The National Marine Fisheries Service announced in mid-December that on Jan. 1 the agency would withhold 600,000 pounds of IFQ red grouper allocation from commercial fishermen in the Gulf of Mexico. The current commercial catch target is 3 million pounds.
A late-2019 stock assessment indicated that red grouper were neither overfished nor undergoing overfishing but that their population was “below a level that could support the optimal harvest,” said NOAA. “Additionally, there is evidence the red grouper population has been hurt by recent red tide events along the west Florida shelf.”
The size of the commercial cut correlates with a change in the fishery’s historical commercial/recreational allocation that the Gulf of Mexico Fishery Management Council had passed in June 2021; Reef Fish Amendment 53 reduced the commercial share of the fishery from 76 percent to 59.3 percent and increased the recreational share from 24 percent to 40.7 percent.
The council members determined that the allocations should be adjusted after NOAA’s revamped recreational fishing effort surveys indicated that catches by the recreational sector during the allocation reference years were substantially greater than previously estimated.
The proposal was unanimously opposed by the panel’s commercial representatives and by every commercial fisherman who provided written or public comment. Amendment 53 circumvented the regular review process for fishery allocations and penalizes commercial fishermen for having an accountable management plan and for staying within their quotas, said Eric Brazer, deputy director of the Gulf of Mexico Reef Fish Shareholders’ Alliance.
After NMFS publishes the proposed rule for Reef Fish Amendment 53, the public has 60 days to comment, after which the agency is expected to publish the Final Rule for the amendment.
Commercial interests will then have 30 days to file a complaint in federal court, where they hope to demonstrate that, among other things, Amendment 53 decreases fishery yields while increasing discards and risk of overfishing, violating National Standards 4 and 9 of the Magnuson-Stevens Fishery Conservation and Management Act, said Brazer.