National Marine Fisheries Service
Southeast Region
9721 Executive Center Drive, North
St. Petersburg, FL 33702

Constituent Contact: Susan A. Weaver
(202) 482-2610

April 9, 1998


The National Marine Fisheries Service has agreed to adopt Gulf of Mexico Fishery Management Council recommendations regarding the use of Bycatch Reduction Devices (BRDs) in most Gulf of Mexico shrimp nets which should save millions of juvenile red snapper and other finfish from being caught in shrimp trawls. Fisheries Service officials also have agreed to retain the Council's total allowable catch recommendation of 9.12 million pounds subject to scientific verification of a BRD efficiency of 60 percent. Fisheries Service officials will conduct a vigorous, observer-based research program to measure the performance of BRDs, the distribution of red snapper, shrimping effort, and other issues, the Commerce Department's National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration announced today.

The BRD provides a small opening in the top of the shrimp trawl for red snapper and other finfish to escape while retaining nearly all of the shrimp catch. Most offshore Gulf of Mexico shrimpers will be required to install BRDs in their nets within 30 days, the Fisheries Service officials announced today. The rule announced today should be published by the Federal Register within the next day or so, officials said.

Since 1991, red snapper bycatch has been the focus of a major cooperative research program which led to the Gulf of Mexico Fishery Management Council's (Council) 1997 decision to require BRDs on most trawls used by the offshore Gulf shrimp fleet. In addition, red snapper research has been the target of a number of recent independent scientific reviews including one required under the Magnuson-Stevens Fishery Conservation and Management Act and two by the Council's scientific committees. Each review concluded that the Gulf's red snapper stock is severely overfished. Each review recommended that shrimp trawl bycatch be reduced and the TAC for the directed red snapper fisheries be reduced to no more than 6 million pounds. However, the Council noted that if shrimp bycatch could be reduced by 60 percent or more, a total allowable catch of 9.12 million pounds could be maintained. Consequently, at its January 1998 meeting the Council voted to maintain the current TAC of 9.12 million pounds.

"The Council's decision to continue the 9.12 million pound red snapper quota was predicated on the use of BRDs achieving a 60 percent red snapper bycatch reduction level," said Rolland Schmitten, director of the National Marine Fisheries Service. " We are accepting the Council's recommendation but will scientifically test their assumption of achieving a 60 percent bycatch reduction. We will split the season to allow a comprehensive scientific review to determine how successful the BRDs have been at reducing bycatch, and if necessary modify the quota accordingly."

"We recognize that shrimpers are concerned that the fisheye BRD, the only currently approved BRD design, may lose some of the shrimp catch," said Andrew Kemmerer, administrator of the Fisheries Service's Southeast Region. "Agency gear specialists have been working in close cooperation with the shrimp industry to develop soon to be approved alternative designs that will prevent the loss of any shrimp. In fact, the shrimp industry has had the lead in writing the cooperative bycatch research plan, overseeing the research, helping us deploy observers on cooperating shrimp trawlers, and conducting BRD research."

"In conjunction with the implementation of this rule, the Fisheries Service will conduct a four-month, intensive research effort utilizing 2,000 observer days at sea to test the effectiveness of BRDs at reducing the mortality of juvenile red snapper. The research will conclusively determine the effectiveness of BRDS under actual operating conditions. The effort will begin on May 1 and focus on providing a statistically valid estimate of BRD bycatch reduction under operational conditions, said Kemmerer. According to Kemmerer, observers will be hired to obtain samples while deployed on randomly selected shrimp vessels; port agents will be added to expand the agency's ability to monitor red snapper and shrimp landings; and other research related to shrimping effort, red snapper life history, and bycatch will be conducted.

"If this critically important research effort is to succeed, we'll need extensive cooperation from shrimpers and recreational red snapper fishermen," said Kemmerer. "We again look forward to working closely with shrimpers, as we did throughout the BRD project. I'm confident that this study will put to rest most of the controversy regarding the assessments, peer reviews, and a host of other questions related to red snapper bycatch and the overall health of the Gulf's red snapper stock.@

The Fisheries Service has issued an interim rule which divides the 1998 red snapper fishing year into two seasons: January through August, and September through December. While the 1998 TAC will remain at the current 9.12 million pounds, only 6.0 million pounds will be released for harvest during the January 1 through August 31 period. The remaining portion of the TAC, 3.12 million pounds, will be released for harvest on September 1, 1998 if the fisheries service is able to validate the Council's assumption that BRDs reduce the juvenile red snapper bycatch mortality in shrimp trawls by at least 60 percent. If the research demonstrates that the bycatch mortality reduction is more than 50 percent, but less than 60 percent, a portion of the remaining 3.12 million pounds will be released proportional to the efficiency of the BRDs. The interim rule will also reduce the current recreational red snapper bag limit from 5 to 4 fish.

Under the current TAC of 9.12 million pounds, the commercial red snapper industry receives 51 percent of the quota. Their season is divided into two parts with the spring portion allocated 3.06 million pounds and the fall portion the remaining part of the total 4.65 million pound commercial quota. The spring portion begins February 1 while the fall portion begins September 1. If the remaining 3.12 million pounds of the 1998 TAC are not released for harvest, the fall commercial fishery season would be canceled.

The recreational fishery bag limit for red snapper, based on 1997 catch levels, will be set at 4 fish per day to ensure that the season will continue into at least October if the TAC level is reduced to 6 million pounds. Under the higher quota, the recreational season would extend through December.