NOAA’s National Marine Fisheries Service’s implementation of Amendment 53 will move forward after a federal judge upheld the U.S. agency’s management plan for reef fish in the Gulf of Mexico.
The Gulf Reef Fish Shareholders Alliance and allied fishermen had sued NMFS to stop the implementation of Amendment 53, part of the Gulf of Mexico Fishery Management Council’s reef fish management plan. The plan, announced by NOAA on Monday, 2 May, 2022, will reduce the commercial allocation of red grouper caught in the Gulf of Mexico to 59.3 percent, down from 76 percent, while increasing the recreational fishing sector’s allocation from 24 percent to 40.7 percent.
On Friday, 6 January, 2023, U.S. District Court for the District of Columbia Judge Timothy J. Kelly ruled in favor of NMFS, meaning Amendment 53, which went into effect 1 June, 2022, will continue to be implemented.
“Commercial fishermen, seafood suppliers, and members of the seafood-consuming public are extremely disappointed in the court’s decision,” Gulf Reef Fish Shareholders Alliance Deputy Director Eric Brazer said. “Our livelihoods rely on healthy fish populations and management decisions that bolster stock health, not harm it. We are exploring all options.”
Brazer’s group argues Amendment 53 increases the number of red grouper discarded dead and wasted by recreational anglers; increases the likelihood that red grouper will be overfished; reduces the size and productivity of the red grouper stock; decreases the amount of red grouper available to be harvested for all fishermen in the Gulf of Mexico; and harms commercial fishing families and seafood consumers by reducing the commercial quota, partially to offset the increased waste that will be generated by recreational anglers.
In June 2022, Brazer said his group had sued not just to defend its red grouper allocations, but also as a preemptive means of combating “serial reallocations” in other fisheries.
The Gulf Reef Fish Shareholders Alliance made their case to Kelly at a hearing in October 2022, and had asked for him to make a decision by year’s end.
Photo courtesy of Gulf of Mexico Reef Fish Shareholders’ Alliance