Gulf Coast Fisherman
HEARINGS SCHEDULED TO DISCUSS POTENTIAL SKIMMER TRAWL REGULATIONS NOAA
Fisheries is considering new regulations in the shrimp fishery of the southeastern United States based on information indicating that: sea turtles are vulnerable to capture by skimmer trawls, and tow times may not be as effective in reducing bycatch-related mortality as turtle excluder devices. The agency will host five public meetings around the region to discuss and receive input from fishermen and other constituents on alternatives to reduce sea turtle bycatch and mortality.
These public meetings are the first stage in a multi-step process required by the National Environmental Policy Act to ensure that Federal agencies evaluate the environmental impacts of major Federal actions. During these meetings, the public is provided with an opportunity to assist us in determining the scope of issues that require analysis. The analysis of issues and the environmental impacts of the proposed actions will be presented in a draft Environmental Impact Statement, which will be made available for public comment. The notice of intent to prepare the draft statement was published in the Federal Register on March 15, 2016.
Additionally, NOAA prepared a scoping document and a list of frequently asked questions as aids to the public on the upcoming scoping process. These documents are available on the NOAA Fisheries website at: http://sero.nmfs.noaa.gov/protected_resources/index.html. The scoping document describes the major issues, current management and legal requirements, and identifies potential management measures to reduce interactions, and in particular, lethal interactions, between sea turtles and trawl fisheries. Scoping comments may also be submitted during a concurrent 45-day comment period. The dates, times, and locations of the Mississippi and Alabama meetings in April are as follows:
- Biloxi, MS -- April 20, 2016, 5 p.m. - 7 p.m., Biloxi Visitor's Center, 1050 Beach Boulevard, Biloxi, MS 39530.
- Bayou La Batre, AL -- April 21, 2016, 2 p.m. - 4 p.m., Bayou La Batre Community Center, 12745 Padgett Switch Road, Bayou La Batre, AL 36509.
MDMR TO BEGIN BLUE CRAB RESTORATION PROGRAM
Officials with the Mississippi Department of Marine Resources (MDMR) have announced that the agency will begin the initial processing for a Blue Crab Restoration Program. This program will consist of removing derelict crab traps from the Mississippi Sound, waterways and marshes in Hancock, Harrison, and Jackson counties. “The derelict crab trap removal program has been very successful in the past, and we believe it will have a positive impact on the environment and the industry by putting the fishermen to work before the season gets into full swing,” said Jamie M. Miller, executive director of the MDMR. “It is necessary every few years to clear our waterways and marsh of crab traps that are hazards to wildlife and humans.” The program will begin sometime in April. The MDMR will pay the fishermen using disaster funds received in 2014 as a result of the damages to the crab fishery from the 2011 opening of the Bonnet Carré spillway.
Those who qualify include Mississippi commercial crab fishermen who had a resident commercial crab trap license from May 1, 2011 through April 30, 2012. In addition, eligible participants must have held a resident commercial crab trap license in at least one of the following three seasons: May 1, 2007 through April 30, 2008; May 1, 2008 through April 30, 2009; or May 1, 2009 through April 30, 2010. Eligible participants will need to bring photo identification and all applicable licenses and vessel documentation.
DOCUMENTATION CERTIFICATE TO BE VALID FOR FIVE YEARS
The Coast Guard Reauthorization Act of 2015 has a nice bonus for recreational boaters. Starting in 2017, a certificate of documentation will remain valid for five years instead of just one year. Boat owners will still need to reapply for a new certificate if there are any changes of address or a new home port. Several boating groups advocated for this change after the U.S. Coast Guard began charging an annual fee for documentation renewal. The policy change was championed by congressman Peter DeFazio (D-OR), an active recreational boater, with support from congressmen Bill Shuster (R-PA), Duncan Hunter (R-CA), and John Garamendi (D-CA).
US FEDERAL FISHERIES MEET FAO GUIDELINES FOR SUSTAINABILITY
NOAA Fisheries’ self-assessment of US federal fishery management found that overall, the fisheries could be considered biologically sustainable and well-managed, meeting FAO guidelines for sustainable fisheries. Although the assessment, which was led by Dr Michelle Walsh, was conducted by NOAA Fisheries itself, it was independently peer-reviewed by the Center for Independent Experts, who were in general agreement with the assessments methodology and findings. The FAO ‘Guidelines for the Ecolabelling of Fish and Fishery Products from Marine Capture Fisheries’ is a voluntary scheme outlining principles, minimum requirements, and institutional/procedural aspects of ecolabelling fishery products from marine capture fisheries.
Calling for transparency, the use of third party scientific fishery assessments, and consistency with the FAO ‘Code of Conduct for Responsible Fisheries’, the FAO Ecolabelling Guidelines are widely accepted as the benchmark for certification schemes such as the Marine Stewardship Council, as well as for assessing fisheries sustainability throughout the world. Although the FAO Ecolabelling Guidelines only address the biological dimension of sustainability in fisheries, NOAA’s self-assessment also assessed the social and economic aspects that are important to fisheries sustainability.
Responsibility for sustainable harvest, conservation, and protection of living marine resources in the US Exclusive Economic Zone is placed with NOAA Fisheries under The Magnuson-Stevens Fishery Conservation and Management Act. Under the Act, NOAA Fisheries have adopted a science-based approach to fisheries management to prevent overfishing, and rebuilding overfished stocks. In relation to the FAO Ecolabelling Guidelines, this strong science-based approach has provided NOAA Fisheries management system with a number of key strengths. These include the use of the best available scientific evidence to determine conservation and management measures, incorporating uncertainty into stock reference points and catch limits, and taking action if catch limits are exceeded. NOAA Fisheries were also noted to match requirements for compliance with local, national, and international laws, as well as “developing and abiding by documented management approaches with frameworks at local, national, and regional levels." The success of NOAA Fisheries management in promoting sustainable fisheries is echoed in stock assessments, which show improvements throughout the country. In 2014, NOAA Fisheries noted that just 8% of stocks were subject to overfishing (in which in which fishing mortality rates is greater than the level associated with the maximum sustainable yield), and 16% overfished (in which a stocks biomass is so low that its capacity to continually produce maximum sustainable yield is hampered).
Fisheries management is an ever-evolving process, and one in which there are always improvements that can be made. The assessment also identified a number of areas of “future considerations” for NOAA Fisheries. These included improving assessment methods for data-poor stocks, incorporating broader food web considerations in individual fish stock management schemes, giving consideration to long-term changes in productivity, and implementation of ecosystem-based management approaches across the nation. In addition, thinking in terms of the human dimension for fisheries management, these "future considerations" included identifying funding assistance for small-scale fishers, increasing stakeholder involvement, and increasing transparency of decision-making and rationale.
GULF COAST RESEARCH LABORATORY NAMES NEW RESEARCH VESSEL AFTER TOP SCIENTIST
The newest addition to the Gulf Coast Research Laboratory’s (GCRL) fleet of research vessels will be names R/V Jim Franks. After a poll of GCRL faculty and staff, the decision was made to immortalize the work and dedication of Jim Franks, senior research scientist in the Center for Fisheries Research and Development, to the GCRL by giving the vessel his name. James Franks said, “I am extremely proud and honored to have my name on this beautiful, new research vessel. This honor is something I will cherish for the rest of my life.”
The still-practicing biologist has been the public face of GCRL at local fishing tournaments for decades and is frequently asked to interpret what’s going on in the marine environment to the general public. Franks has over 35 years experience as a fisheries biologist with research interests ranging from life history studies of Gulf of Mexico offshore fishes such as cobia, tunas, billfishes, and sharks to pioneering research on the floating seaweed Sargassum, an offshore essential habitat for many fish species. Franks has more than 50 publications documenting his work towards marine science. “It was an emotional experience when I first saw my name on the boat,” he said. “I wondered if I even deserved such an incredible honor.” Franks said that knowing his colleagues voted for his name to be emblazoned on the vessel makes the honor even more memorable.
“Being thought of by my peers in that way is as good as it gets,” he said. “I hope I can live up to the honor and make everyone proud.” “The new boat is a terrific platform for conducting research in Mississippi coastal waters and the Gulf of Mexico,” Franks said. “This vessel will not only grow the University of Southern Mississippi and GCRL's capacity for teaching, research, and outreach, but it will also grow the scientific knowledge of our region. It’s all about the future of marine science in Mississippi and the Gulf Coast.”
This information was compiled by Dave Burrage, Peter Nguyen and Benedict Posadas. For more information, visit our office at 1815 Popps Ferry Road, Biloxi, MS 39532 or telephone (228) 388-4710.
MSU Coastal Research and