New England Fisheries

Highlights from December NEFMC Meeting

Image via NOAA.

The New England Fishery Management Council convened in Newport, RI last week for its annual December meeting. Here are some selected highlights:

Reports on Recent Activities: In November, NOAA Fisheries approved the Omnibus Deep-Sea Coral Amendment and Amendment 8 to the Atlantic Herring Fishery Management Plan. The Coral Amendment protects over 25,000 square miles of fragile seafloor habitat, while Amendment 8 manages herring for its important role in the ecosystem and establishes the country’s first year-round mid-water trawl buffer zone in coastal waters. Both approvals are big victories for the ocean ecosystem.

Misreporting: In addition to a presentation on the criminal activities of Carlos Rafael, the Council received a report from the Coast Guard about broader misreporting issues in the groundfish fishery. Analyzing data from calendar years 2011-2015, the Coast Guard identified that over 350 groundfish trips had evidence of misreporting and that as much as 2.5 million pounds of regulated species could have been misreported. The misreporting seemed to occur in seasonal fisheries or involve choke species, specifically cod, haddock, winter flounder, and yellowtail flounder. These species are also managed as multiple stocks and misreporting occurred across stock areas. For example, the report states that in fishing years 2011 and 2012 “it is suspected that up to 400,000 pounds of cod were potentially harvested in the [Gulf of Maine] stock area and misreported as coming from [Georges Bank] West…In addition, it is suspected that up to 800,000 pounds of cod were potentially harvested from [Georges Bank] East were misreported as coming from [Georges Bank] West.” Overall, the report concluded that “the current regulation regime is vulnerable to stock area misreporting and limits the ability of enforcement to detect and document misreporting of stock areas.”

This report is particularly troubling given that cod, winter flounder, and yellowtail flounder are all overfished. It’s abundantly clear that new management measures are needed to accurately track catch in the fishery. You can read the full report here.

Groundfish: The Council took final action on Framework Adjustment 59 to the Northeast Multispecies Fishery Management Plan, which specifies groundfish catch limits for fishing years 2020-2022 among other management measures. When recommending new catch limits for Gulf of Maine cod and Georges Bank cod, the Council ignored the best available science and continued its pattern of prioritizing short-term economic benefits over the long-term health and conservation of the fishery. Gulf of Maine cod and Georges Bank cod are both overfished and subject to overfishing, yet the Council continues to recommend catch limits in a manner that has repeatedly failed to end overfishing as the law requires. NOAA Fisheries must disapprove the Council’s recommended catch limits and set both cod stocks on paths to rebuilding.

In addition to these highlights, the Council also discussed 2020 priorities, Atlantic herring spawning on Georges Bank, offshore wind, and more. For those interested in the details of the conversations, the meeting’s audio is available here. The Council’s next meeting is January 28-30, 2020 in Portsmouth, NH.


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