP and the Gulf-wide federal private angling season.

 

Are there criteria NOAA Fisheries will use to determine whether to approve an EFP or not?

  • There are many different criteria the agency considers when reviewing an EFP request, including:
    • Do the EFP applications meet the requirements listed in the federal regulations (50 CFR 600.745)?
    • Is the sum of the EFP state quota requests less than or equal to the applicable Gulf recreational red snapper component quotas?
    • Have the states adequately described how they will set seasons, monitor catch, and address potential overages?

 

What is the timeline for issuing the EFPs?

  • A notice requesting comments on the applications published in the Federal Register on March 12, 2018.  Comments may be submitted until April 2, 2018.
  • NOAA Fisheries will make a determination on issuance of each EFP, and any conditions on the EFPS, after reviewing public comments.
  • If approved, the EFPs are expected to be issued in mid-April.

 

What is each state proposing?

  • A quota or quotas to cover landings of red snapper for one or both components of the recreational sector.  Each state has a different basis for determining their requested quota.
  • A potential buffer on the quota to account for management uncertainty and prevent quota overages. The buffer may vary depending on the timeliness of the state’s reporting methods.
  • A season for landing red snapper from state and federal waters based on the requested quota.
  • Monitoring methods to track landings.
  • Measures to account for quota overages.

 

Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission (FWC)

  • FWC requests that 1,631,700 pounds of red snapper from the Gulf recreational private angling component quota be made available each year for red snapper landed in Florida.
  • The requested quota is based on the proportion of red snapper landed in Florida during 2006 through 2015, except for 2010 landings (excluded as a result of the Deepwater Horizon MC252 oil spill).
  • The quota would be reduced by a 20 percent buffer.
  • For 2018, the projected red snapper fishing season for private anglers would be May 25 through June 17 for the Gulf waters off Florida, based on the requested quota.  The 2019 state private angling recreational season would be determined at a later date.
  • Private anglers would be required to sign up for the state's Gulf Reef Fish Angler Program to be able to land select reef fish species including red snapper.
  • Landings would be monitored through the state's Gulf Reef Fish Survey.
  • If recreational landings are less than the assigned quota at the end of this season, fishing could reopen in the fall of 2018 and/or 2019 to land the uncaught portion of the quota.
  • If the recreational quota is exceeded in 2018, FWC proposes to make adjustments in red snapper regulations to account for the overage in the following year.

 

Alabama Department of Conservation and Natural Resources (ADCNR)

  • ADCNR requests an annual state private angling component quota of 984,291 pounds for 2018 and 2019.
  • The requested quota equals 10 percent of the red snapper biomass estimated by university researchers to occur in waters off Alabama, and is estimated from fishery-independent biomass estimates.
  • The quota would be reduced by a 10 percent buffer.
  • For 2018, red snapper could be landed in Alabama on weekends (Friday through Sunday) starting on June 1 and continuing until the quota is reached or projected to be reached.
  • Currently, ADCNR is projecting a season of 47 fishing days.  The 2019 state private angling recreational season would be determined at a later date.  If there is sufficient quota available, ACDNR would reopen the season in the fall.
  • Landings would be monitored through Snapper Check, a mandatory electronic reporting program.
  • If the 2018 quota were to be exceeded, payback of the quota overage would occur for the following year.

 

Mississippi Department of Marine Resources (MDMR)

  • MDMR requests an annual quota of 137,949 pounds of red snapper for the private angling component to be landed in Mississippi for 2018 and 2019.
  • The quota is based on 2017 landings reported to MDMR’s mandatory Tails n’ Scales electronic reporting system.
  • A 10 percent buffer would be applied.
  • The red snapper season would begin on May 1 of each year and remain open until the quota is projected to be reached.
  • Landings in 2018 and 2019 would be tracked by the state through the Tails n’ Scales electronic reporting system.
  • Landings would be validated by MDMR staff through a dockside survey, phone survey, and visual effort survey conducted by MDMR.
  • Should the quota be exceeded in 2018, a payback of the quota overage would be applied for 2019.

 

Louisiana Department of Wildlife and Fisheries (LDWF)

  • LDWF requests that the state recreational quota be 743,000 pounds for the private angling component and 317,000 pounds for the federal for-hire component for 2018 and 2019.
  • The quotas are based on the historical landings formula used to separate the recreational sector into two components.
  • LDWF proposes to begin both the private angling and for-hire seasons on May 25 in 2018, and May 24 in 2019 (the Friday before Memorial Day) until the respective quotas are reached.
  • The private angling season would consist of 3-day weekends (Friday through Sunday), but also include the Memorial Day, Independence Day, and Labor Day holidays each year.
  • The federal for-hire season would be 7 days per week.
  • Recreational landings would be monitored through LDWF’s LA Creel survey.
  • Private anglers and for-hire operators would also be encouraged to report landings though a state-approved electronic reporting system.
  • Should the overall recreational quota be exceeded in 2018, a payback would be applied in 2019.

 

Texas Parks & Wildlife Department (TPWD)

  • TPWD requests 1,077,280 pounds of red snapper to be used by the private angling and federal for-hire components.
  • The quota is 16 percent of the Gulf-wide recreational quota and was Texas preferred percentage in a draft regional management amendment being developed by the Council.
  • The red snapper private angling season in state waters would still begin on January 1 each year.
  • Because offshore weather conditions off Texas are generally unfavorable around the traditional June 1 federal recreational red snapper season start date, TPWD proposes to allow the season for red snapper caught in federal waters to start sometime after June 1. 
  • In 2019, the recreational season for fish caught in federal waters could start prior to June 1 to take advantage of better weather conditions that occur off Texas in the winter and spring.
  • The red snapper recreational harvest would be monitored using the Texas Marine Sport Harvest Monitoring Program, NOAA‘s Southeast Region Headboat Survey, and a self-reported harvest system using the iSnapper application for smartphones and tablets.
  • TPWD would project total landings by sector based on the number of red snapper observed by samplers during the season.
  • All red snapper landed in Texas would be counted against Texas’ assigned recreational quota and the Texas season would be closed when the combined estimated recreational red snapper landings are projected to reach the recreational quota.
  • If the quota should be exceeded in 2018, TPWD proposes to make adjustments in 2019 red snapper regulations to account for the overage

 

Where can I find more information on the EFPs?

  • Contact NOAA Fisheries, Southeast Regional Office
    By Mail: Peter Hood
    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
  • The EFPs, EFP applications, and associated documentation can be found online at the NOAA Fisheries Southeast Regional Office Website.

SIGN UP FOR TEXT MESSAGE ALERTS - FIND OUT ABOUT IMMEDIATE OPENINGS AND CLOSURES

NOAA's Text Message Alert Program allows you to receive important fishery related alerts via text message (SMS).  Standard message & data rates may apply. You may opt-out at any time.

Text alerts you may receive include:

  • Immediate fishery openings and closures
  • Any significant changes to fishing regulations that happen quickly

Sign up for one or more of the following groups:

  • Gulf of Mexico Recreational Fisheries Related Alerts
    • Text GULFRECFISH to 888777
  • Gulf of Mexico Commercial Fisheries Related Alerts
    • Text GULFCOMMFISH to 888777
  • South Atlantic Recreational Fisheries Related Alerts
    • Text SATLRECFISH to 888777
  • South Atlantic Commercial Fisheries Related Alerts
    • Text SATLCOMMFISH to 888777
  • Caribbean Fisheries Related Alerts
    • Text CARIBFISH to 888777

Other contacts:
Media: Kim Amendola, 727-551-5707
           Allison Garrett, 727-551-5750 

 

Join us every other Friday on NOAA Fish Instagram for Rec Fish Friday!

Last updated by Southeast Regional Office on March 12, 2019