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Marine recreational fisheries management reform advances in the Mid-Atlantic

by American Sportfishing Association 9 Jun 02:06 UTC

On Tuesday, June 7, the Mid-Atlantic Fishery Management Council (MAFMC), and the Atlantic States Marine Fisheries Commission (ASMFC) jointly approved a harvest control rule framework action that brings important changes to recreational management for some of the region's most popular fisheries. The new approach attempts to smooth out the volatility that has plagued recreational fisheries regulations from year to year, creating lost fishing opportunities and generating significant frustration for anglers and the industry.

Specifically, the harvest control rule approach will incorporate an evaluation of biomass level when making recreational management decisions for summer flounder, scup, black sea bass and bluefish. Status quo management currently only relies on a comparison of recreational harvest estimates to a harvest limit.

"Anglers and sportfishing businesses have been frustrated by recreational management changing almost every year based on the variability in recreational harvest estimates," said Mike Waine, Atlantic Fisheries Policy director for the American Sportfishing Association (ASA). "The new approach incorporates more science into the decision-making process to better manage the recreational sector and conserve our fisheries resources."

The harvest control rule approaches were in development for several years and are part of a collaborative recreational reform initiative between ASMFC, MAFMC, NOAA Fisheries and stakeholders. The goals of recreational management reform are to (1) provide stability in the recreational bag, size, and season limits; (2) develop strategies to increase management flexibility; and (3) align fishing access with availability and stock status. The approved harvest control rule approach represents a first step towards achieving these goals and is expected to be implemented on an interim basis while other alternatives are developed further.

Although this represents a small change, it is consistent with a longstanding sportfishing industry position that recreational and commercial fishing are functionally different activities that require different management approaches. The Modern Fish Act clarified that federal fisheries managers have the authority to implement improved management approaches for recreational fisheries, such as the harvest control rule approach.

"The Marine Recreational Information Program (MRIP), the survey used to estimate recreational catch, has inherent uncertainties that create challenges when it's used for fine scale quota management," noted Waine. "Reforming management approaches that account for MRIP uncertainty is a much-needed change while we continue to work on improving recreational data collection."

"The sportfishing industry recognizes MAFMC member Adam Nowalsky, a licensed charter fishing captain from New Jersey, for his leadership in advancing this management change" said Mike Leonard, ASA's vice president of Government Affairs. "ASA and its coalition of sportfishing partners will continue to prioritize recreational management reform and data improvement efforts across all the regions to advance the conservation and management of recreationally important species."

The approved harvest control rule framework action will be forwarded to NOAA Fisheries for final approval with an expected implementation in the 2023 fishing year.

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