Mid-Atlantic Council Votes to Reduce Spiny Dogfish Quota for 2016

At last week’s meeting in Philadelphia, the Mid-Atlantic Fishery Management Council recommended a substantial cut in the spiny dogfish commercial quota for next year. Following a review of the most recent scientific information, public comments, and advice from the Scientific and Statistical Committee (SSC) and Spiny Dogfish Advisory Panel, the Council voted to set the 2016 commercial quota at 25.3 million pounds, a 50% reduction from the 2015 quota of 50.6 million pounds. If approved by the National Marine Fisheries Service, the new measure will go into effect May 1, 2016.

The Council’s decision was driven by the recent spiny dogfish stock assessment update, which estimated the stock’s biomass to be at 87% of the rebuilt target in 2015. Although the stock was found to be neither overfished nor subject to overfishing, the new estimate of stock biomass was a marked decrease from the 2013 update, which indicated that the stock’s biomass was at 135% of the target.

The Council received a considerable number of comments from the fishing industry, with the majority in opposition to the proposed cuts. Several commenters expressed concern about the accuracy of the trawl survey data used in the assessment update and requested that the Council maintain status quo regulations until a benchmark assessment for the stock has been completed.

After extensive discussion, the Council approved the SSC’s recommended acceptable biological catch (ABC) limit of 37.0 million pounds. After accounting for management uncertainty, projected discards, Canadian landings, and recreational landings, this ABC translates into a commercial quota of 25.3 million pounds for 2016. However, because the fishery has not taken the full quota in recent years, the recommended quota for 2016 would still be 11% above the landings in the most recent fishing year.

Given that the survey data from 2014 was not included in the 2015 update due to a mechanical breakdown in the NEFSC trawl survey, the Council also requested that the SSC determine an overfishing limit (OFL) and ABC for 2016 using averaged data to fill in the missing 2014 data point. The SSC will meet later this year to consider this request.

Finally, because the spiny dogfish fishery is managed jointly, the New England Fishery Management Council must also make recommendations for spiny dogfish specifications at its upcoming meeting in December.