Request for Comments: Intent to Develop a Draft Environmental Impact Statement for Coral Habitat Areas Considered for Management in the Gulf of Mexico

December 18, 2017

FB17-077 Gulf of Mexico Fishery Bulletin; For More Information, Contact: Lauren Waters, 727-824-5305, Lauren.Waters@noaa.gov

Key Message:

NOAA Fisheries, in collaboration with the Gulf of Mexico (Gulf) Fishery Management Council (Council), intends to prepare a Draft Environmental Impact Statement for Amendment 9 to the Fishery Management Plan for the Coral and Coral Reef Resources of the Gulf.  Coral Amendment 9 will consider alternatives that would modify fishing regulations within the existing habitat areas of particular concern (HAPC) boundary of Pulley Ridge, establish new areas for HAPC status in the Gulf, and prohibit dredge fishing in all HAPCs with fishing regulations.

Background:

  • Over 100 species of coral are included in the Fishery Management Plan for the Coral and Coral Reef Resources of the Gulf, with stony and black corals being a part of the fishery management unit.
  • Wherever stony or black corals occur is considered essential fish habitat (EFH), which is an area necessary for fish to spawn, breed, feed, or grow to maturity.
  • HAPCs are established for areas that are significantly ecologically important, have habitat that is sensitive to human-induced degradation, located in an environmentally stressed area, or considered rare.
  • Areas in which stony and black corals exist in sufficient numbers or diversity could be considered for establishment as an HAPC because all corals are sensitive to human-induced habitat degradation.
  • Designating areas within existing coral EFH as HAPCs focuses attention on those areas as especially important habitat.

Summary of Proposed Actions:

The actions considered to date would establish:

  • Fourteen new HAPCs in the Gulf that may include fishing regulations to minimize damage from fishing gear to corals.
  • Eight new HAPCs in the Gulf that would not include additional fishing regulations because fishing does not occur in these areas.
  • Modification to the fishing regulations within the existing boundary of the Pulley Ridge HAPC.
  • Fishing regulation consistency in all HAPCs that are managed with fishing regulations by adding dredge fishing as a prohibited fishing gear type.

NOAA Fisheries and the Council are soliciting comments on the current actions or any other actions within the scope of Amendment 9 that the public would like the Council and NOAA Fisheries to consider.

How to Comment:

The comment period is open now through January 17, 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 December 18, 2018.

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

  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 Lauren Waters, Southeast Regional Office, NMFS, 263 13th Avenue South, St. Petersburg, FL 33701.


FREQUENTLY ASKED QUESTIONS (FAQs)

Why are the proposed actions necessary?

  • As a Congressional mandate, EFH describes all waters and substrate necessary for fish for spawning, breeding, feeding, or growth to maturity. Protecting EFH has helped to maintain productive fisheries and rebuild depleted stocks.
  • Stony and black coral EFH are sensitive to human-induced habitat degradation by fishing and non-fishing activities. Some black corals are in excess of one thousand years old and have slow growth rates; therefore, these species are unlikely to fully recover from destruction or degradation.
  • Designating areas that have a high number stony and black coral colonies and species as HAPCs would help focus attention on these special areas, and potentially implement regulations to minimize impacts to these areas when necessary.

Where can I find more information on the Draft Environmental Impact Statement for State Management of Gulf of Mexico Recreational Red Snapper?

By Mail: Lauren Waters
NOAA Fisheries, Southeast Regional Office
Sustainable Fisheries Division
263 13th Avenue South
St. Petersburg, Florida 33701-5505
By Phone: (727) 824-5305


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

Last updated by Southeast Regional Office on March 13, 2019