During a webinar meeting on Wednesday February 25, 2015, the Mid-Atlantic Fishery Management Council voted to request that the National Marine Fisheries Service implement emergency rules to restrict commercial and recreational landings of blueline tilefish in the Mid-Atlantic. The Council’s recommendations include a 300 pound (whole weight) commercial trip limit and a seven fish per-person recreational trip limit. These measures are intended to prevent depletion of the blueline tilefish stock on an interim basis while the Council develops long term management measures through the normal rulemaking process.
The meeting was precipitated by data indicating that commercial and recreational landings of blueline tilefish in the Northeast region had increased substantially in recent years. Between 2005 and 2013, commercial landings of blueline tilefish in the Northeast averaged 10,776 pounds. In 2014, following a reduction in the commercial catch limit in the South Atlantic region, commercial landings of blueline tilefish in the Northeast increased more than 20-fold to 215,272 pounds. In addition, the Council’s decision was based on the biological characteristics of the species that make it highly susceptible to overfishing as well as the uncertain status of the blueline resource off the Mid-Atlantic coast.
Blueline tilefish in federal waters from North Carolina to Florida are managed by the South Atlantic Fishery Management Council. Based on the South Atlantic Council’s Amendment 32, NMFS has proposed restrictions that include a commercial trip limit of 100 pounds (gutted weight), a recreational vessel limit of one fish per vessel per day for the months of May through August each year, and a prohibition on recreational harvest of blueline tilefish for the rest of the year. However, these regulations would only apply to vessels within the South Atlantic management area. There are currently no federal regulations for blueline tilefish in the Mid-Atlantic region. Virginia implemented regulations to manage blueline tilefish in 2007 and Maryland adopted similar regulations. The lack of regulations in federal waters and other Mid-Atlantic states resulted in an unmanaged “loophole fishery” which could pose a threat to the sustainability of the stock.
“Blueline tilefish are long-lived and relatively sedentary, making them highly vulnerable to depletion,” said Rick Robins, Chairman of the Mid-Atlantic Council. “The Council’s action to address the sudden increase in effort in this fishery in 2014 directly addresses the risk to the stock and the fishery in our region. Our Council has a longstanding interest in the successful conservation and management of this species and we look forward to securing a sustainable future for the resource and the fishery in the Mid-Atlantic.”
The Council’s request for emergency action will be submitted to the Secretary of Commerce for review and implementation by the National Marine Fisheries Service. If approved, the measures would apply for 180 days and can be extended for another 180 days.
Additional information and background materials for the meeting are available on the Blueline Tilefish Meeting Page.