The proposal, announced April 21 in the Federal Register and apparently coming at the behest of the Gulf of Mexico Fishery Management Council, also includes a temporary rule to reset the commercial gag grouper quota and continue the suspension of the use of red grouper multi-use individual quota commercial allocation.
"Gag (grouper) is considered overfished (population abundance is too low) and undergoing overfishing (rate of removal too high)," the announcement read. "The Magnuson-Stevens Fishery Conservation and Management Act requires that overfished stocks be rebuilt and that overfishing be halted.
"The Gulf of Mexico Fishery Management Council recommended NOAA Fisheries Service implement this temporary rule to revise 2011 commercial and recreational measures in light of the rerun of the gag update stock assessment."
The Gulf Council is developing a long-term plan to address gag stock rebuilding through Amendment 32 to the Fishery Management Plan for the Reef Fish Resources of the Gulf of Mexico, the NMFS said.
In addition to the Sept. 16 through Nov. 15 season, recreational catch would be regulated under the current two-fish bag limit within the four-fish aggregate grouper bag. Minimum size would be 22 inches total length.
"In recommending the proposed season, the Council examined several options for the fishing season including summer, fall, and winter openings," the NMFS said. "They recommended a fall season as a compromise between public testimony for summer and winter seasons.
"In the analysis supporting this proposed rule, a shorter summer season from July 1 through Aug. 15 was evaluated. Both seasons were sufficient to reduce overfishing, but the proposed season maximizes the season length."
At the same time, the rule proposes to increase the 2011 quota from 100,000 pounds to 430,000 pounds.
"The rerun of the 2009 population assessment update for gag (grouper) indicated the commercial quota should be reduced from 1.49 million pounds to 500,000 pounds," the agency reported. "However, setting the quota at this level assumes equal reductions in both landings and dead discards. Testimony from industry indicated that although gag (grouper) can be avoided when targeting the capture of other species, gag (grouper) cannot be completely excluded from the catch and there will be some gag (grouper) bycatch and associated dead discards.
"Therefore, the Council recommended the quota be set at 430,000 pounds to account for discards."
Federal officials said the original 100,000 pound quota was set by Council members as they awaited a rerun of the update stock assessment. Until those results were known, the Council wanted to be conservative in its actions to harvest gag. The Council asked for the initial 100,000-pound quota to allow incidentally caught gag to be landed and counted against the quota instead of being discarded.
The rule also proposes to continue the suspension of the use of red grouper IFQ multi-use allocation, which could be used to harvest gag grouper. If the suspension is not in place, 4 percent of an IFQ participant's red grouper allocation is converted to multi-use allocation. If the multi-use allocation is used to harvest gag, these additional gag landings would likely allow the harvest to exceed the gag quota.
Note that this part of the rule would not reduce an IFQ participant's red grouper allocation; the rule would simply not allow 4 percent of the total allocation to be converted to multi-use allocation.
The full proposal can be read by clicking here.