On January 29, 2008, the NMFS published final regulatory actions to reduce the red snapper catch, bycatch, and discard mortality in the directed commercial and recreational fisheries, as well as in the shrimp fishery. These regulations are designed to ensure a reasonable probability of ending red snapper overfishing by 2010 and rebuild the stock by 2032 in accordance with new Magnuson-Stevens Act mandates. The rule required that shrimpers reduce red snapper bycatch mortality by 74% from the average levels five years ago in the 10-30 fathom areas of the western Gulf.
The SSA worked successfully with the Council and NMFS to redesign a bycatch reduction strategy targeting only key juvenile red snapper habitat areas and thereby keeping the fishery open. The SSA was also successful in building into the rule a relaxation of the shrimp bycatch reduction requirement as the red snapper stocks recover. Due primarily to market conditions and careful monitoring of the location of shrimp fishing effort, no regulatory reductions in shrimp effort are expected to be necessary to meet the goals set in the Management Plan.
NMFS held a SEDAR red snapper stock assessment update in August 2009 at which Dr. Benny Gallaway presented his landmark research concerning density-dependent mortality of juvenile red snapper. This new scientific information substantially improved the understanding of the status of the Gulf red snapper stock and the relative role of shrimp trawl bycatch mortality in the rebuilding of the red snapper stock and contributed to the conclusion that a new benchmark stock assessment is needed to incorporate further improvements proposed by Dr. Gallaway.
In 2009, the SSA also began laying the foundation for the Gulf Council to revise the red snapper bycatch regulations to reduce the bycatch reduction target level from 74% to 67% beginning in fishing year 2011. This is consistent with both the measures the SSA successfully secured in the original plan adopted by the Gulf Council in 2007 and the favorable results of the red snapper stock assessment update which incorporated a higher assumption of natural mortality for juvenile red snapper as recommended by Dr. Gallaway. The SSA will continue to pursue this important regulatory change in 2010 through the Gulf Council and NMFS.