1. Background. 2. Management History

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1 Summary Report of the Red Drum Special Working Group for the Gulf of Mexico Fishery Management Council Prepared for the Standing Scientific and Statistical Committee, Gulf of Mexico Fishery Management Council By Sean P. Powers 1 and Karen Burns 2 1 Department of Marine Sciences University of South Alabama and member Standing SSC 2 Gulf of Mexico Fishery Management Council Working Group Members **Sean Powers, Chair **Harry Blanchet *Jessica McCawley Mike Murphy Clay Porch *Jim Tolan Council Staff Steven Atran Karen Burns Council Representative Harlon Pearce * Also Special Red Drum SSC members, ** Members Standing SSC

2 1. Background Section 303 of the 2006 reauthorized Magnuson-Stevens Fishery Conservation and Management Act, requires fishery management plans to contain methods for implementing annual catch limits and accountability measures to prevent and end overfishing and maintain stocks at healthy levels. The Generic ACL/AM Amendment for the Gulf of Mexico Fishery Management Council s Red Drum, Reef Fish, Shrimp, Coral and Coral Reefs, and Stone Crab Fishery Management Plans will implement the NOAA s National Standard 1 guidelines to establish the methods for implementing annual catch limits and accountability measures for stocks managed by the Gulf Council. The Gulf of Mexico Fishery Management Council requested the Gulf Council s Standing Scientific and Statistical Committee recommend an acceptable biological catch (ABC) to determine an annual catch limit for red drum in federal and state waters of the Gulf of Mexico. Some Council members were also interested in exploring the possibility of opening federal waters to the red drum fishery. The Standing Scientific and Statistical Committee expressed concerns at setting an acceptable biological catch in federal waters for a fishery that had been closed since At its May meeting, the Standing Scientific and Statistical Committee voted for Council staff to form a small working group of red drum experts and federal and state fish assessment scientists to explore the possibility of determining an acceptable biological catch for red drum in the Gulf of Mexico. The Gulf of Mexico Fishery Management Council Special Red Drum Working Group Web Conference was held on Tuesday, July 13, 2010 from 10:00 a.m. until 1:00 P.M. EDT. 2. Management History Historically, Gulf-wide reported annual red drum landings usually varied between 1 and 3 million pounds until the mid 1980s when blackened redfish became popular. This resulted in a huge demand for commercially caught red drum that were targeted both in offshore state waters and the exclusive economic zone (EEZ). On June 25, 1986, the Secretary of Commerce implemented an emergency rule limiting the commercial catch in the exclusive economic zone to one million pounds amid concerns that the stock would collapse. Federal waters in the Gulf of Mexico were closed in 1987 and have remained closed to both red drum recreational and commercial fishing (Porch 2000). Recreational red drum fisheries do occur in all Gulf coast state waters. Mississippi is the only state that allows a small red drum commercial fishery (Figure 1). 1

3 Figure 1. Red drum recreational and commercial landings in Gulf of Mexico state waters from Data Source: Dr. Nick Farmer, NMFS-SEFSC St. Petersburg, Florida Although the Mississippi red drum commercial fishery is regulated by a 35,000 pound whole weight quota, all the state recreational red drum fisheries are currently regulated by percent escapement from estuarine waters to near shore adult areas. The National Marine Fisheries Service uses escapement as a determination criteria to estimate the amount of fishing pressure on the red drum inshore population and mandates a 30% or greater escapement rate. Escapement rates vary by state and some states such as Florida have raised their escapement rate goal to 40%. Escapement is expressed as a percentage because it is based on the ratio of the number of red drum present at age 4, divided by the number of age 4 fish that would be present if the red drum fishery did not exist. Each state has different size and bag limits. Current state regulations permit red drum harvest for fish anywhere between the sizes of inches total length ( mm) depending on the state and daily bag limits vary from one to five fish per day (Table 1). 2

4 Table 1. Red drum size and bag limits in Gulf coast state waters. State Size Limits (in) TL Bag Limits Special Regulations Alabama only 1 over 26/trip 3 fish/person/day Florida fish/person/day TL in: tail squeezed Louisiana only 1 over 27/trip 5 fish/person/day No oversized fish permitted Mississippi only 1over 30/trip 3 fish/person/day Commercial =18 in, only 1 over 30 in Texas only 2 over 28 /yr 3 fish/person/day 1 tag for oversized, 2 nd tag if 1 st tag is filled out and returned 3. Recommendations The working group proposed 4 motions, which were accepted unanimously by the group after lengthy discussions. These discussions included a review of each states escapement reports, available indices of juvenile recruitment, and offshore age composition from Florida (Switzer et al. 2009) and Alabama (Hightower et al. 2010). 1. Motion: For the federal EEZ waters in the Gulf of Mexico, the working group recommends that the allowable biological catch (ABC) be set at 20,000 red drum until such time as a stock assessment can be conducted. The 20,000 red drum can be harvested only for scientific study, and that study must be endorsed by the SSC. (SP) Motion passed unanimously. 2. Motion: The working group recommends a stock assessment for red drum in state and federal waters in the Gulf of Mexico be conducted at the earliest possible opportunity. That assessment should include the following: (SP) Age composition of red drum in offshore waters. All applicable state data Motion passed unanimously. 3. As part of any scientific study, the working group recommends that mercury concentrations in various age and size groups of red drum be collected as well as genetic characterizations of sub-stocks (BW). Motion passed unanimously. 3

5 4. The working group recommends that an ABC for red drum in state waters of the Gulf of Mexico be based on the current selectivity pattern (no harvest in federal waters) and a minimum 30% escapement goal, which is currently consistent with pounds determined by the sum of the highest annual catches from each Gulf state over the last five years* (MM). Motion passed unanimously. n.b. Based on the highest annual harvest over the last five years (Table 2), the recommended ABC would be approximately 17,000,000 lbs. whole weight.* Table 2. Highest red drum catch landed from the Gulf of Mexico by state by year over the last five years; landings in lbs whole weight. Data Source: NMFS. State Recreational Commercial Year Landings Landings Alabama 1,190, Florida (Gulf) 1,990, Louisiana 11,307, Mississippi 563,851 35, Texas 1,726, Total 16,778,364 35, Comments on Recommendation The committee was hesitant to recommend ABC s to the Gulf council in the absence of any recent stock assessments for red drum in the Gulf of Mexico. The last formal stock assessment occurred in 2000 and the recommendations for data included in that assessment have been largely ignored. This sentiment was shared by the Standing SSC at its June 2010 meeting and the report s recommendations must be viewed within this context. Below we provide some detail of the discussions that preceded each motion. Motion 1 (20,000 red drum in the federal EEZ) was recommended to allow some scientifically directed harvest of red drum for the specific purpose of determining age composition of offshore stocks. This number was based on a report compiled by Brian Linton (2008) in which he calculated the sample sizes necessary for determining age composition as well as a mark and recapture study to estimate mortality. Motion 2. Reiterates comments made in earlier assessments that age composition of the offshore red drum population throughout the Gulf of Mexico must be assessed (see Figs 2 and 3). The working group discussed the advantages of purse seine collections (consistent with earlier surveys) versus other gear such as bottom longline (wider areal coverage and ability to establish long-term fishery independent, CPUE) to collect red drum, but offered no definitive advice. The working group felt strongly that the SSC must approve any study design involving offshore harvest and that the SSC would consider the pros and cons of different sampling gear in their evaluation of the study plan. 4

6 Percent frequency (%) Age (Years) Current study n = 820 Murphy and Crabtree n = Figure 2. (From Switzer et al. 2009). Comparison of relative year class frequency plots of adult red drum collected from purse seine sets conducted in nearshore Gulf of Mexico waters from the current study ( Switzer et al. 2009; August 2005 October 2008) and the Murphy and Crabtree study ( 2001). Figure 3. (From Hightower et al. 2010). Age composition of red drum caught in bottom longlines off the Alabama coast in (Left) and from Alabama recreational anglers targeting large red drum in 2009 (Right). 5

7 Motion 3. Switzer et al. (2009) supported study indicated high mercury concentration in large red drum. This issue may need to be resolved if a fishery in the offshore waters of the Gulf is opened (see Fig 4). In addition the working group thought stock structure should be updated using the latest genetic techniques. 2.0 Mean Mercury concentration (mg/kg) DOH 'no consumption' level DOH Threshold level n=3 n=114 n= Sublegal Legal Above Legal Slot size Figure 4. (From Switzer et al. 2009). Mean mercury levels (mg/kg) for different sizes of red drum collected from Tampa Bay and nearshore gulf waters. Error bars represent the standard deviation. The historical DOH mercury threshold (0.5 mg/kg) and no consumption levels (1.5mg/kg) are indicated by dashed horizontal lines. Motion 4. (ABC for state waters) The working group discussed several limitations and concerns of recommending an ABC for state waters without an assessment. The working group chose to set the ABC equal to the highest level of landings for each state over the last five years with the intent of letting the current management strategy by each state continue until a new assessment was conducted. The working group felt that the fact that all states were able to meet the requirement of 30% escapement supported this decision. In addition, juvenile abundance indices and catch rates in many states appeared stable or increasing further supported this recommendation. Several lines of evidence did concern the working group. First, it was noted that escapement indices for many states were trending downward in recent years. Second, FL had recently increased their escapement goal to 40% as a management goal. Third, juvenile indices in Florida appeared were declining. Further, an analysis compiled by Chad Hanson (Pew) addressed other points of concern. See attached letter. Finally, the working group stressed that the recommended ABC for state waters assume no change in the current selectivity patterns of the fishery (i.e. no harvest in offshore waters). If and significant harvest (greater than those fish allotted for scientific study) is resumed in offshore waters, the ABC for state waters must be reconsidered. 6

8 Figure 5. Red drum escapement rates for the Gulf states as provided in the available documentation and communication with relevant state agency staff (i.e., Florida, Texas). Literature Cited Hightower, C.L., S.P. Powers and M.W. Johnson Age composition, abundance, and spatial distribution of red drum, Sciaenops ocellatus, in offshore waters of the north central Gulf of Mexico. Special Red Drum Assessment Report. Prepared for the Gulf of Mexico Fishery Management Council, Scientific and Statistical Committee. 17 p. Linton, B.C Recommended age composition and mark-recapture study sample sizes for Gulf of Mexico red drum. NOAA/NMFS Southeast Fisheries Science Center Sustainable Fisheries Division Miami Lab. 18p. Murphy, M.D. and R. E. Crabtree Changes in the age structure of nearshore adult red drum off west-central Florida related to recruitment and fishing mortality. North American Journal of Fisheries Management 21: Porch,C.E Status of the red drum stocks of the Gulf of Mexico. Southeast Fisheries Science Center. Sustainable fisheries Division Contribution: SFD-99/ p. Switzer,T., M.D. Murphy, B.L. Winner, K.E. Flaherty, and J. Vecchio Final Report to NOAA/NMFS from Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission for Award NA05NMF , Size and age structure, and catch-and-release mortality estimates of subadult and adult red drum (Sciaenops ocellatus) in the Tampa Bay estuary and nearshore Gulf of Mexico waters. 70 p. 7

9 July 8, 2010 Dr. Sean Powers Chair, Red Drum Special Working Group Dauphin Island Sea Lab University of South Alabama 101 Bienville Blvd. Dauphin Island, AL RE: Comments to the Special Working Group on Red Drum Allowable Biological Catch Dear Dr. Powers, Scientific and anecdotal information suggest that red drum populations may have rebounded substantially since the federal fishery was closed in the late 1980s. However, there has not been a comprehensive assessment of the entire Gulf of Mexico population since 2000, and that assessment was limited by the lack of information about the offshore adult portion of the population. The 2000 assessment concluded, with a high degree of uncertainty, that the Gulf red drum population was overfished with respect to the Gulf of Mexico Fishery Management Council s management goal 1. In the absence of a more recent Gulf-wide stock assessment that incorporates information from the offshore adult portion of the red drum population, it is important to include and analyze the best available scientific information. The critical information from each Gulf state to gauge management success and population health is the rate of escapement of young red drum from inshore estuaries to the offshore, adult spawning population. However, both the methods for analyzing escapement and the time periods analyzed vary across the states. This complicates evaluating the status of the Gulf-wide population in the absence of a full and comprehensive assessment. Nonetheless, this data is an important element in considering population health and should be thoroughly examined. The Red Drum Special Working Group should evaluate the escapement rates provided to verify accuracy and consistency. Also, it is important to analyze the trends of escapement rates over time, not just the most recent year(s) of data (Figure 1). Additionally, there is ample evidence that environmental factors should be taken into consideration when determining a potential Allowable Biological Catch (ABC) for red drum. 1 Status of the Red Drum Stocks of the Gulf of Mexico. Version 2.1. Clay E. Porch, Southeast Fisheries Science Center, Miami, Florida. April Page 1 of 8

10 The major red tide event off southwestern Florida in 2005 negatively and significantly affected red drum recruitment 2. While predicting future red tide events is not possible, it is a strong possibility that they will occur in the future due to their recent regular occurrence, particularly off Florida. Habitat damage and direct consequences from the ongoing Deepwater Horizon oil spill are also of concern for the long term health of the red drum population. Any ABC recommendation needs to factor in the potential for reduced recruitment and loss or degradation of Essential Fish Habitat. With that in mind, please consider the following comments regarding the science and status of the red drum Gulf of Mexico populations for the Red Drum Special Working Group meeting on July 13 to discuss ABC recommendations. Escapement Rates The management goal of allowing at least 30% escapement of young red drum through age 4 from inshore estuaries to the offshore adult spawning population has been the measuring stick adopted by the five Gulf states for the past several decades. [Note: Florida adopted a 40% management goal in June 2007] 3. The 30% escapement rate is used as a proxy to achieve 20% spawning stock biomass ratio (SSBR), a measurement of the spawning stock biomass summed over time for each year class 4. With the fishery closed in federal waters since the late 1980s, necessary data for a robust assessment of the Gulf-wide red drum population is limited. Each state has been responsible for managing and monitoring its statewide inshore red drum fisheries and available escapement rates have been provided (Figure 2). Florida The escapement rate provided by Gulf Council staff shows the escapement rate for Florida was 46% in In review of the Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission s 2008 stock assessment 5, that 46% is the year specific escapement rate which, as discussed in the assessment, is a measurement of overfishing or fishing mortality (see section 8.5.1, pg 30). The year-class specific escapement rate in 2007 was 31%, which is a measurement of stock abundance (i.e., overfished condition) as discussed in section of the stock assessment (pg 30). This is the rate presented in the Executive Summary of the FWC 2008 assessment and that has been presented to the Commission 6. Additionally, in recent communications with staff of the FWC, it was determined that the use of the year-class specific escapement rate is probably more appropriate 7. It is also interesting to note that the FWC stock assessment states that the escapement rates are likely biased high by about 5% (Sec 9.1, pg 30) and that the 2 Effects of the 2005 Red Tide Event on Recreational Fisheries in Southwest Florida. (presentation by the Fish and Wildlife Research Institute to the Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission, December 2006). 3 Red Drum Stock Assessment Review and Discussion. Report date: May 15, Amendment 2 to the Red Drum Fishery Management Plan. 5 Murphy, M. and Munyandorero, J An assessment of the Status of red drum in Florida through Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission, Fish and Wildlife Research Institute, St. Petersburg, FL. 6 Ibid. 7 Personal communication via with Mike Murphy, FWC-FWRI stock assessment biologist, 6/24/2010. Page 2 of 8

11 reasonable trajectories show the projected escapement rates are likely to go below 30% in 2011 (Figure 3). Alabama Alabama s description of its escapement rate is a similar measurement to that used by the state of Florida (year class escapement rate). Escapement rates from the 2008 Red Drum Assessment report (Alabama Marine Resource Division) 8 for years were provided for the May 2010 SSC meeting. Gulf Council staff has subsequently provided an escapement rate for 2005, but documentation for that estimate has not been obtained as of this writing. Louisiana It appears that Louisiana is using a calculation for escapement tied to annual fishing mortality rates on selected age classes. This approach seems to be more akin to the yearspecific escapement rate for measuring fishing mortality and overfishing status rather than overfished status as AL and FL are using. A brief explanation of this calculation and escapement rates through 2002 were provided in the 2005 Louisiana s Red Drum Escapement Rate Update (prepared by Harry Blanchet, September 9, 2006). Subsequently, a red drum escapement rate of 48% for 2005 was provided by Gulf Council staff, but documentation for that estimate has not been obtained as of this writing. Mississippi Escapement rates provided for Mississippi 9 only include three years ( ) and only the most recent year (2006) was above the 30% escapement goal. While the trend from these three years is increasing, it is of concern that were below the goal. It also appears that these calculations estimate fishing mortality rates for each age group (ages 1-4), which may be similar to the way the state of Louisiana examined year-specific escapement rather than year-class specific escapement. Texas A single escapement rate of 30% for 2009 was provided by Gulf Council staff. A PowerPoint slideshow of fish population and fishery parameters, including landings, catch rates, and CPUE estimates, was provided for the May 2010 SSC meeting. However, there was no description of escapement information. In recent communication with staff of the Texas Department of Parks and Wildlife, red drum escapement rates have not been calculated since Habitat and Major Environmental Issues Juvenile and young red drum are biologically linked to inshore estuarine habitats such as tidal marshes and sea grass beds. The quality of these coastal habitats can be negatively affected by major environmental events. For example, a significant decrease in year-class recruitment and catch rates, likely due to a major red tide event off Tampa, Florida in 2005, was documented by 8 Provided to the Scientific and Statistical Committee, May 2010 meeting Mississippi Estimates of Red Drum Escapement Rates. Tab L, No.3(a). Provided at May 2010 SSC meeting. 10 Personal communication via with Mark Fisher, Texas Parks and Wildlife Department, 6/28/2010. Page 3 of 8

12 the Florida Fish and Wildlife Research Institute 11 (Figure 4). Weak year classes on the gulf coast were also observed and noted in the 2008 FWC red drum stock assessment 12. And now, impacts to coastal habitat from the Deepwater Horizon oil spill may potentially cause negative consequences to the long-term health of many Gulf species, including red drum. The overlap of the ongoing shoreward movement and encroachment of this spilled oil on coastal habitats should be of great concern for red drum. The uncertainty of impacts from this catastrophic event to habitat and red drum should be explicitly taken into the consideration when determining the acceptable biological catch (ABC). In particular, the coastal wetlands of Louisiana provide the majority of the identified Essential Fish Habitat (EFH) for red drum, and every inshore bay system along the entire Gulf coast is considered EFH for red drum (Figure 5). As shown by the most recent fishery closure boundary as of this writing, the bulk of the oil spill has come ashore in Louisiana, but it is encroaching further eastward into Florida s Panhandle region (Figure 6). Conclusion The Magnuson Stevens Fishery Conservation and Management Act (MSA) requires that catch limits may not exceed the fishing level recommendations of the council s scientific and statistical committee or another peer review process identified by the Council [MSA 302(h)(6)]. Determining ABC recommendations and subsequent catch limits should be based on the best scientific information available [MSA 301(a)(2)] in order to allow ample fishing opportunities while maintaining the long-term sustainable health of populations. Data analyzed should be as up-to-date and appropriate as possible. Additionally, uncertainty associated with major environmental events should be considered and factored into ABC determinations as appropriate. In particular, loss or degradation of a substantial amount of Essential Fish Habitat may have long-lasting and negative impacts to coastal dependent species such as red drum. Thank you for the opportunity to share these comments and recommendations. Please feel free to contact me directly with any questions. Sincerely, Chad W. Hanson Senior Science and Policy Analyst Campaign to End Overfishing in the Southeast U.S. Pew Charitable Trusts, Pew Environment Group 11 Ibid. 12 Ibid., pg. 20 Page 4 of 8

13 Red Drum Escapement Rates by State FL AL MS LA TX Goal Figure 1. Red drum escapement rates for the Gulf states as provided in the available documentation and communication with relevant state agency staff (i.e., Florida, Texas). Figure 2. Escapement rates for red drum from each gulf state provided to the Special Working Group at ftp://ftp.gulfcouncil.org/kb/red%20drum/. Page 5 of 8

14 Figure 3. Red drum year class specific escapement rates for the gulf coast of Florida with five-year projections for from three separate models. Source: Red Drum Stock Assessment Review and Discussion report to the FWC (May 15, 2009). Red line represents gulf-wide 30% management goal and was inserted separately by the author of this comment letter. Page 6 of 8

15 Figure 4. Recruitment of juvenile red drum off Florida s Gulf coast showed a significant decline in 2005 coinciding with the prolonged red tide event. Source: Figures and of the 2008 Red Drum Stock Assessment (FWC). Page 7 of 8

16 Figure 5. Red drum Essential Fish Habitat map. Figure 6. Fishery closure boundary as of July 4, Page 8 of 8

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