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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

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