June 2015 Council Meeting Summary

The following summary highlights actions and issues considered at the Mid-Atlantic Fishery Management Council’s meeting on June 8-11, 2015 in Virginia Beach, VA. Presentations, briefing materials, and audio recordings are available on the June 2015 Council Meeting Page

Deep Sea Corals Amendment

The Council selected preferred alternatives for the Deep Sea Corals Amendment and approved the amendment for submission to the Secretary of Commerce. Below is a summary of the Council’s preferred alternatives.

Deep Sea Coral Zone Designations: The Council approved the designation of fifteen discrete coral zones with the boundaries developed during the April 2015 Corals Workshop.  The Council also voted to establish a broad coral zone with a landward boundary drawn between the 400 meter and 500 meter depth contour, targeting the 450 meter depth contour. The broad zone would originate at this landward boundary and extend seaward to the boundaries of the Council’s management region.  

Gear Restrictions: In both types of coral zones, the Council voted to prohibit the use of all bottom-tending gear, including both mobile and stationary/passive gear types.

Exemptions: The Council approved an exemption from gear restrictions for the red crab fishery. This exemption would apply indefinitely in the broad zones and for a period of at least two years in the discrete zones.

Framework Adjustments: The Council voted to allow the use of framework adjustments to (1) modify coral zone boundaries and management measures, (2) add additional discrete coral zones, or (3) implement a special access program, provided that such adjustments are in keeping with the purpose of the amendment.  Modification of management measures through framework actions could be directed at gear and species not currently addressed in the FMP if the purpose of such measures is to further the objectives of the amendment.

VMS: The amendment would also require the use of Vessel Monitoring Systems (VMS) for all Illex squid moratorium vessels regardless of whether fishing activity is occurring within or outside of any proposed deep sea coral zones.

Transit Provision: The Council also approved a provision that would allow for vessel transit through or across all deep sea coral zones with a requirement that the vessel’s fishing gear be stowed during transit.

Mackerel, Squid, Butterfish Specifications

All to be implemented for 2016

Atlantic Mackerel 2016-2018 Quotas: The Council adopted three-year Atlantic mackerel specifications for 2016, 2017, and 2018. Although the stock status of mackerel is currently classified as unknown, the Council’s Scientific and Statistical Committee (SSC) recently concluded that the stock is in a depleted state relative to historical levels of abundance. The SSC also determined that the foundation used previously to establish the Acceptable Biological Catch (ABC) for the stock was no longer valid. In light of these findings and consideration of a mackerel management strategy evaluation (MSE) conducted under contract for the Council, the SSC recommended setting the ABC at 19,898 metric tons (mt) for 2016-2018, a 50% reduction from the 40,165 mt ABC in 2015.

The Council adopted the ABC recommended by the SSC, resulting in a U.S. Annual Catch Limit (ACL) of 11,009 mt. After accounting for discards and management uncertainty, the Council recommended a commercial domestic annual harvest (DAH) of 9,177 mt and a recreational annual catch target (ACT) of 614 mt.

River Herring and Shad (Rh/S) Cap: The Council also voted to lower the RH/S cap for the Atlantic mackerel fishery from 89 metric tons (mt) to 82 mt. This will continue to provide a strong incentive for the fishery to avoid RH/S in order to preserve their ability to harvest the mackerel quota.

Squid and Butterfish 2016 Quotas: In 2016 the Illex squid, longfin squid, and butterfish fisheries will be in year 2 of multi-year specifications for 2015-2017. The Council recommended no changes to the specifications previously recommended for 2016. These specifications are described in detail in the final rule published March 20, 2015: http://www.greateratlantic.fisheries.noaa.gov/regs/2015/March/15smbspecs20152017fr.pdf.

Butterfish Gear Issues: The Council voted to increase the threshold for requiring a minimum 3-inch mesh size from 2,500 lbs to 5,000 lbs of butterfish. Industry participants have reported that this will increase opportunistic butterfish landings during squid trips and recent data suggest directed butterfish fishing will predominantly occur on larger trips that will still need to use 3-inch mesh. The Council also voted to allow the use of 5” strengtheners (square or diamond mesh). Industry participants have indicated they would like the regulations clarify that, as in the longfin squid fishery, strengtheners of at least 5 inches may be used. This is the current practice by some fishery participants (often with 5-inch diamond mesh scup nets), where a piece of netting outside of the primary net/liner keeps it from bursting from large catches. 

Longfin Squid Pre-Trip Notification: Because of the limited conservation use of the 48-hour longfin squid pre-trip notification requirement and the burden it places on industry, the Council voted to suspend this requirement until further notice.

Squid Capacity Amendment

Staff presented a summary of scoping comments on a potential amendment to address latent capacity in the squid fisheries. After considering 17 written comments and summaries of 6 public hearings, the Council voted to continue amendment development and added three additional issues: (1) new allocations/permits for Maine/northern states; (2) longfin trimester issues; and (3) longfin squid buffer zones (e.g. 10 miles) beyond state waters in the area south of Martha’s Vineyard/Nantucket to allow squid to enter/spawn in Nantucket Sound. Based on the public comment received, catch share programs will not be further considered in this action.

Surfclams and Ocean Quahogs

2016 Specification Review: Next year the surfclam and ocean quahog fisheries will be in the third year of multi-year specifications set for 2014-2016. The Council reviewed updated catch and landings information for both stocks, as well as recommendations from staff, the surfclam and ocean quahog AP, and the SSC, and determined that no changes are warranted. The Council also voted to recommend suspending the minimum shell length for surfclams in 2016. These specifications are described in detail in the final rule published December 20, 2013

Unmanaged Forage Fish Action

Staff presented an update on development of an action to prohibit the development of new, or expansion of existing, directed fisheries for unmanaged forage species. The Council reviewed and provided comments on a draft scoping document, voting to add the following item to the Issues for Consideration section of the scoping document: “The ability of current scientific data and models to fully inform prospective Council action to manage the suite of forage fish species in the region.”  The Council recommended that staff delay scoping until after August in order to enable more people to attend scoping hearings.

Jim Gilmore also provided an update on an effort by ASMFC staff to poll member states regarding (1) whether they have management measures in place for forage fisheries not currently managed by the ASMFC or the Mid-Atlantic Council, and (2) if they have any regulations in place for emerging fisheries. He noted that many states do not have the resources to collect baseline data on small bait fisheries and recommended that the Council keep this in mind when considering future actions on forage species.

Monkfish Framework 9

The Council indicated a general preference for the alternatives recommended recently by the Monkfish Committee at a joint Monkfish Committee and Monkfish Advisory Panel meeting. The Council was advised that the New England Groundfish Committee has recommended one option that was different from the New England Monkfish Committee. This option involved the monkfish trip limits in the Northern Management Area while vessels are fishing for New England groundfish.  The Council voted for a modified middle-road option that would allow increased monkfish catch in the Northern Management area if vessels use a monkfish day at sea, which should limit unintended effort shifts from the northern management area to the southern management area.

Presentations and Other Business

Species Interactions Workshop: The Council hosted a one-day Species Interactions Workshop on the first day of the meeting. This was the third in a series of workshops that the Council has held to support the development of an Ecosystem Approach to Fisheries Management (EAFM) guidance document. This workshop focused on potential strategies to fully consider species interactions and climate drivers in the stock assessment process, determination of catch limits, and to build capacity within the region to conduct comprehensive management strategy evaluations (MSEs).

Listening Session: The Council held a listening session on a proposed rule to revise the Endangered Species Act (ESA) listing of the humpback whale. Under the proposal, the humpback whale would be reclassified into fourteen distinct population segments, ten of which would be removed from the endangered species list. Of the remaining population segments, two would be listed as endangered and two would be classified as threatened. During the listening session, a brief presentation was provided by Marta Nammack, from NMFS Office of Protected Resources, followed by an opportunity for Council members and members of the public to ask questions and provide comments for the record.

Cooperative Research Committee: Staff provided a summary of the Cooperative Research Committee Meeting held on June 2, 2015. The Council expressed support for the draft timeline and the proposed approach for development of cooperative research alternatives. The Council also supported the Committee’s recommendation that an advisory panel and technical working group be established to provide additional input and expertise. 

Commercial Fishery Mapping in Support of Regional Ocean Planning: George Lapointe gave a presentation on a multi-year project with the Northeast Regional Ocean Council (NROC) to map activity of commercial fishing and party/charter boats in New England. The maps produced from this project will be used to coordinate regional ocean use and reduce use conflicts. Additional information about this project is available at http://northeastoceancouncil.org/.

Guidelines for SAW Working Group Formation and Participation: Dr. Jim Weinberg provided an overview of new guidelines for Stock Assessment Workshop (SAW) Working Group formation, participation, and function. The guidelines, which will be phased in for use in 2016, are intended to improve consistency in composition and process across SAW working groups.

Trawl Survey Advisory Panel Formation: Dr. Bill Karp provided an update on the formation of a Northeast Trawl Survey Advisory Panel (NTAP). The purpose of NTAP is to identify concerns with trawl survey performance, identify methods to address these concerns, and promote mutual understanding and acceptance of survey results. The panel will be co-chaired by the Mid-Atlantic and New England Councils and will be composed of commercial fishing, fishery survey, and fishery management professionals. 

Departing Council members Jeff Deem of Virginia and Preston Pate of North Carolina received thanks and appreciation from their colleagues during a farewell cookout.

Next Meeting: 

August 10 - 13, 2015 - New York City

Holiday Inn Midtown 
440 West 57th Street, New York City, New York 10019 
Telephone: 212-581-8100