News From the South Atlantic


The South Atlantic Fisheries Management Council (SAFMC) met the first full week of March in Jekyll Island, Georgia. The main items discussed at this meeting were king and Spanish mackerel tournament sales, Black Sea bass, red snapper, for-hire reporting, and the commercial permitting structure in the snapper grouper fishery.


King and Spanish mackerel tournament sales were discussed by the council but no votes were taken on this issue. It is my understanding that the council wants to wait and see what the public has to say about tournament sales and many other mackerel related issues at the upcoming mackerel port meetings before making any decisions. Mackerel port meetings begin in North Carolina next month and continue up and down the east coast throughout this year.


More Information On NC Mackerel Port Meetings



The most recent South Atlantic Black Sea bass stock assessment (south of Cape Hatteras) shows the stock is overfished and declining in abundance. This is the beginning of updating management for the South Atlantic stock of Black Sea bass through Amendment 56. Management options will be further discussed at the June council meeting. Stay tuned.


Red Snapper continues to be an issue that this council will not adequately address. Recreational dead discards continue to plague this fishery and account for well over 70% of allowable removals every year. With such a high number of recreational dead discards taken off the top of the acceptable biological catch (ABC) there is very little harvest left for either sector. 


As I discussed in a couple of my previous updates, the SAFMC is past the statutory deadline to implement management to end overfishing of the red snapper stock. Once again, the council approved zero management measures at the March meeting to end overfishing, even after receiving a letter from the Regional Administrator. This letter acknowledged the failure of the council to end overfishing and stated that NOAA Fisheries is considering interim measures to reduce overfishing in the 2024 fishing year if the council does not act.


To my understanding, the interim process is a blunt tool usually reserved to quickly enact short term management during the Amendment process to help address overfishing issues immediately. The interim process is also usually carried out at the request of the council. 


In this instance, it looks like interim ruling making may instead be used without the request of the council. In my opinion, this is quite unusual but necessary. The unusual part is that the interim rule is usually discussed at one or more council meetings and then asked to be implemented by the council. In this instance, if NOAA fisheries decides to act they will be implementing interim rule making on their own without direct council input.


The Regional Administrator was asked, but gave no hints as to what management measures (if any) to expect and said a decision would be made later this spring.


For-hire reporting in the South Atlantic continues to have compliance and reporting issues with little improvement from years prior. Without limited access this issue will never be resolved and without accurate recreational reporting our fisheries will never be managed properly. If you want to provide more input on this subject matter, directly contact SAFMC to apply for their newest advisory panel to look specifically at these issues. Panel members will be selected at the June meeting.


Commercial snapper grouper (SG) permits were also discussed at the March meeting. Consolidation of commercial snapper grouper permits using the 2 for 1 system (buy 2 permits retire 1) is now going on its 26th year. SG1 permits have decreased by 50% since 1998 and SG2 permits have decreased by 77% in that same time period. The council did not vote on anything related to this issue and requested more information. Hopefully the council will take notes and listen to our fishermen and help us figure out how to save our commercial fishing communities from consolidating into nothing.


If you are not already, I also encourage you to sign up for the SAFMC News at this link:   sign up for E-News


As always if you have any questions or comment please reach out.



Thomas Newman

Fisheries Liaison