skip to main content | skip to footer
North Carolina Department of Environment Quality

NC Department of Environment and Natural Resources
Marine Fisheries - Snapper Grouper Complex

Marine Fisheries

Web Content Display Web Content Display

SNAPPER-GROUPER COMPLEX

8-point rule

Life History

Fifty-five species make up the snapper grouper complex, which is managed by the South Atlantic Fishery Management Council. Included in the complex are three sea bass species, 17 grouper species, 10 snapper species, seven porgy species, five grunt species, five jack species, three tilefish species, two triggerfish species, hogfish, spadefish and wreckfish. The majority of these species are long lived, slow growing, late maturing and hermaphroditic (can change sexes). Most of these species are considered reef fish and are associated with hard bottom (live bottom) offshore habitats, but can be found in waters 1,000 feet deep or shallower. Some species, such as black sea bass, are migratory, exhibiting seasonal and/or ontogenic (occurring during a certain life stage) east to west migratory behavior. Some species, such as gag grouper, make north to south migrations. The full list of the species in the complex is available online at Snapper Grouper Management Complex.

Fisheries

Commercial gear used in the snapper grouper fishery includes electric and hydraulic (bandit) reels, manual hook and line, buoy gear, long lines, fish pots, spear, and trolling gear. Bandit reels, followed by electric rods and reels are the two most prevalent gear types used, especially south of Cape Hatteras. Spearfishing predominately occurs south of Cape Hatteras, while longlines are primarily fished north of Cape Hatteras. The use of longlines is limited to six deepwater species and depths greater than 300 feet. Fish pots are used primarily to target black sea bass. Trip lengths vary dependent on the area fished and the gear used, but tend to average between two to three days and may extend for as long as 12 days. Commercial landings have fallen since a high in 2008 and 2009. The decline in landings follows removal of several of the species (sheepshead, Crevalle jack, queen triggerfish) from the complex in 2012, as well as changes to annual catch limits, trip limits, and a seasonal spawning closure (Figure 1). The top five market categories (10 year average by weight) harvested commercially are grouper, snapper, black sea bass, tilefish, and triggerfish. The 10 year average commercial landings (2008 to 2017) of snapper grouper species combined is approximately 2 million pounds at an average annual value of $4.4 million.
Figure 1

The recreational fishery uses many of the same gear types as the commercial fishery, with the exception of fish pots, buoy gear, and longlines. The number of fish landed recreationally has declined since 2008. The 2017 landings (numbers of fish) were approximately 30 percent below the 10 year average. As with the commercial fishery, this decline follows removal of species from the complex, as well as changes to annual catch limits, bag limits, size limits, and seasonal closures. For the past six years, the number of recreational releases has exceeded the total fish caught by over 80 percent (Figure 2). The dominant categories (10 year average by weight) harvested recreationally are groupers, jacks, porgies, tilefish, triggerfish, and black sea bass. The 10 year average recreational landings (by weight) of snapper grouper species combined is approximately 1.2 million pounds.

Figure 2

Management

Of the 75 species managed by the South Atlantic Fishery Management Council, 55 are included in the Snapper Grouper management complex. Because of its mixed species nature, this fishery offers the greatest challenge to managers. Initially, fishery management plan regulations for this complex consisted of minimum size limits, gear restrictions and a provision for the designation of Special Management Zones. Early attempts to develop more effective management measures were thwarted by lack of data on both the resource and the fishery. The condition of many of the species within the snapper grouper complex was, and still is, unknown. Improved data collection (in terms of quantity and quality) during the 1980s and 1990s has provided more management information on some of the more commercially and recreationally valuable species. However, the lack of basic management data on many of the species remains the major obstacle to successful management.

The original South Atlantic Fishery Management Council plan established the management unit of the snapper grouper fishery as the stocks within the U.S. Exclusive Economic Zone (between 3 miles and 200 miles from shore) from the North Carolina/Virginia border through the east coast of Florida. In the case of black sea bass, the unit is limited to south of Cape Hatteras. Since the inception of the fishery management plan, four species have been added to the management unit: wreckfish, spadefish, banded rudderfish, and lesser amberjack. In recent years, 18 species have been removed; 13 in 2012 (tiger grouper, sheepshead, queen triggerfish, puddingwife, black margate, yellow jack, Crevalle jack, porkfish, grass porgy, small mouth grunt, French grunt, Spanish grunt, and blue striped grunt) and one in 2014 (blue runner). In June 2016, Amendment 35 removed four additional species from the complex (black snapper, mahogany snapper, dog snapper, and schoolmaster).

Minimum size limits, daily bag limits, trip limits, gear restrictions, seasonal closures, area closures, temporary closures, and regulations designed to reduce release mortality have been put in place to keep harvest below the annual catch limits and ensure a sustainable multi-species fishery.

Stock Overview

Of the 55 species in the South Atlantic Fishery Management Council management unit, several are either overfished (population size too small) or experiencing some degree of overfishing (fishing mortality above its target level). The overfished stocks include: red porgy, red snapper, hogfish (east Florida), red grouper and snowy grouper. Stocks experiencing overfishing are: American red snapper, blueline tilefish, golden tilefish, speckled hind, Warsaw grouper, red grouper and hogfish (east Florida). The status of several species within the snapper grouper complex is unknown. However, for some of the species, stock assessments are available through various federal entities that are managed regionally (North Carolina south to eastern Florida). Since 2002, stock assessments have been conducted through the Southeast Data, Assessment, and Review (SEDAR), which is the cooperative process by which stock assessment projects are conducted in NOAA Fisheries' Southeast Region. Currently, stock assessments are available for 16 of the complex’s species. Assessments scheduled for completion in 2018 include vermillion snapper (SEDAR 55), black sea bass (SEDAR 56), and greater amberjack (SEADAR 59). An assessment for red porgy (SEDAR 60) is scheduled for completion in 2019. Several species in the complex also have stock status updates provided by the National Marine Fisheries Service. These updates are based on landings data to determine whether the stock is overfished or undergoing overfishing. They are done quarterly and available on the National Marine Fisheries Service website.

Research Needs

Research priorities at the state level include: developing adult and juvenile indices of abundance, especially fishery independent indices of abundance; continued discard sampling and determining methods to reduce discard mortality, expanding the sampling to collect information on depth, location, and age and size distribution of discarded fish; continuing to collect life history data, including data on age and growth, reproduction, and mortality; conducting tagging studies to evaluate movement at a state and regional level; and conducting reproductive biology work on red grouper and other shallow water groupers to determine spawning timing and habits.

Federal research needs include: continued monitoring of catches; collecting aging structures; estimating mortality rates; determining if stock structure exists for many of the species; identifying and mapping essential/critical fish habitat; determining spawning locations and seasonal migration patterns; continuing life history studies; estimating reproductive parameters, age and size of maturity, age and size of sexual transition, and sex ratio; determining reliability of historical landings; expanding diet studies; and developing juvenile and adult indices.

Links

Management Agencies

North Carolina Division of Marine Fisheries

South Atlantic Fishery Management Council

National Marine Fisheries Service (Southeast Regional Office)

Fishery Management Plans Amendments, Revisions and Supplements

South Atlantic Fishery Management Council

Stock Assessment Reports

National Marine Fisheries Service

Southeast Data, Assessment, and Review (SEDAR)

Contacts

For more information, contact McLean Seward at Mclean.Seward@ncdenr.gov or 910-796-7289
Grouper
Print
Web Content Display Web Content Display
N.C. Division of Marine Fisheries • 3441 Arendell Street • Morehead City, NC 28557 • 252-726-7021 or 800-682-2632

NC logo

38337 FEEDBACK

Your input is valuable to us. Please send us your feedback.

What type of feedback would you like to send?*

Ask a Question Report a Problem Have a Concern Make a Comment

(If you would like us to respond please include your phone or e-mail.)

Your Question has been sent. Thank you!

An internal server error prevented Your Question from being sent.
Please try again later, or call Toll-Free (877) 623-6748 for immediate assistance.

Please complete all highlighted items

Your Problem has been sent. Thank you!

An internal server error prevented Your Question from being sent.
Please try again later, or call Toll-Free (877) 623-6748 for immediate assistance.

Please complete all highlighted items

Your Concern has been sent. Thank you!

An internal server error prevented Your Question from being sent.
Please try again later, or call Toll-Free (877) 623-6748 for immediate assistance.

Please complete all highlighted items

Your Comment has been sent. Thank you!

An internal server error prevented Your Question from being sent.
Please try again later, or call Toll-Free (877) 623-6748 for immediate assistance.

Please complete all highlighted items

*If you are a DENR employee with an I.T. issue, please submit a DOTS ticket.