THE COBIA CONUNDRUM
Managing species that routinely cross geopolitical boundaries is one of the greatest challenges in fisheries management. In the Southeast, cobia are found in bays, estuaries and near offshore ocean waters during their annual migrations, making them subject to both state and federal regulations.
Federal fishery managers base management in the
Exclusive Economic Zone (federal waters) on genetic studies that describe two distinct populations of cobia. Fish caught north of the Georgia-Florida line along the Atlantic Coast are considered Atlantic Migratory Group Cobia, while those caught off the east coast of Florida and throughout the Gulf are part of the Gulf of Mexico Migratory Group Cobia
(see map, page 67).
In 2017, the South Atlantic Fishery Management Council closed federal waters of the Atlantic Ocean northward of the GeorgiaFlorida line to the harvest of cobia. This unprecedented precautionary action was taken after the 620,000pound recreational Annual Catch Limit for AMG Cobia was exceeded by a wide margin during the two preceding years.
Recognizing that much of the harvest of AMG Cobia occurs in state waters, the SAFMC encouraged states to take measures to reduce cobia harvest. The Atlantic States Marine Fisheries Commission stepped in to coordinate state efforts through development and implementation of the Interstate Fishery Management Plan for AMG Cobia.
States from Georgia to New Jersey now have measures in place to regulate recreational harvest so as not to exceed 620,000 pounds annually, obviating the need to close federal waters during 2018. Meanwhile, the SAFMC is deliberating whether to transfer AMG Cobia management to the ASMFC.
If this happens, AMG Cobia management will be the sole responsibility of the states through ASMFC, pursuant to the Atlantic Coastal Fisheries Cooperative Management Act. No longer would AMG Cobia be managed through the Magnuson-Stevens Fishery Conservation and Management Act.
A stock-identification workshop is scheduled for 2018, during which the genetic basis for cobia management will be re-evaluated with new data. A stock assessment for AMG Cobia will begin in 2018, with final results available for managers in 2019.
The results of both will have far-reaching impacts on cobia fishing, so it is important that anglers and guides stay engaged by participating in catch-and-effort surveys, providing tissue samples for genetic analysis, serving on advisory panels, and attending public meetings.
—Capt. Spud Woodward,
ASMFC commissioner — Georgia