Annual Catch Limits: Unnecessary Limits and Limited Catch

Anglers frustrated with unrealistic implementation of Magnuson-Stevens Act

Posted on February 18, 2011

SILVER SPRINGS, MD – A three-day workshop on annual catch limits (ACLs) sponsored by the National Marine Fisheries Service (NMFS) that concludes this week leaves very little hope that the recreational sector will find a way to mitigate the negative impacts of ACLs without a legislative fix to the Magnuson-Stevens Act, the overarching federal law governing the nation’s fisheries. Rather than addressing problems with the ACL provision, NMFS staff, Council members and stock assessment scientists at the workshop were focused solely on how to more fully implement the ACL requirement in the future.

“This was not an adversarial gathering, but it is clear that NMFS is moving ahead with ACLs with very little concern for the vast differences between commercial fisheries and recreational ones,” said Richen Brame, CCA’s Atlantic States Fisheries director. “Not all fisheries are the same, but clearly the agency does not see any need to modify what has become a one-size-fits-all implementation of annual catch limits, no matter how irrational the results may be.”
 
The ACL provision was inserted into the 2006 reauthorization of the MSA almost exclusively to put an end to serial commercial overfishing allowed in some fisheries, most notably the New England groundfish fishery. Based on that provision, however, NMFS is putting in place strict measures to end overfishing for all fisheries in all regions, despite overwhelming evidence that they are not compatible or even defensible given the lack of information the agency has for recreational fisheries.
 
“No one would argue that ending overfishing is necessary, but the agency is closing down fisheries like black sea bass where an update assessment was last done in 2005 and the last full assessment was done in 2001. There has never even been a modern assessment on cobia, dolphin or wahoo in the South Atlantic, nor are there indications of trouble, but there are ultra-conservative options in play to prevent overfishing on those stocks that would slash recreational catch limits,” said Brame. “This is a system that is designed to fail, and NMFS will likely find it very difficult to rebuild any sense of trust or cooperation with the recreational fishing community if it continues down this path.”
 
Marine industry leaders will have another chance to engage federal managers on implementation problems the Magnuson-Stevens Act when Dr. Jane Lubchenco, head of the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration, and senior NMFS officials meet with boat manufacturers and tackle companies at the Miami International Boat Show this weekend.
 
“The agency does not have to implement this provision in this manner, and that is something we continue to convey to NOAA’s leadership,” said Chester Brewer, chairman of CCA’s National Government Relations Committee. “The agency should make a deeper commitment to more frequent stock assessments using fishery independent data and improved recreational catch data. That is certainly a better use for the $36 million that is currently set aside for catch share programs in the NMFS budget. Barring that, a legislative fix is likely the only realistic option to inject some sanity into fisheries management.”