RED SNAPPER COMMERCIAL SPRING QUOTA FILLED, COMMERCIAL SEASON CLOSED UNTIL SEPTEMBER 1, 1999

(updated April 23, 1999) - The National Marine Fisheries Service, Southeast Fisheries Science Center has provided the following preliminary landings estimates for Gulf of Mexico red snapper for the commercial season that started February 1, 1999. All landings have been converted to whole weight. These estimates have been provided by port agents, and are subject to minor revision as more complete data become available.

The 1999 red snapper commercial quota is 4.65 million pounds (pending NMFS approval), subdivided into 3.06 million pounds under a February 1 opening, and 1.59 million pounds (or the remaining quota) under a September 1 opening. The commercial fishery is open from noon on the 1st to noon on the 15th of each month until the sub-quota is reached. Because of the "derby" nature of this fishery, landings are monitored weekly through port agent reports. The table below shows the commercial red snapper landings data to date, as provided by the NMFS Southeast Regional Office.

Pounds Landed
Reporting Period Texas Central Gulf Florida Total Landings
February 1-7, 1999 163,996 560,803 32,729 757,528
February 8-15, 1999 185,888 398,772 61,159 645,819
March 1-7, 1999 104,913 339,620 25,408 469,941
March 8-15, 1999 79,140 200,885 23,256 303,281
April 1-5, 1999 84,578 142,098 43,748 270,424
April 6-15, 1999 118,799 378,617 50,195 547,611
Total 737,314 2,020,795 236,495 2,994,604

In 1998, the spring commercial red snapper season closed on April 12th. In 1999, preliminary estimates indicate that 98% of the 3.06 million pound spring sub-quota was taken through April 15th. Since the preliminary estimates are slight underestimates (about 2 to 3% under), the NMFS has determined that the spring quaota was reached on April 15, 1999. The spring commercial season is closed. The fall commercial season will begin at noon on September 1, 1999, with approximately 1.59 million pounds, adjusted for any over or under harvest during the spring season.


COUNCIL VOTES TO RAISE GAG/BLACK GROUPER SIZE LIMITS AND TO ESTABLISH A CLOSED FISHING AREA (423 NAUTICAL SQAURE MILES) IN GULF EEZ

(posted March 4, 1999, updated April 23, 1999) - The Gulf Council, at its March 1-4, 1999 meeting in Baton Rouge, Louisiana, voted to phase in a minimum size limit increase for gag and black grouper from the current 20 inches total length to 24 inches total length. If approved by the National Marine Fisheries Service, the 24 inch minimum size limit for the commercial fishery would take effect immediately upon implementation. For the recreational fishery, the size limit would be raised initially to 22 inches, and then be raised by 1 inch per year until it reaches 24 inches. The measure is intended to protect juvenile gag, which reach 50 percent female maturity at 24 inches total length. While the measure will provide some additional protection for juvenile true black grouper, which reach 50 percent female maturity at about 33 inches total length as well, the primary reason for including black grouper in the proposal is to avoid confusion that could result from the fact that gag are also known locally as black grouper.

The Council also voted to create a closed fishing area in the exclusive economic zone (EEZ) of the Gulf of Mexico. Within this area, the Council has proposed a prohibition on all reef fish fishing year-round. The proposed site was derived from 6 contiguous rectangular blocks which together form a roughly oblong region straddling the 40 fathom isobath. To simplify the area for better compliance and enforceability, the Council has accepted a recommendation from NMFS Enforcement to reduce the initial 6-rectangle area to a simpler 4-sided area. The coordinates of the proposed area are as follows:

Northwest corner: 28° 51' N, 85° 14' W
Northeast corner: 28° 51' N, 85° 04' W
Southwest corner: 28° 03' N, 84° 40' W
Southeast corner: 28° 03' N, 84° 30' W

The oblong region is approximately 9 nautical miles wide and 56 nautical miles long. The northern end is approximately 50 nautical miles south of Apalachicola, Florida, 80 nautical miles southeast of Panama City, Florida, and 125 nautical miles west of Crystal River, Florida. The southern end is approximately 95 nautical miles west of Tarpon Springs, Florida. The entire region covers an area of 423 nautical square miles.

This is a prime spawning area for gag, and the closure will protect spawning aggregations which occur from January to April. In addition, the year-round closure will protect a portion of the male gags, which stay offshore after spawning. The proportion of males in the gag population has declined to between 2 and 10 percent of the population in recent years, and some biologists have expressed concern that spawning success could be adversely impacted by an insufficient number of males, or that a long-term loss of genetic diversity could result from inbreeding within the stock. The year-round closure will also protect spawning aggregations of other species that use these reefs as spawning sites, such as scamp.

The proposed closed area covers roughly half the area identified by Dr. Christopher Koenig (Florida State University) as the dominant spawning grounds for gag. However, gag may also form spawning aggregations outside of this region, so the total portion of spawning aggregations protected by the proposed closed area is less than half. The Council considered a total 8 potential reserve sites within the area where gag spawning aggregations may occur. The total of all the areas under consideration for closure was 1,205 nautical square miles. The 423 nautical square mile area proposed for a closure represents 35 percent of the area considered by the Council.

These proposals will be submitted to NMFS as a Regulatory Amendment to the Reef Fish Fishery Management Plan to Set 1999 Gag/Black Grouper Management Measures. The public will have an additional opportunity to comment directly to NMFS on these measures when it publishes proposed rules prior to making a final decision.

Proposed reef fish closed area