Tracking Commercial Quotas in the
Gulf of Mexico and South Atlantic
Quotas are limits on the amount of fish (usually by weight) that can be landed by a sector of a fishery. Usually quotas are set for commercial fisheries, while recreational fisheries are controlled by bag limits. Quotas apply to a single species, or to a group of related species. Commercial fishermen sell their catch to dealers who are required to report their landings to state and federal agencies. These government agencies monitoring the landings, and when the quota is reached, the fishery is closed to further fishing until the beginning of the next fishing year.
This article is only a summary of the current regulations. For specifics, please visit the Gulf of Mexico or South Atlantic Fishery Management Council (Council) websites. Some of the regulations discussed below may be changed through amendments to Fishery Management Plans (FMPs); please go to the Sustainable Fisheries page to view amendments that are being developed.
Setting quotas and closing dates
Quotas are set through FMPs/amendments submitted by a Council to NOAA’s National Marine Fisheries Service (NOAA Fisheries Service). If a species is overfished or undergoing overfishing in an area, the appropriate Council may decide to limit landings. Because of the lag time between fishermen catching the fish and the landing information reaching NOAA Fisheries Service, closing dates are usually projected. Projections are developed by staff at the Southeast Fisheries Science Center (SEFSC) who consider the recent level of landings, review landings from previous years, submit the data to projection models, and often talk to fishermen and dealers. Scientists project a closing date when landings are expected to reach 100 percent of the quota. When making the projections, they wait until the landings are as close as possible to the quota while still leaving enough time for the administrative process and notification of fishermen of the closing. The closure is announced through publication in the Federal Register and through a Southeast Fishery Bulletin, which is posted to this website and sent to affected fishermen and other interested parties. Often the closures are announced on NOAA weather radio as well.
Seasonal closures and trip limits
Other regulations implemented to protect fish can often extend the time until the quota is reached. Seasonal closures are predetermined times during the year when fishing is not allowed for a species. Often these closed seasons are set during the peak reproductive season. Trip limits are limits on the amount of fish that can be landed during a single fishing trip. Limits are usually in pounds of fish, but may also be in numbers of fish. Trip limits may change during the fishing year. In some cases, trip limits change on specific dates; in other cases, trip limits change when a certain percentage of the quota is reached.
Reporting of commercial landings
For reef fish species, selected dealers are required to submit commercial landings data to the SEFSC twice each month. Dealers may submit reports online or send paper reports by mail or fax to SEFSC. Some dealers rarely handle some species, so to minimize their burden only dealers accounting for about 90 percent or more of landings in any fishery from previous years are required to submit quota monitoring reports. The list of dealers selected to report can be adjusted as necessary. Additionally, landings collected from other sources are monitored (e.g., port agent reports) to better estimate total landings. Staff biologists at NOAA Fisheries Service create quota monitoring reports based on the SEFSC data base.
The Spanish and king mackerel fisheries are also managed through quota monitoring. These fisheries are regulated jointly by the Gulf and South Atlantic Councils through the Coastal Migratory Pelagics FMP. Two migratory groups are recognized for each species and regulated separately. Most states collect landings data mainly through paper reports. To speed up the reporting process for quota monitoring, dealers fax summaries of their reports to SEFSC each month. Florida collects most of mackerel landings data electronically, so SEFSC receives reports from the Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission (FWC) for quota monitoring, rather than from individual dealers. However, at times when landings are high, dealers in Florida and other states may be required to report more often. As for the other species, only the largest 90% of dealers are required to report, and the total is estimated from these reports. For more information on mackerel migrations and regulations, please see Making Sense of Mackerel.
For some species in some areas the landings are tracked differently at the beginning of the fishing year than at the end. For example, the Gulf group for Spanish mackerel is monitored through state reports until the peak of fishing activity begins, typically in January. Then major dealers report to the SEFSC on a weekly basis until the end of the fishing season. SEFSC maintains contact with port agents to stay informed on major changes in the fisheries, and makes monitoring adjustments if needed.
Quotas in the Gulf of Mexico
Quotas have been set for three groups of reef fish in the Gulf: deep water grouper (speckled hind, and yellowedge, misty, Warsaw, and snowy groupers), shallow water grouper (rock and red hind; red, black, gag, yellowmouth, and yellowfin groupers; and scamp), and tilefishes (goldface, blackline, anchor, and blueline tilefishes, as well as tilefish). Within the shallow water group, the red grouper fishery has a specific quota (red grouper quota + all other shallow water quota = shallow water grouper quota). Quotas are also in place for Spanish and king mackerel. Please see the Gulf of Mexico quota monitoring page and the mackerel quota monitoring page.
Quotas in the South Atlantic
Fisheries for six species managed under the Snapper Grouper FMP have quotas in the South Atlantic: black sea bass, greater amberjack, red porgy, snowy grouper, golden tilefish, and vermilion snapper. Quotas are also set for Spanish and king mackerel.
Quotas for the dolphin commercial fishery in the South Atlantic apply from Florida to Connecticut. These data are compiled twice each year from the Southeast and Northeast regions of the NOAA Fisheries Service. Octocoral in the South Atlantic are managed by a quota and landings are reported twice during the fishing year to the FWC. FWC submits a final landings report to NOAA Fisheries Service by May of the next year. Please see the South Atlantic quota monitoring page and the mackerel quota monitoring page.
Thanks to Steve Turner, Mike Judge, Dave Gloeckner, and Josh Bennett for input on this article.