Council Takes Final Action on Cost Recovery Amendment

The Mid-Atlantic Fishery Management Council approved the Cost Recovery Amendment to the Atlantic Surfclam and Ocean Quahog Fishery Management (FMP) during its meeting last week in Raleigh, North Carolina. The amendment addresses cost recovery requirements, streamlines the process for updating stock status determination criteria, and removes the optimum yield (OY) ranges specified in the FMP.

Following extensive discussion and consideration of public comments, the Council selected preferred alternatives and adopted the amendment for Secretarial review and implementation. Below are summaries of the three issues addressed and the Council’s preferred alternatives.

Cost Recovery

The Magnuson-Stevens Fishery Conservation and Management Act (MSA) requires the National Marine Fisheries Service (NMFS) to collect fees to recover the actual costs associated with the management, data collection, and enforcement of all Limited Access Privilege Programs (LAPPs). Surfclam and ocean quahog fisheries, which are managed under an individual transferrable quota* (ITQ) program, currently have no such cost recovery measures in place.

The Cost Recovery Amendment proposes several options for implementing a cost recovery program in the surfclam and ocean quahog ITQ fisheries. Some members of the fishing industry have claimed that cost recovery provisions are unwarranted because the implementation of ITQ programs actually resulted in substantial cost savings compared to pre-ITQ management. However, NMFS has interpreted the “costs to be recovered” to mean those costs that would not otherwise exist, but for the ITQ, and would be incremental to the management costs of a traditional non-ITQ version of the fishery.  

After consideration of public comment and considerable discussion, the Council selected Alternative 5 as its preferred alternative. Under Alternative 5, cost recovery fees would be paid by those shareholders—permanent ITQ allocation holders—whose quota are used to land surfclams and ocean quahogs. Shareholders with quota that do not land any surfclams or ocean quahogs would not pay. This alternative would bring the FMP into compliance with the requirements of the MSA.

Biological Reference Points

The amendment also considers options to streamline the process for updating stock status determination criteria, which are used to determine when a stock is overfished and when overfishing is occurring. The surfclam and ocean quahog FMP specifies that stock status determination criteria may only be updated through an amendment. Such an update has not occurred since 1998 for ocean quahogs and 2003 for surfclams. The Cost Recovery Amendment considers modifying this requirement to allow to stock status determination criteria to be automatically updated when new scientific information is available.

Members of the fishing industry voiced opposition to the proposed change, emphasizing that the surfclam and ocean quahog FMP was designed to provide stability and that the proposed changes could potentially destabilize the fishery. Others noted that the long lifespans of surfclams and ocean quahogs make rapid changes to biological reference points unnecessary. However, after considering these perspectives, the Council selected Alternative 2, which would redefine the status determination criteria, as its preferred alternative. This change is intended to streamline the process when new information becomes available, and ensure the FMP is kept up to date with the stock status determination criteria currently used to manage these fisheries.

Optimum Yield

Finally, the amendment considers removing or modifying the OY range specified in the FMP. Surfclams and ocean quahogs are the only Council-managed stocks with Optimum Yield (OY) ranges specified in the FMP. This creates potential for conflict between the OY ranges that currently exist in the FMP and the Scientific and Statistical Committee (SSC) recommendations for acceptable biological catch (ABC). The amendment considered options to either remove or modify the OY range to bring the plan into consistency with the Council’s other FMPs.

Most comments from the industry expressed opposition to the proposed changes. The Council gave thorough consideration to these concerns but voted unanimously to recommend Alternative 2 as its preferred alternative. Under Alternative 2, the OY range would be removed from the FMP and the Advisory Panel would develop OY recommendations as part of the specifications process. These changes are expected to improve consistency and provide for a more efficient process when setting catch and landings limits through specifications.  

* ITQ programs are a type of LAPP