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North Carolina Department of Environment Quality

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Marine Fisheries - 14 Gag Grouper SSR 2016

Marine Fisheries

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Gag Grouper

Gag Grouper — 2016

Stock Status Recovering – Gag grouper are included the snapper grouper complex that is managed by the South Atlantic Fishery Management Council (SAFMC) in federal waters. As a result, gag in North Carolina waters are part of a regional fishery that includes populations located along the Atlantic coastlines of North Carolina, South Carolina, Georgia, and east Florida to Key West. According to the last stock assessment, SEDAR 10 update in April 2014, the gag stock was experiencing overfishing, but was not overfished. However, National Marine Fisheries Service (NMFS) removed the stock from the overfishing list in December 2014. This decision was based on the fact that in 2012 (the terminal year of the assessment) the fishing mortality rate was below the threshold, and the projected fishing mortality rate in 2013 (based on landings for that year which were below the quota) was also below the overfishing threshold. In addition, there had been a steady and consistent decline in the fishing mortality rate for the last 5-6 years of the assessment.

Average Commercial Landings and Value 2006-2015 – 191,656 lbs./$704,972 (quota managed)

2015 Commercial Landings and Value – 127,151 lbs./$580,727 (quota managed)

Average Recreational Landings 2006-2015 – 104,052 lbs., 2015 – 11,639 lbs. (quota managed)

Status of Fishery Management Plan (FMP) – Gag is currently included in the NC Interjurisdictional FMP, which defers to the SAFMC Snapper Grouper FMP requirements. Amendment 4 (1992) established a 20-inch total length (TL) minimum size; Amendment 9 (1999) increased the minimum size, created a 2-fish recreational bag and a March-April closure (bag limit only, no sale). Amendment 16 (2009) established a spawning season closure for both recreational and commercial fishermen, and reduced the recreational bag limit from two fish to one fish within the aggregate grouper bag limit. Captains and crew on for-hire vessels cannot retain a recreational bag limit. Amendment 17B (2010) established the commercial Annual Catch Limit (ACL) for the South Atlantic at 352,940 lbs. gutted weight with a trip limit of 1,000 lbs. gutted weight and a recreational ACL of 340,060 pounds gutted weight. Regulatory Amendment 15 (2013) removed the requirement to close harvest of all shallow water groupers once the gag ACL was met, and reduced the commercial ACL in order to account for projected gag discard mortality from trips that target co-occurring species during gag closures. Regulatory Amendment 14 (2014) revised the commercial trip limit of 1,000 lbs. gutted weight to include a trip limit reduction to 500 lbs. gutted weight when 75% of the quota had been caught. Regulatory Amendment 22 (2015) adjusted the ACLs for both the commercial and recreational fisheries based on the update to the SEDAR 10 stock assessment.

Data and Research Needs – develop juvenile index, assess release mortality values, conduct population assessment, expand age and growth studies, and determine migration patterns

2015 Regulations – State and federal: 24 inches total length (TL). The commercial ACL is 295,459 lbs. gutted weight with a 1,000 lbs. gutted weight trip limit. Trip limit drops to 500 lbs. gutted weight when ~75% of the quota has been met. The recreational ACL is 310,023 lbs. gutted weight. Gag are included in the recreational aggregated grouper bag limit of which one fish may be a gag or black grouper. When fishing for gag dehooking tools are required, as is the use of non-stainless steel circle hooks (offset or non-offset) when using hook-and-line gear with natural baits. For updated information and regulations, see the NCDMF and SAFMC websites.

Harvest season – Commercial and recreational: No harvest January 1 through April 30 (annual shallow water grouper spawning season closure). The fishing season opens May 1. The fishery will close on December 31, or for a given sector when the quota is projected to be met.

Size and Age at Maturity – Gag are protogynous hermaphrodites that start life as females. Females start to mature at 26 inches total length (TL)/ 3 years old (L-50), with all females mature at 32 inches TL/ 6 years. Transformation to male generally occurs around 10 years, and greater than 39 inches TL.

Maximum Age – 30 years

Juvenile Abundance Index – Not Available

Habits and Habitats – Spawning occurs offshore and pelagic larvae are carried into estuaries where they reside in sea grass beds or on oyster rocks. Gag larvae and early juveniles are considered to be estuarine dependent. As the waters cool in the fall, juveniles emigrate from the estuary to nearshore reefs. Large juveniles and adults occur on hard or “live” bottom on the outer continental shelf.

For information, contact Anne Markwith at Anne.Markwith@ncdenr.gov (800-248-4536 or 910-796-7292).

N.C. Division of Marine Fisheries • 3441 Arendell Street • Morehead City, NC 28557 • 252-726-7021 or 800-682-2632

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