Over the past few weeks, both the New England and the Mid Atlantic Council have moved forward with improvements for managing forage fish. In addition, this past May the Atlantic State Marine Fisheries Commission committed to develop ecosystem-based management for menhaden. First, we want to say “Thank you!” to all our supporters and coalition members who wrote letters, attended meetings and talked to decision makers about these issues. Your input makes a difference! Here is a brief summary of what happened.
In New England, the Council agreed to a broad set of goals and objectives for Amendment 8 to the Atlantic Herring Fishery Management Plan. This followed a public comment period this past spring, during which the public weighed in with over 25,000 scoping comments. A diverse group of Herring Alliance members and other non-profit organizations and individual fishermen attended hearings and submitted written comments asking the Council to account for the important role that herring play in the ecosystem as food for predators, especially in certain places and at certain times of the year. At their June meeting, the technical advisors explained various ways that herring management could be handled differently than the traditional single species approach. We hope the public will get a chance to comment again in 2016 as plans develop, and in the meantime we’ll continue to advocate for a range of alternatives that will manage herring in an ecosystem context.
The New England Council also discussed setting catch limits in the herring fishery for 2016-2018. Although for now they appear to be using the old methodology, in the future Amendment 8 should lead to catch limits that are based on the ecological role of herring. To go along with the 2016-2018 catch limits, the Council will also set a new cap on the number of river herring and shad that can be caught by the Atlantic herring fishery. They will review options in September and make final decisions in December on the 2016-2018 catch limits and bycatch caps. These caps must be meaningful limits that encourage a reduction in incidental catch of these depleted species.
The Mid-Atlantic Fishery Management Council also made positive progress at their June meeting. The Council voted to reduce the mackerel quota by more than 50 percent for 2016-2018. Growing evidence shows that the population is highly depleted, demonstrated in the low numbers of mackerel that the fishery has been landing, despite a high catch limit, and in independent surveys. This new catch limit is an investment in conservation and will help this once-abundant forage fish population rebuild to fulfill its historic role in Atlantic coast ecosystems. The Council also reduced the river herring and shad bycatch cap in the mackerel fishery for 2016-2018, and reaffirmed its commitment to setting this cap based on the biology of the species in the future, rather than past bycatch estimates.
The Mid-Atlantic Council also voted to develop a draft plan for public review that would prohibit the development of new, or expansion of existing, directed fisheries for forage fish species that are not currently managed by the Council (such as sandlance). New fisheries for these important species would only be approved if science and management is in place to ensure that their removal would not harm the ecosystem. The public will have a chance to weigh in on these plans during a comment period and hearings this fall, so we’ll keep you posted!
Lastly, both Councils and NOAA Fisheries will continue to develop a joint amendment to address how the government can share the cost of federal fisheries observers with the fishing industry, including specific guidelines for the Atlantic herring and mackerel fleet. We’ve consistently asked managers to move forward without delay, and to include options for 100 percent observer coverage on the largest industrial vessels, and we hope that the Councils will find solutions and take action in the fall.
Thanks again to all our supporters who help us keep forage fish management moving in the right direction!