The Southeast Gillnet Observer Program covers all anchored (sink, stab, set), strike, or drift gillnet fishing by vessels that fish from Florida to North Carolina and in the Gulf of Mexico year-round. The program was originally designed to document negative impacts on right whale populations (such as incidental catch) by continually monitoring all drift gillnet vessels during the critical calving period.
The program has adapted to the changes of the gillnet fishery over the years. It covers all gillnet fishing regardless of target by vessels that fish from Florida to North Carolina and the Gulf of Mexico year-round. This program complies with the Marine Mammal Protection Act, the Endangered Species Act, and the 1999 revised Fishery Management Plan for Highly Migratory Species.
The Southeast Gillnet fishery operates from North Carolina to Florida and in the Gulf of Mexico. Fishers use a variety of gillnet types from drift (nets that float on the surface) to sink (nets that are anchored to the sea floor). Some fishers also employ “strike netting” where they actively set the nets around a school of fish. Depending on the time of the year and market conditions, fishers will target coastal teleosts such as mackerel, pompano and bluefish, as well as small and large coastal shark species and dogfish. Most vessels in this fishery are small (less than 30 feet) and trips generally last only one day.
The shark drift gillnet fishery develops off the east coast of Florida and Georgia.
An observer program launches to estimate catch and bycatch in the directed shark gillnet fisheries along the southeastern United States Atlantic coast.
The observer program includes all vessels that have an active directed shark permit and fish with sink gillnet gear.
The NOAA Fisheries Southeast Regional Office requests further expansion of the shark gillnet observer program to include all vessels fishing gillnets regardless of target and extend coverage to the full geographic range of gillnet fishing effort in the southeast United States.
The Atlantic Large Whale Take Reduction Plan removes the mandatory 100 percent observer coverage for drift gillnet vessels during the right whale calving season and prohibits all gillnet in an expanded southeast United States restricted area from Cape Canaveral, Florida to the North Carolina/South Carolina border during November 15th to April 15th.
An amendment to the Consolidated Atlantic Highly Migratory Species Fishery Management Plan reduces the directed large coastal shark gillnet fishery. The 33-head large coastal shark trip limit ends the strike net fishery and limits the number of fishers targeting large coastal sharks with drift gillnet gear. This regulation also limits the small coastal shark gillnet fishery.