December 11-14, 2017
The following summary highlights actions taken and issues considered at the Mid-Atlantic Fishery Management Council’s December 2017 meeting in Annapolis, MD. Presentations, briefing materials, and webinar recordings are available on the Council website at www.mafmc.org/briefing/december-2017.
Squid Buffer Zone Framework
The Council voted to discontinue development of a framework action that would have considered establishing a squid fishery buffer zone in waters south of Martha’s Vineyard and Nantucket. The Council had originally included the Squid Buffer Framework in its list of possible actions for 2017 in response to public concern regarding longfin squid fishing effort during Trimester 2 (May-August) in an area south of Martha’s Vineyard and Nantucket. Commenters raised concerns about a lack of juvenile squid in some areas, high amounts of bycatch of squid eggs and other species, and reported poor recreational finfish catches.
The Council’s decision not to move forward with the Squid Buffer Framework is intended to allow the effects of the recently-approved Squid Amendment to be realized prior to any additional action. The Squid Amendment includes a 250-pound trip limit for all permits once the Trimester 2 quota has been reached — a 90% reduction from the current post-closure trip limit of 2,500 pounds. Once the amendment is implemented by NOAA Fisheries, fishing effort will be constrained after a closure during the summer months. This may address some of the concerns raised about squid fishing near Martha’s Vineyard and Nantucket. Allowing time for that action to be fully implemented will enable the Council to evaluate the need for buffers or other management measures more effectively in the future. In December 2018 the Council will consider if a 2019 workshop that includes the various interested groups could serve to further inform possible future actions.
Chub Mackerel Amendment
The Council received an overview of public comments submitted during scoping for the Chub Mackerel Amendment. The amendment will consider potential catch limits, accountability measures, and other conservation and management measures required for chub mackerel to be managed as a stock in the Atlantic mackerel, squid, and butterfish fishery management plan (FMP). The Council also reviewed recent fishery information and a summary of a webinar on the importance of chub mackerel in the diets of recreationally-important highly migratory species. Finally, the Council discussed data needs for chub mackerel management and reviewed a timeline for completion of the amendment.
Summer Flounder, Scup, Black Sea Bass
The Council met jointly with the Atlantic States Marine Fisheries Commission’s Summer Flounder, Scup, and Black Sea Bass Board (Board) to discuss several topics related to management of summer flounder, scup, and black sea bass.
Summer Flounder – 2018 Recreational Management Measures
The Council and Board reviewed recent performance of the recreational summer flounder fishery, as well as staff, Monitoring Committee, and advisory panel (AP) recommendations for recreational management measures for 2018. The Council and Board recommended continued use of conservation equivalency to achieve, but not exceed, the 2018 summer flounder recreational harvest limit (RHL) of 4.42 million pounds. Conservation equivalency allows individual states or multi-state regions to develop customized measures that, in combination, will achieve the coastwide RHL. The Council and Board also approved a set of non-preferred coastwide measures that are written into the federal regulations but waived in favor of state regulations once conservation equivalency is approved by NMFS. These measures for 2018 would include a 4-fish possession limit, a 19-inch total length minimum size, and an open season of May 15 – September 15. The Council and Board also approved precautionary default measures (i.e., a 2-fish possession limit, a 20-inch total length minimum size, and an open season of July 1 – August 31) which will be implemented in any state or region that does not adopt measures consistent with the conservation equivalency guidelines.
The Board voted to extend the provisions of Addendum XXVIII to the Commission's FMP, re-establishing regional conservation equivalency in 2018, and specifying that any modifications to state measures in 2018 should result in no more than a 17% liberalization in coastwide harvest relative to the projected 2017 harvest of 3.23 million pounds. The Board specified this maximum liberalization due to concerns about the status of the summer flounder stock, as well as concerns about 2017 appearing to be an anomalous low year in terms of effort and landings, raising concerns that overages in 2018 may occur under a larger liberalization if catch and effort rates increase in 2018. In extending the provisions of Addendum XXVIII, the regional delineation for 2018 will be the same as 2016-2017: 1) Massachusetts 2) Rhode Island 3) Connecticut‐New York 4) New Jersey 5) Delaware‐Virginia and 6) North Carolina. Any state or region wishing to modify their management measures in 2018 will develop proposals for review by the Technical Committee in January 2018. The Board will review proposals and Technical Committee recommendations at their February 2018 meeting.
Scup – 2018 Recreational Management Measures
The Council and Board reviewed recent performance of the recreational scup fishery, as well as staff, Monitoring Committee, and AP recommendations for recreational management measures for 2018. To achieve the RHL of 7.37 million pounds in 2018, the Council and Board agreed to maintain status quo recreational management measures in federal waters. These include a 9-inch total length minimum size, a 50-fish possession limit, and a year-round open season. For state waters, the Board voted to continue their regional approach to recreational management and tasked the Technical Committee with analyzing the potential impacts of lowering the state waters minimum size limits in Massachusetts through New York from 10 inches to 9 inches. The Board will review this analysis and will approve proposals for individual state measures at their February 2018 meeting.
Black Sea Bass – 2018 Recreational Management Measures
The Council and Board reviewed recent fishery performance and staff, Monitoring Committee, and Advisory Panel recommendations for recreational black sea bass management measures for 2018. The combination of both state and federal water recreational management measures are meant to achieve, but not exceed, the 2018 RHL of 3.66 million pounds. The Council and Board are considering the removal of the current September 22 – October 21 federal water closure while retaining the 15-fish possession limit and 12.5-inch minimum size, but they agreed to table any decision on federal water measures until their February 2018 meetings.
The Council and Board also discussed the implementation of the February 1-28, 2018 recreational black sea bass fishery. In October 2017, the Council and Board agreed to open this fishery with a 15-fish possession limit and 12.5-inch minimum size limit in order to provide additional recreational black sea bass opportunities to those states interested in participating in the fishery. This fishery was allocated 100,000 pounds of the 3.66 million pound 2018 RHL, and the Council and Board agreed to distribute this allocation to the states based on each state’s historical black sea bass catch during the Wave 1 (January-February) fishery. States that decide to participate in the 2018 fishery will need to submit a memo to the Council and Board by January 15, 2018 that outlines adjustments to their 2018 management measures in the rest of the year to account for their Wave 1 allocation and provide details on any sampling and monitoring programs states may implement.
Lastly, the Board reviewed and approved Draft Addendum XXX for public comment. This addendum proposes alternative approaches for establishing management measures in state waters. The addendum considers different regional alignments and allocation options based on exploitable biomass and historical harvest. The addendum also seeks to establish greater consistency in management measures within and across regions.
Summer Flounder Amendment
The Council and Board reviewed recommendations from the Council's Demersal Committee on commercial alternatives and draft revisions to the FMP goals and objectives within the ongoing summer flounder amendment. There are four categories of issues in the amendment:
- Federal permit requalification: The Council and Board approved the Committee recommendation to narrow the previously approved range of alternatives for federal permit requalification from 20 options down to seven options for a public hearing document, as described in the briefing materials.
- Commercial allocation: The Council and Board approved the Committee recommendations to move forward with four alternatives for commercial allocation for a public hearing document. These options include: 2A) no action/status quo, 2B) revised state-by-state quotas using an analysis of a regional shift in exploitable biomass over time, 2C) modified distribution of additional quota above a certain commercial quota trigger (with two trigger sub-options), and 2D) commercial quota management similar to the scup commercial fishery, with two coastwide "Winter" seasonal periods and a state-by-state "Summer" period (with sub-options for exempting or not exempting the state of Maryland). The group requested some additional analysis for configuration of Alternative 2B prior to approval for public hearings.
- Landings flexibility framework provisions: The Council and Board made no changes to their August 2017 recommendation for commercial landings flexibility, which was to include an alternative in the amendment to add landings flexibility as a frameworkable item within the Council's FMP.
- FMP goals and objectives: The Committee approved draft language for revised FMP goals and objectives for summer flounder, for inclusion in a public hearing document.
The Council and Board plan to consider approving a public hearing document and a Draft Environmental Impact Statement in Spring 2018.
Black Sea Bass Wave 1 Letter of Authorization Framework
The Council and Board reviewed and provided feedback on initial draft alternatives for a recreational black sea bass Wave 1 Letter of Authorization (LOA) program for potential implementation in 2019. The LOA program would allow any vessel that applies for and obtains a LOA from NMFS to participate in a Wave 1 recreational black sea bass fishery. The LOA would require participating vessels to adhere to any required management, reporting, and monitoring conditions outlined by the LOA. Based on the feedback provided by the Council and Board, further review and analysis of the draft alternatives will occur over the winter and will be reconsidered for final action sometime in mid-2018.
Black Sea Bass Amendment
The Council and Board reviewed the initiation of a black sea bass amendment. The Council and Board initiated an amendment in 2015 to address a variety of commercial and recreational issues. Given the positive results of the 2016 benchmark stock assessment, revised commercial and recreational specifications, and the development of other black sea bass management actions, the Council and Board decided to delay moving forward with an amendment. Instead, they agreed to initiate a framework/addendum to address a number of recreational management issues. The framework/addendum will (1) consider implementing a conservation equivalency management program for black sea bass similar to that used with summer flounder by allowing state or regional measures to be implemented in both state and federal waters; (2) allow for a summer flounder, scup and black sea bass transit provision in federal waters around Block Island similar to the provision allowed for striped bass; and (3) consider possible implementation of slot limits in federal waters for summer flounder and black sea bass. This framework/addendum will be developed in 2018 for potential implementation for the 2019 recreational fishing seasons.
The Council met jointly with the ASMFC’s Bluefish Board to discuss initiating an amendment to review and possibly revise the allocation between the commercial and recreational fisheries and the commercial allocations to the states. Council staff provided a presentation on the current sector-based allocations and recent transfer history from the recreational to the commercial fishery. There was some discussion about when scoping would occur after this amendment is initiated, with some individuals advocating for postponing scoping until after the new MRIP numbers are released. After some debate, the Council and Board approved a motion to initiate the amendment without any specific requirements regarding the timing of scoping.
Ecosystem Approach to Fisheries Management Risk Assessment
As part of the Council’s Ecosystem Approach to Fisheries Management (EAFM), the Council completed and approved an initial EAFM-based risk assessment. The Council intends to use the EAFM risk assessment to analyze the highest risk interactions for each species and identify strategies for addressing these risks. A risk element is defined as an aspect that may threaten the biological, economic, or social objectives that the Council has for a fishery. The Council had previously selected a range of risk elements to be evaluated at either the managed species level, the species and sector level, or the ecosystem level. During the meeting, staff presented a draft report documenting the use of ecosystem indicators within the Council’s initial assessment. The EAFM Risk Assessment will be a dynamic and evolving process that will be revisited and updated in future years. The Council intends to use the risk assessment as a planning tool to prioritize future Council work plans and as a research planning tool.
Risk Policy Framework
The Council met for a second meeting to consider an Omnibus Risk Framework. The purpose of this framework action is to provide for a review of the Acceptable Biological Catch (ABC) control rule framework and Council Risk Policy and to recommend any necessary changes. The Council considered seven alternatives under this action that were evaluated via management strategy evaluation (MSE) by Dr. John Wiedenmann (Rutgers University). Based on the preliminary results of the MSE analyses, staff recommended that no changes be made to the current risk policy and ABC control rule framework. While all of the alternative control rules considered generally prevented overfishing when conditions for stock productivity were good, only the current rule protected stocks from overfishing during times of poor environmental conditions (i.e., periods or poor recruitment and/or increased natural mortality). The Council considered the status quo recommendation but postponed final action until after the completion of additional MSE analyses which more comprehensively account for social and economic impacts of alternative ABC control rules and risk tolerance levels. In addition, as part of this action the Council’s Scientific and Statistical Committee (SSC) is developing a protocol to specify the OFL CV (a measure of the uncertainty in the overfishing level estimate), which has a direct impact on the upper limit on allowable catch levels under current Federal law (final version to be presented to the Council at its February 2018 meeting).
2018 Implementation Plan
The Council reviewed and approved the 2018 implementation plan for 2018. The implementation plan lists activities and priorities for the coming year and is linked to the Council’s strategic plan. Several topics addressed during this discussion are summarized below.
Following up on the earlier discussion from the Squid Buffer Framework, the Council considered whether to include a squid buffer workshop in the list of "possible additions" for 2018. It was noted that the Council is unlikely to have any information about the effect of the amendment until after Trimester 2 in 2019. Although members were divided on whether it would be productive to hold a workshop before such information is available, the Council ultimately voted to delay a decision regarding the workshop until next year when the Council develops its 2019 implementation plan discussion.
In addition, the Council briefly discussed issues related to bullet and frigate mackerel. These species were included in the list of forage species in the Council’s Omnibus Unmanaged Forage Amendment. However, NMFS excluded them from the final rule based on their finding that bullet and frigate mackerel do not meet the criteria for forage species as defined in the amendment. The Council discussed developing a new fishery management plan for bullet and frigate mackerel and agreed that it would make sense to also include little tunny and bonito in this action. Given the other activities already planned for next year, the Council decided to keep this item on the list of “possible additions” for 2018.
Magnuson-Stevens Act Reauthorization
Staff provided an update on activities and proposed legislation related to reauthorization of the Magnuson-Stevens Act (MSA), including an overview of several bills which have been introduced in the House and Senate that would reauthorize and/or amend the MSA. The Council also reviewed a working paper on MSA reauthorization issues that was recently completed by the Council Coordination Committee (CCC). The paper synthesizes CCC consensus positions as well as individual council perspectives on a wide range of topics. Updates and links to documents, comment letters, and hearings are available at: http://www.fisherycouncils.org/msa-reauthorization/.
Tilefish Survey Project Report
The Council received a presentation on a fisheries-independent pilot survey out of SUNY Stony Brook for golden and blueline tilefish from Georges Bank to Cape Hatteras.
Bureau of Ocean Energy Management Presentation
The Council received an update from Brian Hooker (Bureau of Ocean Energy Management) on renewable energy activities in the Mid-Atlantic region.
February 13-15, 2018
Hilton Garden Inn Raleigh/Crabtree Valley
3912 Arrow Drive
Raleigh, NC 27612