[Federal Register Volume 82, Number 116 (Monday, June 19, 2017)]
[Rules and Regulations]
[Pages 27777-27780]
From the Federal Register Online via the Government Publishing Office [www.gpo.gov]
[FR Doc No: 2017-12735]



National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration

50 CFR Part 622

[Docket No. 140818679-5356-02]
RIN 0648-XF499

Fisheries of the Caribbean, Gulf of Mexico, and South Atlantic; 
Reef Fish Fishery of the Gulf of Mexico; Revised 2017 Recreational 
Fishing Season for Red Snapper Private Angling Component in the Gulf of 

AGENCY: National Marine Fisheries Service (NMFS), National Oceanic and 
Atmospheric Administration (NOAA), Commerce.

ACTION: Temporary rule; re-opening.


SUMMARY: NMFS is re-opening the private angling component for red 
snapper in the exclusive economic zone (EEZ) of the Gulf of Mexico 
(Gulf) through this temporary rule. The Federal recreational season for 
red snapper in the Gulf EEZ re-opens at 12:01 a.m., local time, on June 
16, 2017. For recreational harvest by the private angling component, 
from June 16, 2017, through Labor Day, September 4, 2017, the season 
will be closed Monday through Thursday with the exception of July 3, 
July 4, and September 4. After September 4, 2017, the private angling 
component will be closed through the end of the current fishing year. 
For recreational harvest by the Federal for-hire component, the season 
is unchanged and closes at 12:01 a.m., local time, on July 20, 2017. 
This temporary rule supersedes the

[[Page 27778]]

previously announced Gulf red snapper 2017 private angling component 

DATES: The reopening is effective each weekend, from 12:01 a.m., local 
time, Fridays, through 12:01 a.m., local time, Mondays, beginning June 
16, 2017, until 12:01 a.m., local time, September 5, 2017. The 
reopening is also effective from 12:01 a.m., local time, July 3, 2017, 
until 12:01 a.m., local time, July 5, 2017; and from 12:01 a.m., local 
time, September 4, 2017, until 12:01 a.m., local time, September 5, 
2017. The recreational fishing season will then be closed until it 
reopens on June 1, 2018.

the Assistant Administrator, email: [email protected].

SUPPLEMENTARY INFORMATION: The Gulf reef fish fishery, which includes 
red snapper, is managed under the Fishery Management Plan for the Reef 
Fish Resources of the Gulf of Mexico (FMP). The FMP was prepared by the 
Gulf of Mexico Fishery Management Council and is implemented by NMFS 
under the authority of the Magnuson-Stevens Fishery Conservation and 
Management Act (Magnuson-Stevens Act) by regulations at 50 CFR part 
    The commercial and recreational sectors are managed by separate 
quotas. Amendment 26 to the FMP established an individual fishing quota 
program for commercial red snapper fishermen (71 FR 67447, November 22, 
2006). Amendment 27 to the FMP established an annual June 1 start date 
for the recreational season that currently applies to both recreational 
components of the sector (73 FR 5117, January 29, 2008). The final rule 
implementing Amendment 40 to the FMP established two components within 
the recreational sector fishing for Gulf red snapper: the private 
angling component and the Federal for-hire component (80 FR 22422, 
April 22, 2015).
    Currently, the Gulf of Mexico stock of red snapper is overfished. 
In 2005 (Amendment 22), NMFS adopted a rebuilding plan enacted by the 
Gulf of Mexico Fishery Management Council (GMFMC) that was designed to 
rebuild the stock by 2032. Since implementation of the rebuilding plan, 
red snapper are larger and more abundant and are also expanding their 
range to areas of Florida where they have not been prevalent for some 
    This has increased economic opportunity for the commercial red 
snapper industry. That industry contains a limited number of tightly 
regulated vessels that are able to closely monitor their catches and 
stay within their allotted quota. As the quotas have increased to 
reflect improved stock health, the commercial catches have gone up and 
the commercial fishery has been able to reap the economic benefit of 
improved stock status. The ex-vessel value of commercial red snapper 
landings has increased from $10 million dollars in 2007 to nearly $30 
million dollars in 2015.
    The same cannot be said of private recreational fishermen. Red 
snapper is harvested recreationally throughout the Gulf, with 
proportionally larger landings in the eastern Gulf. The desire for 
recreational fishing generates economic activity as consumers spend 
their income on various goods and services needed for recreational 
fishing. This spurs significant economic activity in the region where 
recreational red snapper fishing from charter vessels and private 
anglers generates at least $47 million dollars annually (output/sales 
in 2014 dollars) from West Florida through Texas.
    A decade ago, recreational fishermen could fish for red snapper for 
more than 6 months. As the stock has grown, anglers are catching more 
and larger fish across a broader geographic range. Catch per day has 
increased because of abundance and fish size, but also more 
concentrated fishing effort as the season has become compressed. 
Further, angler access in Federal waters has declined as the Federal 
recreational season has shrunk. On the commercial side, more fish has 
resulted in higher catch rates and higher profits. On the private 
recreational side, abundance has meant fewer and fewer days to fish in 
Federal waters, which is at the heart of the recreational fishing 
experience. While explicable, this situation is untenable. The 
decreasing number of days allowed for the private angler component in 
Federal waters has resulted in derby style fishing that forces anglers 
to take increased risks to fish in bad weather and concentrates fishing 
effort in a narrow time window. States have responded by setting State 
seasons for the private angling component that are far longer than the 
Federal season, greatly complicating fishery management and further 
reducing the available days in Federal waters. The current situation 
has undermined the Federal-State partnership on management of this 
transboundary stock and threatens to undermine the very fabric of 
Federal fisheries management in the Gulf and elsewhere.
    Red snapper is primarily a deeper water species, although it does 
occur patchily in deeper parts of state waters. Given that it occurs 
and is caught within the jurisdiction of the 5 Gulf states and in 
Federal waters, a unified approach to management is critical to 
preserve the sustainability of the stock while maximizing the economic 
and recreational value of the stock. The increasingly short Federal 
recreational season has undermined that needed cohesiveness. As the 
federal seasons have become shorter, the states have allowed for longer 
and longer state water seasons. Since state catches ``come off the 
top'', the long state seasons have made the Federal season even 
shorter, further exacerbating the problem. So while the amount of red 
snapper that can be caught by private anglers is near an all-time high, 
more than 81 percent of those fish will be caught during state seasons 
under status quo management.
    This incongruous management has a number of direct and indirect 
negative effects on the fishery. Managing the private recreational 
fishery is far more difficult than managing the commercial fishery. The 
commercial fishery is comprised of relatively few boats that fill out 
regular reports and land their fish in a limited number of places. 
Their landings can be cross-checked with dealer reports at the limited 
number of licensed fish dealers and it is feasible to know where the 
vessel was when it caught the fish. In comparison, there are hundreds 
of thousands of private anglers who can decide to put a fishing line in 
the water from shore anywhere on the coast or get in a private boat to 
go virtually anywhere off shore from a public boat ramp or a dock on 
private property, making it difficult to reliably track angler catches 
and fishing effort.
    As a result, understanding what is happening in the vast 
recreational fishery and then appropriately managing it is not 
something the Federal government can do alone. We rely on the states as 
integral partners in the co-management effort. The States license 
fishermen and collect significant amounts of independent science data 
that goes into the stock assessment process. If the states are not 
partners in a cohesive management scheme, the management system will 
not work for anyone.
    The lack of a unified approach can also significantly increase the 
burden on the taxpayer from duplicative or overlapping management 
structures. Historically, the states and Federal government have 
cooperated in a unified management, survey and data collection program 
to estimate fishing effort and overall stock abundance of red snapper 
and other Gulf stocks. The effect of the non-uniform management 
approach existent today is essentially the creation of six individual 
management and science regimes for a

[[Page 27779]]

single species of fish. Each of the five states is creating or has 
created a unique way of collecting data on and managing red snapper, 
which is somewhat independent of the Federal system. This has not 
always been the case and the state and Federal managers are trying to 
ensure that the various systems are compatible. Nevertheless, the 
disparate approaches do increase the overall cost to the taxpayer and 
create inconsistent data results, further undermining the integrity of 
the system.
    Against this backdrop, the agreement reached today between the 
Secretary of Commerce and the five states is extraordinary. For the 
first time since 2007, the five States have agreed amongst themselves 
on a singular private recreational summer fishing season of 39 
essentially weekend days. In addition, Florida and Alabama have 
committed to forgoing fall seasons, eliminating the vast majority of 
private angler catch that has occurred in the fall. Mississippi and 
Louisiana have also committed to reviewing their fall seasons in light 
of the catch from the combined summer season, and may decide not to 
allow fall fishing for red snapper. Texas, which accounts for less than 
half a percent of private angler catch of red snapper in its fall 
season, expects to remain open. While slightly disparate, the emergency 
actions by all five States to bring their State water seasons into 
alignment with the Federal water season for the rest of the summer, 
when the bulk of private recreational angling occurs, is a significant 
step forward in building a new Federal-State partnership in managing 
this transboundary fish stock. The Secretary believes this increased 
Federal-State cooperation will benefit the long term recovery of the 
red snapper stock while maximizing the economic benefits from 
recreational fishing in the Gulf region.
    The States have now recommitted themselves to cohesive and unified 
management. If Federal waters will stay open for the same amount of 
time, they will modify their various individual seasons and adopt a 
singular uniform season Gulf-wide through September 4. There will no 
longer be any incentive to fish in closed Federal waters when State 
waters are open. State and Federal managers and data collectors can 
once again work as partners trying to achieve the same management 
    This is extraordinary and the States are sacrificing substantial 
near shore fishing opportunities to allow this to happen. Many States 
will forgo weeks or months of fishing in State waters in exchange for 
better fishing opportunities and larger fish in Federal waters. This 
represents a significant commitment from the States to restore a shared 
vision of uniform management.
    Both the States and the Federal government understand what is at 
risk with this approach. The stock is still overfished. While the stock 
is ahead of its rebuilding target, if employed for a short period of 
time, this approach may delay the ultimate rebuilding of the stock by 
as many as 6 years. This approach likely could not be continued through 
time without significantly delaying the rebuilding timeline. Similarly, 
the approach will necessarily mean that the private recreational sector 
will substantially exceed its annual catch limit, which was designed to 
prevent overfishing the stock. Nevertheless, NMFS calculates that the 
stock will continue to grow, although at substantially more modest pace 
if this approach is adopted for one year. Given the precipitous drop in 
Federal red snapper fishing days for private anglers notwithstanding 
the growth of the stock, the increasing harm to the coastal economies 
of Gulf States, and that the current disparate approaches to management 
are undermining the very integrity of the management structure, 
creating ever-increasing uncertainty in the future of the system, the 
Secretary of Commerce has determined that a more modest rebuilding pace 
for the stock is a risk worth taking.
    As such, in coordination with the five Gulf States, the Secretary 
of Commerce has determined to re-open the Federal private recreational 
season. The 2017 Federal recreational season was previously closed at 
12:01 a.m., local time, on June 4, 2017, for the private angling 
component. The Federal for-hire component will close at 12:01 a.m. 
local time, on July 20, 2017 (86 FR 21140, May 5, 2017). All five Gulf 
States have indicated they will adopt State recreational fishing 
seasons through September 4, 2017, compatible with the Federal season 
announced through this temporary rule. The 2017 Federal recreational 
season for the private angling component is revised through this 
temporary rule and will be open an additional 39 days for a total of 42 
days. In 2017, the private angling component will be open from June 1 
through 4, June 16 through 18, June 23 through 25, June 30 through July 
4, July 7 through 9, July 14 through 16, July 21 through 23, July 28 
through 30, August 4 through 6, August 11 through 13, August 18 through 
20, August 25 through 27, and September 1 through 4. The Federal season 
for the Federal for-hire component will remain the same and close at 
12:01 a.m., local time, July 20, 2017. The commercial individual 
fishing quota program and the 2017 commercial quota remain unchanged 
through this temporary rule. The 2018 Federal recreational fishing 
seasons for the respective components will begin on June 1, 2018.
    When the recreational component is closed, the bag and possession 
limits for red snapper in the respective component are zero. 
Additionally, when the Federal charter vessel/headboat component or 
entire recreational sector is closed, these bag and possession limits 
apply in the Gulf on board a vessel for which a valid Federal charter 
vessel/headboat permit for Gulf reef fish has been issued, without 
regard to where such species were harvested, i.e., in State or Federal 


    This action is taken under 50 CFR part 622 and is exempt from 
review under Executive Order 12866.
    These measures are exempt from the procedures of the Regulatory 
Flexibility Act because the temporary rule is issued without 
opportunity for prior notice and comment.
    The Assistant Administrator for NOAA Fisheries (AA), finds that the 
need to immediately implement this action to provide additional 
recreational private angling fishing season days constitutes good cause 
to waive the requirements to provide prior notice and opportunity for 
public comment on this temporary rule pursuant to the authority set 
forth in 5 U.S.C. 553(b)(B), because such procedures are unnecessary 
and contrary to the public interest. Such procedures are unnecessary 
because the rule implementing the requirement to close the recreational 
components have already been subject to notice and comment, and all 
that remains is to notify the public of the closures. Providing prior 
notice and opportunity for public comment are contrary to the public 
interest because of the need for timely re-opening of the Federal 
private angling component season. In addition, prior notice and 
opportunity for public comment would require time and many of those 
affected by the length of the recreational fishing season, particularly 
vacationing private anglers and associated businesses that are 
dependent on private anglers, need as much advance notice as NMFS is 
able to provide to adjust their personal and business plans to account 
for the recreational fishing season.
    For the aforementioned reasons, the AA also finds good cause to 
waive the 30-day delay in the effectiveness of this action under 5 
U.S.C. 553(d)(3).

    Authority: 16 U.S.C. 1801 et seq.

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    Dated: June 14, 2017.
Samuel D. Rauch III,
Acting Assistant Administrator, National Marine Fisheries Service.
[FR Doc. 2017-12735 Filed 6-14-17; 4:15 pm]