Fisheries of the Caribbean, Gulf of Mexico, and South Atlantic; Reef Fish Fishery of the Gulf of Mexico; Amendment 18A
NMFS issues this final rule to implement Amendment 18A to the Fishery Management Plan for the Reef Fish Resources of the Gulf of Mexico (Amendment 18A) prepared by the Gulf of Mexico Fishery Management Council (Council). This final rule prohibits vessels from retaining reef fish caught under the recreational size and bag/ possession limits when commercial quantities of Gulf reef fish are on board; adjusts the number of persons allowed on board when a vessel with both commercial and charter vessel/headboat reef fish permits and a U.S. Coast Guard (USCG) Certificate of Inspection (COI) is fishing commercially; prohibits use of Gulf reef fish, except sand perch or dwarf sand perch, as bait in any commercial or recreational fishery in the exclusive economic zone (EEZ) of the Gulf of Mexico, with a limited exception for crustacean trap fisheries; requires a NMFS-approved vessel monitoring system (VMS) on board vessels with Federal commercial permits for Gulf reef fish, including charter vessels/headboats with such commercial permits; and requires owners and operators of vessels with Federal commercial or charter vessel/headboat permits for Gulf reef fish to comply with sea turtle and smalltooth sawfish release protocols, possess on board specific gear to ensure proper release of such species, and comply with guidelines for proper care and release of incidentally caught sawfish and sea turtles. This final rule also requires annual permit application rather than application every 2 years (biennial). In addition, Amendment 18A revises the total allowable catch (TAC) framework procedure to reflect current practices and terminology. The intended effects of this final rule are to improve enforceability and monitoring in the reef fish fishery in the Gulf of Mexico and to reduce mortality of incidentally caught sea turtles and smalltooth sawfish. Finally, NMFS informs the public of approval by the Office of Management and Budget (OMB) of the collection-of-information requirements contained in this final rule and publishes the OMB control numbers for those collections.