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North Carolina Department of Environment Quality

NC Department of Environment and Natural Resources
Marine Fisheries - 14 Gag SSR 2015

Marine Fisheries

Gag Grouper

Gag Grouper — 2015

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 (April 2014) from SAFMC, 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. Stock projections suggested that the spawning stock will probably decline initially due to low recruitment in 2011-12; however, the spawning stock should grow in subsequent years helping to rebuild the populations.

Average Commercial Landings and Value 2005-2014 – 204,059 lbs./$716,467 (quota managed)

2014 Commercial Landings and Value – 167,572 lbs./$737,755 (quota managed)

Average Recreational Landings 2005-2014 – 118,047 lbs., 2014 – 10,706 lbs. (quota managed)

Status of Fishery Management Plan (FMP) – Gag is currently included in the N.C. Interjurisdictional FMP, which defers to SAFMC Snapper Grouper FMP compliance 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 a bag limit for the recreational fishermen. 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. Regulatory Amendment 15 (2013) reduced the commercial ACL in order to account for projected gag discard mortality from trips that target co-occurring species during gag closures.

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

2014 Regulations – State and federal: 24 inches total length (TL). There is a commercial ACL (federal)-326,722 lbs. gutted weight and 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 340,060 lbs. gutted weight. Gag are included in the aggregated grouper bag limit of which one fish may be a gag or black grouper.

Harvest season – Commercial and recreational closed January 1 through April 30 for annual shallow water grouper spawning season and when the quota of shallow water grouper or gag grouper is reached.

Size and Age at Maturity – Gag first mature as females at 5 years, when fish are greater than 26 inches TL. Transformation to the male generally occurs around 10 years and greater than 39 inches TL.

Historical and Current Maximum Age – 30 years/22 years

Juvenile Abundance Index – None available but studies are being conducted in North Carolina and other states.

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 or 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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