Because of unusually high landings of cobia in the 2015 fishing season, the 2016 season will feature at least an early closure for the recreational sector in federal waters. The exact date of the closure is not yet known, as the National Marine Fisheries Service (NMFS) is currently analyzing different management scenarios. NMFS will be releasing its decision in early March 2016.
Beginning in 2011, all fisheries existing in federal waters were required under the Magnuson-Stevens Act to be regulated using annual catch limits (ACLs). An ACL is determined as an amount of removals (measured by weight) that is less than or equal to the overfishing limit and acceptable biological catch. This is designed to ensure levels of fishing that do not lead to overfishing or cause the stock to become overfished. As a result, cobia became a fishery managed using an ACL system, with a stock ACL (commercial plus recreational) as well as sector-specific ACLs.
Amendment 20B to the cobia fishery management plan made a change so that, starting in 2015, the Atlantic stock of cobia excluded Florida, meaning it stretched from Georgia northward to New York. In 2015, the Atlantic stock (Georgia through New York) recreational ACL was 630,000 pounds, and the Atlantic stock commercial ACL was 60,000 pounds. A preliminary estimate of landings for the Atlantic Stock recreational sector was 1,540,775 pounds, with 862,281 pounds (56%) from Virginia’s recreational sector. The total value represents landings that are 245% of the recreational ACL and 231% of the stock’s ACL. Preliminary values for Atlantic Stock commercial sector indicate 85% of its portion of the ACL was landed in 2015. The accountability measures established by NMFS for the fishery management plan for cobia requires that a 2016 recreational season closure be set to prevent an overage of the ACL in 2016 (it will be based on the harvest results of 2015). NMFS will announce a closure date for the recreational sector, for federal waters, and states will need to establish closures for state waters in order to comply with the provisions of the Manguson-Stevens Act.
An upcoming opportunity for public comment on this management issue is listed below:
South Atlantic Fishery Management Council meeting on March 8th-9th at the Westin Jekyll Island in Jekyll Island, GA. Please call the Council for more information (843-571- 4366).
Use this URL to find all of the materials for the SAFMC briefing book on Cobia and the other agenda items: http://safmc.net/SAFMC_03_2016CouncilMeeting
Public comment opportunities at the upcoming SAFMC meeting:
(1) The South Atlantic Fishery Management Council will hold a public comment session during the week-long meeting on Wednesday, March 9th beginning at 5:30 p.m. This comment session is for persons that are in attendance at the meeting.
(2) The Council meetings are live-streamed each day as they occur and members of the public may register to listen to the discussions and presentations via Citrix webinar. However, the public is not allowed to provide comment as part of the webinar. The public may submit written comments to the Council by sending them to Mike Collins, the Council’s Administrative Officer via email to firstname.lastname@example.org with the Subject Line “Cobia”.
(3) The Council’s Mackerel Committee will discuss cobia issues, including future management options, when it meets on Thursday, March 10th (see Tab 8). Should the Council decide to move forward with any options, there will be additional opportunities for public comment through scoping and public hearings.
Questions should be addressed to:
Public Information Officer
South Atlantic Fishery Management Council
4055 Faber Place Drive, Suite 201
N. Charleston, SC 29405
843/571-4366 or Toll Free 866/SAFMC-10