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NOAA Fisheries Seeks Comment on Red Grouper Rules

NOAA Fisheries is seeking public comment on a draft environmental impact statement for Amendment 53 to the Fishery Management Plan for Reef Fish Resources of the Gulf of Mexico.  The Environmental Protection Agency announced the availability of the draft environmental impact statement on May 14, 2021.

The purpose of this draft environmental impact statement is to assess the environmental impacts associated with a reasonable range of alternatives intended to modify the red grouper commercial and recreational sector allocations, overfishing limit, acceptable biological catch, annual catch limits, and annual catch targets of Gulf of Mexico red grouper.

The status of the Gulf of Mexico red grouper stock was evaluated in a 2019 population assessment that indicated the population is not considered overfished (population size too low) or undergoing overfishing (too many fish are being caught).  However, fishermen and the Gulf of Mexico Fishery Management Council have expressed concern about the health of the Gulf of Mexico red grouper population because of a decrease in landings, fewer legal sized fish, and recent red tide events off the west coast of Florida.  As a result, the Council decided to act on these concerns through Amendment 53.

Amendment 53 discusses two actions:

  • Action 1 would modify the sector allocations, overfishing limit, the acceptable biological catch, and annual catch limits for red grouper based on a recent stock assessment.
  • Action 2 would modify the buffers between the annual catch limits and annual catch targets.

Action 1 has six alternatives.

  • The current allocation between the commercial and recreational sectors is 76%:24%.
  • Recreational landings estimates used in the most recent population assessment are in Marine Recreational Information Program Fishing Effort Survey units.
    • This survey provides a better estimate recreational effort and landings than the previous survey.
    • Recreational landing estimates using this survey are greater than the previous survey.
  • The sector allocations affects the overfishing limit, acceptable biological catch, and annual catch limits.
  • Amendment 53 would revise these allocations using either historical landings or based on retaining the current commercial annual catch limits at their present level.
  • The alternative selected by the Council as preferred would set the sector allocations at 59.3% commercial and 40.7% recreational, which results in a commercial annual catch limit of 2.53 million pounds gutted weight (mp gw) and a recreational annual catch limit of 1.73 mp gw.

Action 2 has three alternatives.

  • The buffer between the annual catch limit and annual catch target is 5% for the commercial sector and 8% for the recreational sector.
  • Applying the Council’s annual catch limit/annual catch target control rule would result in a buffer of 0% for the commercial sector of 0% and a buffer of 9% for the recreational sector 9%.
  • The alternative preferred by the Council is a 5% buffer for the commercial sector and a 9% buffer for the recreational sector.
    • The 5% commercial buffer is needed to maintain the gag multiuse allocation in the individual fishing quota program for multi-use allocation.

NOAA Fisheries must receive comments on this draft environmental impact statement no later than June 28, 2021.  You may obtain electronic copies of the draft amendments and environmental impact statement from the NOAA Fisheries Web site at https://www.fisheries.noaa.gov/action/amendment-53-red-grouper-allocations-and-catch-levels.

The comment period is open now through June 28, 2021.  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:  86 FR 26514, published May 14, 2021.

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

  1. Go to: https://www.regulations.gov/docket/NOAA-NMFS-2021-0049/document.
  2. Click the “Comment” 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.

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