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Request for Comments: Proposed Temporary Rule to Implement Interim Measures to Reduce Overfishing of Gag in the Gulf of Mexico

February 03, 2023

FB23-007: Gulf of Mexico Fishery Bulletin; For more information, contact: Daniel Luers; (727) 824-5305, Daniel.Luers@noaa.gov

Key Messages:

  • NOAA Fisheries requests your comments on a Proposed Temporary Rule that would implement interim measures under the Fishery Management Plan for the Reef Fish Resources of the Gulf of Mexico (Gulf) to reduce overfishing of gag.  These changes are based on the results of the most recent stock assessment and the recommendations of the Gulf of Mexico Fishery Management Council’s (Council) Scientific and Statistical Committee.

 

  • The stock assessment used updated data, including data from the Marine Recreational Information Program Fishing Effort Survey, which replaced the Marine Recreational Information Program Coastal Household Telephone Survey.  The stock assessment concluded that the population of Gulf of Mexico gag is too low (overfished) and that too many gag are being caught (overfishing is occurring).

 

  • Comments are due by:  February 21, 2023

 

Summary of Proposed Changes:

  • This proposed temporary rule would reduce the current catch limits for Gulf gag as specified in Table 1:

Table 1: Current and proposed annual catch limits (ACL) and annual catch targets (ACT) for Gulf gag.  All numbers are in pounds gutted weight.

 

Stock ACL

Commercial ACL

Recreational ACL

Commercial ACT/Quota

Recreational ACT

Current*

3,120,000

1,217,000

1,903,000

939,000

1,708,000

Proposed*

661,901

258,000

403,759

199,000

362,374

*Note that the “Current” and “Proposed” catch limits cannot be directly compared.  This is due to the fact that “Current” recreational catch is estimated using the Marine Recreational Information Program (MRIP) Coastal Household Telephone Survey (CHTS), while the “Proposed” recreational catch limits are estimated using the MRIP-Fishing Effort Survey (FES).  MRIP-FES estimates of effort and catch are substantially higher than MRIP-CHTS estimates.

 

  • The proposed temporary rule would change the dates of the gag recreational fishing season as follows:
    • The gag season opening date would change from June 1, 2023 to September 1, 2023.
    • The gag season will close on November 10, 2023, unless NOAA Fisheries projects that the gag recreational ACL will be harvested prior to that date, in which case, NOAA fisheries would close the fishery to recreational gag harvest as of the projected date.
  • This proposed temporary rule would be effective for 180 days.  NOAA Fisheries may extend the rule for an additional 186 days (366 days total).
  • The reduction in harvest and modification of the recreational fishing season is necessary to reduce overfishing of gag in 2023 while maximizing the amount of fishing days. This is being done due to development of a rebuilding plan for the Gulf gag stock, which will reduce the overfishing limit, acceptable biological catch, ACLs, and ACTs, which is anticipated to be implemented in early 2024.

 

How to Comment on the Temporary Rule:

The comment period is open now through February 21, 2023.  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.

 

The temporary rule would be effective for 180 days, but may be extended for another 186 days to allow the Council and NOAA Fisheries to complete and implement long-term measures to end overfishing and rebuild the gag stock.  Therefore, NOAA Fisheries invites the public to comment on the proposed temporary rule, including the possible extension.

 

FORMAL FEDERAL REGISTER NAME/NUMBER: 88 FR 7388, February 3, 2023

 

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

  1. Go to https://www.regulations.gov/document/NOAA-NMFS-2022-0136-0001.
  2. Click the "Comment" icon, complete the required fields.
  3. Enter or attach your comments.

 

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

 

FREQUENTLY ASKED QUESTIONS (FAQs)
 

What is NOAA Fisheries announcing today?

  • NOAA Fisheries is announcing and seeking public comment on measures that would reduce overfishing of Gulf gag.
  • The Council asked NOAA Fisheries to put in place temporary regulations to reduce overfishing (catching too many fish) of Gulf gag while maximizing fishing days by reducing catch limits and changing the dates and duration of the fishing season. 
  • This action would reduce the gag ACLs and ACTs for both the commercial and recreational sectors, and would change the dates of the recreational fishing season such that it opens on September 1 and closes on November 10 or when NMFS projects that the recreational ACL has been met, whichever occurs first. 
  • The comment period on the temporary rule is open from February 3, 2023, through February 21, 2023.

What is the status of the gag stock?

  • A 2021 population assessment of Gulf gag indicated there were too few fish (overfished) and that too many fish were being caught (overfishing). 
  • In January 2022, NOAA Fisheries sent a letter to the Council stating that gag were overfished, and that a plan to rebuild the gag stock needed to be developed and implemented within two years of the notification (i.e. by January 26, 2024).

What is NOAA Fisheries proposing with this temporary rule?

  • Because of the poor condition of the gag stock, NOAA Fisheries and the Council recognized the urgency of reducing fishing pressure on gag prior to implementation of the rebuilding plan in 2024
  • In order to reduce overfishing while the gag rebuilding plan is being developed, the Council recommended at its June 2022 meeting that temporary measures be put in place for the 2023 fishing year to reduce fishing effort and catch of gag.
  • With this temporary proposed rule, NOAA Fisheries would reduce the gag ACLs and ACTs, and would change the recreational fishing season such that it would start on September 1 and end on November 10, 2023.

Why are the new management measures temporary?

  • The Council is working on Amendment 56 to the Fishery Management Plan for the Reef Fish Resources of the Gulf, which is a long-term plan to rebuild the Gulf gag stock.
  • This long-term plan is under development, but will not be in effect until early in 2024.
  • At the Council’s request, NOAA Fisheries would implement temporary regulations to address the overfishing status of the stock that could be in place for up to 366 days.  These temporary measures would be effective until the rebuilding plan in Amendment 56 is implemented.

 What are the next steps?

  • The public comment period for the temporary rule is open for 18 days, from February 3, 2023, through February 21, 2023.
  • NOAA Fisheries will address comments received on the temporary proposed rule in the final rule, including making any appropriate changes to the final rule based on those comments.
  • NOAA Fisheries will issue another fishery bulletin if these interim measures are extended past 180 days.
  • NOAA Fisheries is required to implement Amendment 56, including a rebuilding plan for the gag stock in early 2024.  If extended past the original 180 days, these interim measures would no longer be effective upon implementation of Amendment 56.

 

Where can I find more information on the Gag Interim Measures?

  • Contact NOAA Fisheries, Southeast Regional Office

     By Mail: Daniel Luers

     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


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

 

 

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, Florida 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.

Other contacts:

Media: Allison Garrett, 727-551-5750

Last updated by Southeast Regional Office on February 07, 2023