Mid-Atlantic Council Approves Amendment to Protect Unmanaged Forage Species

VIRGINIA BEACH, VA – The Mid-Atlantic Fishery Management Council has approved an amendment to protect unmanaged forage species in the Mid-Atlantic. If approved by the Secretary of Commerce, the Unmanaged Forage Omnibus Amendment would prohibit the development of new and expansion of existing directed commercial fisheries on a number of unmanaged forage species in Mid-Atlantic Federal waters. The prohibition would continue until the Council has had an opportunity to assess the available scientific information for these species and consider the potential impacts to existing fisheries, fishing communities, and the marine ecosystem.

Forage fish are small, low trophic level fish that play a central role in the marine food chain. These species facilitate the transfer of energy to higher trophic levels by consuming very small prey and then being eaten by larger, predatory fish and other marine animals.

“Forage species play a vital role in maintaining the productivity and structure of marine ecosystems and are currently at risk of unregulated fisheries development in the absence of adequate science to ensure their ecological sustainability,” said the Council’s Chairman, Rick Robins. “With this action, the Mid-Atlantic Council is taking a proactive approach to conserving unmanaged forage species and the ecosystem services they provide in the Mid-Atlantic region.”

The amendment was not intended to address all unmanaged forage species in the Mid-Atlantic but rather to focus on those species that have high ecological importance and those that have high potential for the development of a large-scale targeted commercial fishery.

The Council received more than 21,000 comments during the public comment period, the majority of which focused on the list of species to be included in the amendment. Although the Council initially considered a list of more than 250 forage species, this was narrowed down to a list of 15 taxa (i.e. species, families, orders, and other taxonomic groupings) for inclusion.

After considering input from its advisory panel, Ecosystem and Ocean Planning Committee, and members of the public, the Council voted to remove false albacore due to its large size and high trophic level. These 15 taxa include more than 50 forage species, including anchovies, halfbeaks, herrings, sardines, and sand lances. The complete list is included at the bottom of this announcement.

The Council voted to designate these taxa, with the exception of chub mackerel, as ecosystem components (ECs) in all of the Council’s fishery management plans (FMPs). The amendment would establish an incidental possession limit of 1,700 pounds for all EC species combined. For chub mackerel, the Council approved temporary measures to be implemented while the Council evaluates potentially adding the species as a stock in the Atlantic Mackerel, Squid, Butterfish FMP.   These measures would include an annual landings limit of 2.86 million pounds and a 40,000-pound incidental possession limit which would go into effect once this landings limit is met. 

The Council also voted to require use of exempted fishing permits (EFPs) prior to allowing any new fisheries or expansion of existing fisheries for unmanaged forage species and to establish a new policy for Council review of EFP applications. The Council also agreed that, prior to allowing any new fisheries or expansion of existing fisheries, the Council would consider whether the species in question should be managed as a stock in the fishery or if other discretionary management measures should be used.

Additional information, updates, and background materials related to this amendment are available on the Unmanaged Forage Omnibus Amendment page at http://www.mafmc.org/actions/unmanaged-forage.

Final List of Forage Taxa Included in Unmanaged Forage Omnibus Amendment*

  • Anchovies (family Engraulidae)
  • Argentines (family Argentinidae)
  • Greeneyes (family Chlorophthalmidae)
  • Halfbeaks (family Hemiramphidae)
  • Herrings, sardines (family Clupeidae)
  • Lanternfish (family Myctophidae)
  • Pearlsides (family Sternoptychidae)
  • Sand lances (family Ammodytidae)
  • Silversides (family Atherinopsidae)
  • Cusk eels (order Ophidiiformes)
  • Chub mackerel (Scomber colias)
  • Bullet mackerel/bullet tuna (Auxis rochei)
  • Frigate mackerel/frigate tuna (Auxis thaxard)
  • Atlantic saury (Scomberesox saurus)
  • Pelagic molluscs, except sharptail shortfin squid (Illex oxygonius)
  • Copepods, Krill, Amphipods & other species < 1 inch as adults

*This list is not meant to include species currently managed by the Mid-Atlantic, New England, or South Atlantic Fishery Management Council, or by the Atlantic States Marine Fisheries Commission.

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