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Fishery Management

Three types of towed bottom-tending fishing gear used in the region are the bottom trawl, the scallop dredge,and clam dredges.
New Bedford offshore sea scallop dredge.  Source: Stokesbury, K.D.E. and B.P. Harris 2006. Impact of limited short-term sea scallop fishery on epibenthic community of Georges Bank closed areas. Marine Ecology Progress Series 307:85-100.

The Habitat Conservation Division (HCD) works closely with other GARFO divisions, the two regional fishery management councils, the Northeast Fisheries Science Center, and the academic community to protect and conserve marine and estuarine habitats occupied by fishery resource populations in the Greater Atlantic Region (Maine to North Carolina) from the harmful effects of fishing.  As they relate to fishery management objectives, our primary habitat conservation responsibilities are described below.

We review all proposed fishery management documents submitted by the New England and Mid-Atlantic Fishery Management Councils (NEFMC and MAFMC), or prepared by the Greater Atlantic Regional Fisheries Office (GARFO), to ensure that they comply with the essential fish habitat (EFH) provisions of the Magnuson-Stevens Fishery Management and Conservation Act (MSFMCA).  Federal regulations (described in detail in the EFH Final Rule) that were developed to implement the EFH provisions of the MSFMCA require that all federal fishery management plans (FMPs) must:

Councils must act to prevent, mitigate, or minimize to the extent practicable the adverse impacts of fishing on EFH, including EFH for federally-managed species managed under other FMPs, if there is evidence that a fishing activity adversely affects EFH in a manner that is more than minimal and not temporary in nature.

“Rockhopper” ground gear attached to the “sweep” of a bottom trawl to enable the net to “hop” over boulders on the seafloor.  Photo courtesy of Steve Eayrs, Gulf of Maine Research Institute, Portland ME.

In addition, FMPs should:

FMPs or FMP amendments are prepared as Environmental Assessments or Environmental Impact Statements and are subject to the provisions of the National Environmental Policy Act (NEPA).  HCD reviews of these documents include an evaluation of the description of the physical environment that is potentially affected by the proposed action and the analysis of the expected impacts of the proposed management measures on the physical environment (including EFH) for all managed species and life stages that could be affected by the action.  Habitat impacts must be assessed within the context of the entire fishery and previous actions that have been taken to minimize the adverse impacts of fishing to the extent practicable.  

Two hydraulic clam dredges aboard a commercial clam vessel

HCD staff also consults with other divisions within the GARFO to determine the expected EFH impacts of proposed fishery management actions prepared by the GARFO, resource surveys, research projects, and permits that exempt fishermen from certain management regulations, and make conservation recommendations if appropriate.  Potential impacts are evaluated in terms of their likelihood to either have no adverse impact on EFH, a minimal and temporary impact, or a more than minimal and temporary effect.  View an example of an EFH consultation with a minimal Impact determination.

We also collaborate with Council, NEFSC, and GARFO staff to ensure that information included in fishery management documents is adequate for supporting EFH impact determinations and all MSA and NEPA requirements and conforms to EFH-related guidance provided by NMFS headquarters and the EFH Final Rule.  In this capacity, HCD staff serves as members of GARFO work groups and on Council Fishery Management Action Teams (FMATs) and Plan Development Teams (PDTs), providing technical and policy advice during the process of developing fishery management actions.