New England Fisheries
Updates from the NE Fishery Management Council Meeting
The New England Fishery Management Council met in Newport, RI last week for its December meeting. Here are some selected updates:
Habitat: The Council took final action on the Clam Dredge Framework Adjustment, which considered various alternatives for allowing a clam dredge exemption in the Great South Channel Habitat Management Area. The Framework is a trailing action required by the Omnibus Habitat Amendment 2 that was implemented on April 9, 2018. The Council voted for long-term, year-round exemptions in the McBlair and Zone AB areas and a seasonal exemption in the East Door/Old South area. The exemptions also apply to mussel fishermen. Two areas, Rose and Crown and Zone D, were also identified as potential industry-funded research areas that could be accessed via exempted fishing permits; Council staff will work with the industry to identify research needs for these areas.
Clam dredge gear is one of the most destructive forms of fishing, and allowing exemptions for the gear within an area that was protected for its habitat conservation value sets a dangerous precedent for the region. The final alternative, however, is more conservative than what was originally proposed and represents a compromise between economic concerns from the industry and habitat conservation. The Council will now need to submit the Framework to NOAA Fisheries for approval.
Forage Fish: The Council doubled down on its recommendation to NOAA Fisheries to use a forage-based control rule to set catch limits for Atlantic herring and will send a letter to the agency reaffirming its position. The discussion at the Council followed the publication of a controversial proposed rule from NOAA Fisheries to adjust Atlantic herring catch limits in 2019.
The Atlantic herring stock is on the verge of collapse due to low recruitment levels into the fishery. The agency’s proposed rule ignores the best available science and the Council’s recommendation to use a forage-based control rule, which would have accounted for herring’s important role in the ecosystem, and instead uses an old control rule that was demonstrated to perform poorly given the current stock conditions. Additionally, the agency’s proposed catch limit for 2019 exceeds levels recommended by scientists to prevent overfishing. This is only appropriate when there is no scientific uncertainty in the assessments, which is far from the case for Atlantic herring.
Hopefully the agency will follow the Council’s recommendation the second time around. A public comment period on the agency’s proposed rule is open until December 31, 2018.
Council Priorities: As is typical for the last meeting of the year, the Council voted on priorities on which to focus its time and resources for the coming year. Two priorities of note are Amendment 23 to the Northeast Multispecies Fishery Management Plan and the Omnibus Deep-Seal Coral Amendment.
The Council initiated Amendment 23, also known as the Groundfish Monitoring Amendment, in September 2016, but unfortunately has made little progress since then. This amendment deserves the Council’s utmost attention, however, as reports of illegal discarding of cod are on the rise and managers and scientists do not have access to the accurate and reliable data that is needed to sustainably manage the groundfish fishery. It’s past time that full accountability is achieved in this fishery, and we will be keeping a close on the Amendment’s progress in 2019.
As for the Coral Amendment, the Council took final action nearly a year ago but has yet to submit the document to NOAA Fisheries for approval and implementation. The Coral Amendment protects more than 25,000 square miles of fragile seafloor habitat. Though there was an opportunity to protect even more, the Amendment is a win for New England’s ocean, and we are happy to hear that the Council will prioritize submitting the document to NOAA Fisheries in early 2019.