In the US, black grouper are managed as a combined Gulf of Mexico/South Atlantic stock, though they are still managed regionally – with each region establishing its own catch level and management measures.
NOAA Fisheries and the South Atlantic Fishery Management Council manage the black grouper fishery along the US Atlantic. Black grouper are managed under the Snapper-Grouper Fishery Management Plan (FMP) along with over 50 other South Atlantic species including other groupers, snappers, jacks, and tilefish. Implemented in 1983, the Snapper-Grouper FMP was established to end historic overfishing of black, red, and other grouper species. The plan and its amendments include numerous measures to rebuild current populations. Among management measures included in the plan are:
- Limiting the number of available permits (both transferable and nontransferable) available to commercial fishers;
- Establishing annual catch limits for both commercial and recreational fishers;
- Establishing overall species quotas;
- Commercial and recreational size limits to reduce harvest of immature grouper;
- Seasonal closures to protect spawning aggregations;
- Gear restrictions to protect habitat and reduce bycatch; and,
- Eight deep-water marine protected areas closed to fishing and possession of snapper and grouper.
NOAA Fisheries and the Gulf of Mexico Fishery Management Council manage the black grouper fishery in the US Gulf of Mexico under the Reef Fish Fishery Management Plan (FMP). US commercial production of grouper is dominated by the Gulf Coast – largely due to the high landings of red grouper in the Gulf. Established in 1984, the Reef Fish FMP and its amendments were designed to end historic overfishing for shallow water groupers and to rebuild populations. The plan covers black and other grouper species as well as more than 20 other species including snappers, tilefish, and jacks. The FMP and its amendments:
- Establishes and allocates annual species-specific catch limits between commercial and recreational fishers for groupers and tilefish;
- Sets gear restrictions;
- Sets minimum size restrictions to protect immature grouper; and,
- Establishes year round and seasonal area closures for both commercial and recreational fishers to protect spawning stock and essential fish habitat.
The FMP also institutes a permit system in which commercial vessels must have a reef fish permit and an individual fishing quota (IFQ) to harvest black grouper in the Gulf of Mexico. The IFQ program allocates shares of the total commercial catch limit amongst individual fishers. Under the program, each fisher owns a share of the quota and can chose to fish it at anytime during the open season. Strict commercial reporting requirements prevent fishers from harvesting more than their individual allocation.
Red and black grouper are among the most important species caught in Mexico in terms of volume and economic value. Most grouper, particularly those caught in the Mexican industrial bottom longline fishery, is imported to the US. Numerous entities are involved to some degree with creating, implementing, and enforcing fishery management strategies in Mexico. The Secretariat of Agriculture, Livestock, Rural Development, Fisheries and Food (SAGARPA) is the entity that promotes policy to improve production practices in fisheries. Under SAGARPA, the National Aquaculture and Fishing Commission (CONAPESCA) is charged with developing and carrying out fisheries management regulations. The technical branch of CONAPESCA is the National Fisheries Institute (INAPESCA) that provides technical support and management recommendations. Enforcement of regulations can involve different federal and state agencies including the Mexican Navy, federal and state police, and CONAPESCA.
Black grouper are fished in Mexico by a bottom longline industrial fleet (which primarily imports to the US market) and an artisanal fleet (which primarily supplies to domestic, Mexican markets). Among current management measures in place include permits (either for the industrial or artisanal fishery), minimum size limits, an annual off-season from February 15 to March 15 for the whole fishery, and gear restrictions. Additionally, all vessels in the industrial fleet are monitored by a satellite vessel monitoring system (VMS); however, this only applies to the industrial fleet and does not currently apply to artisanal vessels. Despite current measures, the stock is considered overfished. There are no quotas or limits for grouper species as the fishery is managed via permits. Additionally, there have been implementation and enforcement issues. Managers have identified that the fishery needs significant improvement and in 2014 a new fishery management plan was approved to address declining stocks and which includes stricter management regulations, but the plan has yet to be implemented and most of these new regulations are not in place.