NOAA Fisheries announces a final rule for hogfish in the Gulf of Mexico (Gulf). Hogfish in the Gulf of Mexico will be managed as a single population from the Texas/Mexico border to a line near Cape Sable, Florida A recent population assessment determined that the Gulf hogfish population is not undergoing overfishing (rate of removal is too high) and is not overfished (population abundance is too low). This rule adjusts annual catch limits, establishes gear restrictions, and increases the minimum size limit for Gulf of Mexico hogfish to prevent overfishing.
WHEN RULE WILL TAKE EFFECT:
- Regulations will be effective August 24, 2017.
WHAT THIS MEANS:
- Revises the Gulf hogfish fishery management unit to be the West Florida population, which includes all hogfish found in the Gulf of Mexico federal waters, except in the waters south of a line extending due west from 25°09′ North latitude off the west coast of Florida.
- Sets the West Florida population annual catch limits at 219,000 pounds whole weight (ww) for 2017 and 2018, and 159,300 pounds ww for 2019 and subsequent years.
- Increases the hogfish minimum size limit from 12 to 14 inches fork length.
- Prohibits the use of powerheads (a type of spearfishing device) for harvest of hogfish in the Gulf stressed area; an area previously defined by the Gulf of Mexico Fishery Management Council (Gulf Council).
- Corrects a charter vessel definition to be consistent with a headboat definition.
FORMAL FEDERAL REGISTER NAME/NUMBER:
82 FR 34574, published July 25, 2017.
This bulletin serves as a Small Entity Compliance Guide, complying with section 212 of the Small Business Regulatory Enforcement Fairness Act of 1996.
FREQUENTLY ASKED QUESTIONS (FAQs)
Why do the regulations need to be changed?
- The most recent hogfish population assessment divided the hogfish population into three populations based upon genetic analysis.
- The three populations and their status are:
- The West Florida population, which includes most of the Gulf of Mexico except for the Florida Keys, is not overfished or undergoing overfishing.
- The Florida Keys/East Florida population, which includes the Florida Keys and the east coast of Florida, is overfished and experiencing overfishing.
- The Georgia-North Carolina population’s overfishing and overfished status is unknown.
- Because the Florida Keys/East Florida population is overfished and undergoing overfishing, a rebuilding plan is needed and overfishing needs to end immediately.
- The South Atlantic Fishery Management Council (South Atlantic Council) is taking the lead in rebuilding the Florida Keys/East Florida population because only a small portion of the Florida Keys/East Florida population extends into the Gulf Council’s jurisdiction in south Florida (Figure 1).
- The Gulf and South Atlantic Council created a jurisdictional management boundary between the West Florida and Florida Keys/East Florida populations, and the Gulf Council is revising hogfish regulations for the newly defined West Florida population.
What is the South Atlantic Council doing for the overfished Florida Keys/East Florida population?
- The South Atlantic Council established a rebuilding plan for the Florida Keys/East Florida population in Amendment 37 to the Fishery Management Plan for the Snapper-Grouper Fishery of the South Atlantic Region.
- Regulations for the Florida Keys/East Florida population developed by the South Atlantic Council will apply south of 25°09′ North latitude off the west coast of Florida, throughout the Florida Keys to the Georgia/Florida border. Regulations will go into effect at the same time as the Gulf hogfish regulations.
- Table 1 shows the revised regulations for the West Florida and Florida Keys/East Florida populations.
Table 1. Regulations for the West Florida and Florida Keys/East Florida populations.
|Regulation||West Florida||Florida Keys/East Florida|
|Minimum size limit||14 inches fork length||16 inches fork length|
|Bag limit||No change – 5 fish per person per day||1 fish per person per day|
|Commercial trip limit||None||25 pounds whole weight|
|Fishing season||Closures only if annual catch limit met or exceeded||Closed January 1-April 30 and November 1-December 31|
What are the annual catch limits for the West Florida stock?
- The annual catch limits for the West Florida stock are 219,000 pounds ww for 2017 and 2018, and 159,300 pounds ww for 2019 and subsequent years.
- The annual catch limits are based on the Gulf Council’s Scientific and Statistical Committee recommended acceptable biological catch from the population assessment.
- The 2017 and 2018 annual catch limits are an average of the 2016-2018 harvest forecasts.
- The lower annual catch limit proposed for 2019 and beyond is based on long-term forecasts of the harvest.
- Florida intends to conduct a new population assessment prior to 2019 to re-evaluate harvest forecasts.
Why does the minimum size limit need to be increased?
- The Gulf Council is concerned that the annual catch limit may be exceeded in the future, as happened in 2013.
- Exceeding the annual catch limit could lead to season closures.
- The increased minimum size limit of 14 inches fork length is expected to reduce the harvest rate, which will decrease the chance of a hogfish closure.
- Increasing the minimum size limit has an added benefit of allowing hogfish to grow larger and have additional reproductive opportunities before being caught.
Why are powerheads being prohibited for harvesting hogfish?
- Hogfish was the only reef fish species in the reef fish fishery management unit that could be harvested in the Reef Fish Stressed Area (Figure 2) with a powerhead.
- The Reef Fish Stressed Area prohibits the use of some fishing gear such as powerheads to protect reef fish populations from overharvest.
- By removing the powerhead exemption for hogfish, hogfish will be subject to the same regulations as other reef fish species in the stressed area.
What regulations do I follow if I’m fishing the Florida Keys/East Florida hogfish population, but I’m in Gulf waters?
- Fishermen will be subject to the hogfish minimum size limits, bag limits, trip limits, and fishing seasons developed by the South Atlantic Council when fishing or transiting Gulf federal waters south of 25°09′ North latitude.
- Operators of commercial and charter/headboat vessels harvesting hogfish in Gulf federal waters south of 25°09′ North latitude will still be required to have a Gulf reef fish permit.
- For more information on regulations for the Florida Keys/East Florida population being developed by the South Atlantic Council, see http://sero.nmfs.noaa.gov/sustainable_fisheries/s_atl/sg/2015/am37/index.html.
Why does the charter vessel definition need to be updated?
- The current codified text for the charter definition references a citation that was changed during the 2013 revision to codified regulations.
- This update would correct the charter vessel definition and make it consistent with the headboat definition.
Where can I find more information on Amendment 43?
- Contact NOAA Fisheries, Southeast Regional Office
By Mail: Peter Hood
NOAA Fisheries, Southeast Regional Office
Sustainable Fisheries Division
263 13th Avenue South
St. Petersburg, Florida 33701-5505
By FAX: (727) 824-5308
By Phone: (727) 824-5305
- Amendment 43 and the final rule can be found online at the NOAA Fisheries Southeast Regional Office Web site at: http://sero.nmfs.noaa.gov/sustainable_fisheries/gulf_fisheries/reef_fish/2016/am43/index.html.
- Information on the South Atlantic Council’s Snapper-Grouper Amendment 37 and rulemaking can be found at: http://sero.nmfs.noaa.gov/sustainable_fisheries/s_atl/sg/2015/am37/index.html