The Shrimp Advisory Panel (AP) to the Gulf of Mexico Fishery Management Council met in Tampa on March 3, 2016, to provide its advice to the Council on Shrimp Amendment 17-B. The Shrimp AP is comprised of 14 shrimp industry advisors, representatives and participants throughout the Gulf region with a wide range of considerable expertise. At the meeting, the AP unanimously elected as its Chair former long-time Council Member and Shrimp Committee Chairman Corky Perret, and SSA President Steve Bosarge as the AP’s Vice Chair.
In a number of very important ways, the elements of this Amendment will shape the future of the Gulf shrimp fishery for many years to come.
As stated by the Council in its Draft Options paper, the purposes and need for Amendment 17-B – which essentially define the Council’s objectives – are as follows http://www.shrimpalliance.com/wp-content/uploads/2016/03/Amendment-17B-OY-and-Permit-Pool.pdf:
“The purposes are to define the optimum yield, determine the appropriate number of permits, consider measures to maintain the appropriate number of permits for the federal Gulf shrimp fishery, and to develop provisions for nonfederally permitted shrimping vessels to transit through federal waters while not actively shrimping.”
“The needs for this action are to ascertain the best metric(s) to manage the shrimp fishery, maintain increases in catch efficiency without substantially reducing landings, promote economic efficiency and stability in the fishery, provide flexibility for state registered shrimp vessels, and protect federally managed Gulf shrimp stocks.”
The AP addressed in sequence 6 separate Actions defined by the Council in the Draft Options paper to implement these complex objectives. Each of the 6 Actions include 2 or more Alternatives and Options covering a wide range of possible actions including a no-action alternative.
Actions 1 and 2
Actions 1 and 2 of the Amendment as set forth in the Draft Options paper addresses the need for the Council to reconsider the current definition of Optimum Yield (OY) for the Gulf shrimp fisheries. Currently, the Shrimp FMP defines OY as being equal to the Maximum Sustainable Yield (MSY) from the fishery. Action 1 sets the MSY and Action 2 sets the OY.
In order to understand the context for the Council to reconsider the definition of OY for the shrimp fishery it is necessary to consider the statutory requirements set forth in the Magnuson-Stevens Act.
Section 301(a) of the Magnuson-Stevens Act, otherwise known as National Standard 1, requires the Council’s Shrimp Fishery Management Plan (FMP) to prescribe measures that will achieve on a continuing basis the OY from the shrimp fishery.
“Sec. 301 (a) IN GENERAL.-Any fishery management plan prepared, and any regulation promulgated to implement any such plan, pursuant to this title shall be consistent with the following national standards for fishery conservation and management:
(1) Conservation and management measures shall prevent overfishing while achieving, on a continuing basis, the optimum yield from each fishery for the United States fishing industry.”
Further, section 3(33) of the MSA defines “optimum yield” as follows:
“Sec. 3(33) The term “optimum”, with respect to the yield from a fishery, means the amount of fish which-
(A) will provide the greatest overall benefit to the Nation, particularly with respect to food production and recreational opportunities, and taking into account the protection of marine ecosystems;
(B) is prescribed as such on the basis of the maximum sustainable yield from the fishery, as reduced by any relevant economic, social, or ecological factor; and
(C) in the case of an overfished fishery, provides for rebuilding to a level consistent with producing the maximum sustainable yield in such fishery.”
Thus, OY is defined as a level of total catch in the fishery set by the Council that may be equal to the MSY, or it can be set at something less than the MSY in order to account for any relevant economic, social or ecological factor.
As part of the development of Amendment 17-B, the Council convened a Shrimp Effort Working Group of scientists to assist the Council and AP in considering its options for defining both MSA and OY for the shrimp fishery in the context of shrimp fishing effort.
As noted by the Working Group, Council and AP the Gulf of Mexico shrimp fishery is only authorized to operate pursuant to the Endangered Species Act (ESA) to the extent it is in compliance with the terms and conditions set forth in the 2014 Biological Opinion for the Southeastern Shrimp Fisheries In Federal Waters (BiOp).
This BiOp essentially provides the shrimp fishery with an exemption from the prohibition on the capture and killing of endangered and threatened sea turtles listed under the ESA if and only if the fishery complies with specific requirements to limit such capture and killing of sea turtles to a level that will not jeopardize the continued existence of each sea turtle species.
The BiOp sets forth 2 primary requirements the Gulf shrimp fishery must comply with in order to be authorized to operate under the ESA. Failure to comply with either of these 2 requirements could result in the shrimp fishery losing its ability to operate at all in the Gulf of Mexico.
The first requirement is that the fishery achieve and maintain no greater than a 12% capture rate of turtles that enter shrimp trawls. The metrics used to determine compliance with this maximum capture rate involve very detailed requirements for TED design and operation and will not be addressed here as they do not relate to Shrimp Amendment 17-B.
The second primary requirement that the shrimp fishery must comply with in order to be authorized to operate in the Gulf of Mexico under the ESA is to maintain shrimp trawl effort at or below the level of effort in the fishery in 2009. In other words, effort in the Gulf shrimp fishery is currently legally capped at the 2009 level pursuant to the ESA.
Therefore, as correctly concluded by the Shrimp Effort Working Group, the OY for the shrimp fishery must be defined in terms of the level of catch associated with the level of effort that occurred in the fishery in 2009. In other words, in order for the Gulf shrimp fishery to remain in compliance with the ESA and be authorized to operate, the OY for the fishery is limited to that level of catch associated with the 2009 effort cap set forth in the BiOp.
As determined by the Working Group, that OY is 85,368,059 pounds (tails) and the MSY at 109,237,618 pounds (tails). Thus, the OY is consistent with the Magnuson-Stevens Act in that it does not exceed MSY, and it is reduced from MSY by a relevant ecological factor (turtle bycatch effort cap).
With that understanding, for Action 2 the Shrimp AP voted without opposition to accept the Shrimp Effort Working Group’s advice to redefine OY as the catch level associated with the 2009 effort cap (85,368,059 pounds (tails)).
Action 3 of Amendment 17-B is for the purpose of of setting the minimum threshold number of Gulf shrimp vessel permits that have been issued pursuant to the permit moratorium which was established in 2006. This moratorium will be extended for another 10 years beginning on October 26, 2016, as a consequence of the Council’s actions already taken separately on Shrimp Amendment 17-A.
Action 3 speaks specifically to the Council’s stated purposes and need for Amendment17-B (see above). In particular, Action 3 addresses the objective of maintaining catch efficiency in the fishery – typically expressed as the Catch Per Unit Effort (CPUE) – while at the same time avoiding any substantial reductions in the total landings of the fishery. As described in the Council Draft Options Paper (Fig. 2.3.2.), there is an inverse relationship between CPUE and Effort in the shrimp fishery. Thus, the objective of Amendment 17-B is essentially to strike an appropriate balance between maximizing CPUE (catch efficiency), total effort and, by extension, landings.
The Shrimp AP held an extensive discussion to consider the wide range of 7 Alternatives which included 9 Options set forth in the Draft Options Paper. Much of this discussion centered on the recognition that the shrimp fishery continues to shrink by attrition and there is a strong desire to put a floor on that permit shrinkage as well as on total landings in the fishery, while at the same time there is also a strong desire to achieve and maintain a certain level of catch efficiency in the fishery so that fishing operations can be economically viable.
Overlaying this discussion was whether any given Alternative and Option was consistent with the legal requirement of limiting effort to the 2009 cap set forth in the sea turtle BiOp, and for conforming the expected number of active permits in the offshore fishery to the AP’s new recommendation for redefining the OY as discussed above. At the same time the AP considered whether these legal constraints could accommodate a buffer of some additional number of inactive permits which typically occur at any given time in the fishery for a range of reasons many of which are quite legitimate.
In the end the Shrimp AP voted 6 to 4 in favor setting the minimum threshold of permits in the fishery at the expected number of active permitted vessels with landings from offshore waters needed to attain OY. This is also consistent with/equivalent to the ESA legal requirement for the fishery not to exceed the 2009 effort cap. According to the Council’s analysis set forth in the Draft Options Paper, this minimum threshold number of permits equals 1,074 valid permits.
Under Action 4, the Council’s objective is to define what the management response will be if and when the minimum threshold number of permits (1,074) is reached under Action 3. In many ways, the Shrimp AP was faced with an equally complex set of considerations under this Action as it faced under Action 3.
However, there was a clear consensus objective among the AP members that there be established a Gulf Shrimp Vessel Permit Reserve Pool into which expired permits will be transferred and subsequently reissued if and when the number of permits in the fishery falls below the minimum threshold number of 1,074 valid permits.
That said, it was also widely recognized by the AP members that it may be some years before the number of permits in the shrimp fishery declines beyond the minimum threshold of 1,074 valid permits – and thus when expired permits will begin to be transferred into the Reserve Pool. Consequently, the AP recognized it would be difficult to define all the details of the Reserve Pool at this time.
After much discussion, the AP adopted with no opposition a recommendation for the Council to establish the Reserve Pool for expired permits once the minimum threshold of 1,074 permits was reached, but also for the Council to establish a review panel to review the details of the Pool and any other options once the number of valid permits in the fishery declined to 1,300 permits so that a timely snapshot could be taken of the industry.
Under Action 5, the Council’s objective is to define the procedure for how permits in the Reserve Pool will be reissued by NMFS into the fishery, and what eligibility criteria should apply to recipients of such Reserve Pool permits. Once again the AP was faced with a broad range of Alternatives and Options and held an extensive discussion.
An overlying theme of this discussion was the desire of many AP members to limit the issuance of Reserve Pool permits to individuals or corporations that would actively use the permits in the offshore fishery rather than for the permits to be issued to those who would hold them for the purpose of speculation, for example, might simply attach such permits to a skiff for later sale to a prospective permit buyer in the private market.
After much consideration the AP adopted with no opposition a recommendation to the Council for the NMFS to maintain a first-come, first-serve waiting list for those seeking to purchase a Reserve Pool permit, and for NMFS to issue such permits on a real time basis as they become available over the course of the year.
Further, the AP recommended to the Council that NMFS apply the following eligibility criteria to those purchasing Reserve Pool permits which as the AP intended would ensure that the permits will be actively used in the offshore (federal waters) shrimp fishery.
– US citizenship
– US Coast Guard Safety inspection with fishing activity beyond 3 miles
– Proof of shrimp landings through trip tickets or other applicable landing data programs within 12 months of the issuance of the permit.
Finally, the AP considered Action 6 which is for the purpose of addressing the need for certain non-federally permitted shrimp vessels to legally transit Federal waters. After a thorough discussion the AP adopted without any opposition the following recommendation to the Council:
“A vessel possessing shrimp may transit Gulf federal waters without a federal vessel permit if fishing gear is appropriately stowed. Transit means non-stop progression through the area; fishing gear appropriately stowed means doors and nets must be out of the water.”
After the all-day meeting Southern Shrimp Alliance Executive Director and Shrimp AP Member John Williams expressed his confidence that in the end the AP did the right thing:
“I’m proud to say that the AP held what was one of its most comprehensive, constructive and thoughtful discussions about the future of the shrimp fishery I can recall. I believe it did its very best to make a series of sound, scientifically-based recommendations to the Council. No one side of the arguments dominated the discussion or the results, but instead the AP struck what I see as an appropriate balance among all the many complex considerations it faced. In fact, in nearly every case the recommendations were adopted without any opposition. Again, I’m very proud of the AP for taking its critical role in the management process so seriously.”