the greatest overall benefit to the Nation, particularly with respect to providing food production and recreational opportunities, while protecting marine ecosystems. To further this goal, the M-SFCMA (National Standard 9) also requires federal fishery managers to minimize bycatch and bycatch mortality to the extent practicable.
Overcapitalization in the Gulf of Mexico shrimp fishery has in the past resulted in fishing capacity exceeding that required to efficiently harvest the OY. Fishing capacity is the ability of a vessel or fleet of vessels to catch fish, and is generally defined by the number of vessels in the fleet, the size of each vessel, the technical efficiency of each vessel, and the time each vessel spends fishing. Profits are reduced when vessels expend more effort than is needed to harvest available resources.
The incidental take of juvenile red snapper has been a significant bycatch problem in the Gulf of Mexico shrimp fishery, the resolution of which has challenged fishery managers for many years. Despite the use of bycatch reduction devices (BRDs) in shrimp trawl gear, the fishery has been taking juvenile red snapper at a rate that jeopardizes the success of the red snapper rebuilding plan approved in Amendment 22 to the Gulf of Mexico Reef Fish Fishery Management Plan (FMP) (SEDAR7 2005) and, therefore, the red snapper fishery’s ability to produce OY over the long term.
Reducing red snapper bycatch in the shrimp fishery is complicated because bycatch is largely tied to the amount of effort the fleet applies in harvesting shrimp. Recent information suggests BRDs used by the fleet to minimize bycatch have not been as effective as previously thought, and that a comprehensive effort-reduction/bycatch-quota program may be needed to achieve the large-scale bycatch reduction required to end overfishing of red snapper by the shrimp fishery and to reduce overall bycatch to the extent practicable. On the other hand, GMFMC (2005) indicated that there has been a significant reduction in the level of participation in the offshore shrimp fishery since approximately 2001 due to low shrimp prices from competition with foreign imports and high fuel costs. This amendment also concluded that the decline in participating vessels will likely continue through 2012. Furthermore, Hurricanes Katrina and Rita in 2005 damaged or destroyed a large number of shrimping vessels and their associated infrastructure such that landings, and probably effort, were reduced in 2005 to approximately one third of the average during the 1990s.
The purpose of this amendment is to further reduce effort and bycatch in the shrimp fishery, if needed, with a secondary goal of improving socioeconomic conditions for shrimp fishery participants and shrimp fishing communities. Although the focus of further bycatch reduction is on juvenile red snapper, alternatives being considered would effectuate further reduction in all finfish bycatch. Additionally, actions are being considered to enhance enforcement and to further the ability of the shrimp and red snapper fisheries to achieve OY.
Alternative means to reduce overall effort in the shrimp fishery are difficult to evaluate at this time given our poor understanding of participation and effort. The Council recently approved Shrimp FMP Amendment 13, which will establish programs that, when implemented, provide needed data and information on participation, effort, and bycatch in the shrimp fishery. However, fishery managers will have difficulty fully understanding the effects and tradeoffs of alternative effort controls and reduction programs for a number of years given the likelihood of continued reduction in fishing vessels due to competition with foreign imports and high fuel