The Gulf of Mexico (Gulf) red snapper stock is overfished; however, overfishing has been projected to end. Red snapper are taken as catch and bycatch by both the commercial and recreational sectors of the reef fish fishery, and also taken as bycatch in the Gulf shrimp trawl fishery. The considerable influence of all three fishing efforts on the status of red snapper challenges fishery managers to balance competing interests and goals in rebuilding the red snapper stock. The red snapper rebuilding plan established in 1990 has been revised and lengthened several times in response to new biological data and assessments, which have improved scientists understanding of the factors influencing red snapper mortality and rebuilding. The current red snapper rebuilding plan is designed to end overfishing of red snapper between 2009 and 2010, and to rebuild the red snapper stock by 2032. This plan was initially implemented in 2005 through Amendment 22 to the Fishery Management Plan (FMP) for the Reef Fish Resources of the Gulf of Mexico and revised in 2008 through Joint Amendment 27 to the Reef Fish FMP and Amendment 14 to the FMP for the Shrimp Fishery of the Gulf of Mexico (Amendment 27/14).
The 2005 red snapper benchmark assessment conducted by the Southeast Data, Assessment, and Review (SEDAR) process (SEDAR 7 2005) indicated yield will be maximized if the red snapper mortality rate is constrained to that associated with 26% spawning potential ratio (SPR). The Gulf of Mexico Fishery Management Council (Council) generally has controlled red snapper mortality in the commercial and recreational sectors by establishing a total allowable catch (TAC), of which 51% is allocated in a commercial quota and 49% allocated in a recreational quota. Actions taken in 2008 through Amendment 27/14 to revise the rebuilding strategy were intended to end overfishing by 2009 or 2010 and rebuild red snapper to the biomass (B) that can support harvest of the maximum sustainable yield (MSY) by 2032, in accordance with the Council’s currently approved rebuilding plan (GMFMC 2004a). The SEDAR 7 report indicated a 74% reduction in total red snapper fishing mortality (both the commercial and recreational sectors of the reef fish fishery and the shrimp trawl fishery) from baseline levels (2001-03) was required to end overfishing of red snapper. However, based on rebuilding projections conducted by the Southeast Fisheries Science Center (SEFSC) in January through March 2007 (Chester 2007; SERO 2006), it was impractical to assume bycatch could be reduced to that extent for all fishery components. Using more realistic assumptions about reductions in bycatch and directed catch, the Council chose to set TAC at 5 million pounds (MP) until the 2009 assessment update was completed. Under this harvest restriction and revised rebuilding plan, there was greater than a 50% probability of ending overfishing and rebuilding the stock to Bmsy.
As mentioned above, the intent of regulations implementing Amendment 27/14 was to end overfishing by 2009 or 2010 and attain the expected fishing mortality trajectory needed to achieve BMSY by 2032. The rebuilding plan described that after 2010, TAC would be increased consistent with a fishing mortality rate that produces MSY. The rate TAC increases is contingent on the amount of shrimp bycatch mortality allowed. Under the Council’s rebuilding plan, shrimp bycatch fishing mortality would be set at 74% less than the 2001-03 baseline fishing mortality rate in 2008 through 2010, 67% in 2011, and decline constantly from 67 to 60% between 2011 and 2032. The Council’s preferred rebuilding plan would allow TAC to increase throughout the rebuilding plan and MSY would be 14.0 MP when the stock is fully rebuilt.
The SEDAR update assessment for Gulf of Mexico red snapper was conducted in August 2009, with the objective of updating the SEDAR 7 benchmark assessment conducted in 2005 (SEDAR 7 update 2009). The assessment updated, reviewed, and incorporated into the model all data streams included in SEDAR 7. Recognizing that new information on the biology, population dynamics, and fishery of red snapper has been developed since the 2005 assessment, the review not only provided a “continuity” run of model outputs, but also developed additional “alternative state” models addressing these changes. In summary, the conclusions of the assessment update, as reviewed and approved by the Council’s Scientific and Statistical Committee (SSC), project overfishing has likely ended in 2009, and therefore TAC can be increased (see Section 2.2.1 for discussion of the update).
It should be noted the Council’s rebuilding plan is consistent with the reauthorized M-SFCMA, as amended through January 12, 2007, and the National Standard 1 Guidelines (74 FR 3178) which require Councils to develop annual catch limits (ACLs) and accountability measures (AMs) for all stocks under their jurisdiction. Annual catch limits are upper boundaries for fishery harvest that ensure catches do not lead to overfishing, and if the ACLs are exceeded, the AMs ensure adjustments in catch the following year are sufficiently reduced to keep overfishing from occurring again.
Accountability measures for red snapper are sector specific. For the commercial sector, the AMs are the commercial quota, which causes the sector to close once met, and the individual fishing quota (IFQ) program the commercial sector currently operates under. In the IFQ program, shares and allocation of quota are distributed to eligible participants. Once all allocation is expended, no more red snapper can be landed; therefore, there is no possibility of a quota overrun for the commercial sector. There is an opportunity, during their last trip of the fishing year, for commercial red snapper fishermen to exceed their remaining available allocation by 10%. However, any such overage by an individual fisherman is deducted from the allocation distributed to that participant the following year. Like the commercial sector, the recreational sector also operates under a quota. Given the quota, the season length can be shortened to attempt to constrain the sector to its quota. The National Marine Fisheries Service has found it necessary during 2008 and 2009 to conduct an analysis to project when red snapper recreational landings would meet their quota during the June 1 through September 30 fishing season. In 2008 and in 2009, NMFS projected the recreational quota would be met in August, and closed the recreational fishery before season’s end.