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NOAA Announces Partial Approval of Amendment 14 to the Atlantic Mackerel, Squid, and Butterfish Fishery Management Plan

On November 7, 2013, NOAA Fisheries, on behalf of the Secretary of Commerce, partially approved Amendment 14 to the Atlantic Mackerel, Squid and Butterfish Fishery Management Plan.

A notice of availability soliciting public comments on Amendment 14 was published on August 12, 2013, with a comment period ending October 11, 2013.  A proposed rule was published on August 29, 2013, with the same comment period end date.  A total of 15 comments were received and considered in making the decision to partially approve Amendment 14; five of the comments were form letters and contained thousands of signatures and personalized comments from individuals.  A summary of the comments received, and NOAA Fisheries’ responses to those comments, will be published in the final rule implementing Amendment 14.

Click here to view the Environmental Impact Statement and Appendices for this action.

Amendment 14 will improve the catch monitoring program for the MSB fisheries with a focus on better evaluation of incidental catch of river herring and shad, and address river herring and shad bycatch issues in the mackerel fishery.  We approved the following Mid-Atlantic Fishery Management Council recommendations:

  

     Approved Measures:

  • Institute weekly vessel trip reports (VTR) for all MSB permits to facilitate quota monitoring and cross-checking with other data sources;
  • Require 48-hour pre-trip notification to retain more than 20,000 lb of mackerel so we have sufficient notice to assign observers to fishing vessels;
  • Require VMS and daily catch reporting via VMS for limited access mackerel vessels to facilitate monitoring and cross-checking with other data sources;
  • Require VMS and daily catch reporting via VMS for longfin squid/butterfish moratorium vessels to facilitate monitoring and cross-checking with other data sources;
  • Require 6-hour pre-landing notification via VMS to land over 20,000 lb mackerel so we have sufficient notice to facilitate at-sea monitoring, enforcement, and portside monitoring.
  • Expand vessel requirements related to at-sea observer sampling to help ensure safe sampling and improve data quality;
  • Prohibit slippage on limited access mackerel and longfin squid trips, with exceptions for safety concerns, mechanical failure, and spiny dogfish preventing catch from being pumped aboard the vessel, and require a released catch affidavit (statement by the vessel operator) to be completed for each slippage event;
  • Evaluate the existing river herring bycatch avoidance program to investigate providing real-time, cost-effective information on river herring distribution and fishery encounters;
  • Implement a mortality cap for river herring and shad in the mackerel fishery; and
  • Establish  a mechanism within the fishery management plan whereby a river herring and shad catch cap can be developed through future framework actions.

 

However, a few measures in Amendment 14 lacked adequate rationale or development by the Council.  We also had utility and legal concerns about implementing these measures, so they were disapproved.  These measures are:  (1) A recommended increase in observer coverage, financed by a proposed industry /NOAA Fisheries cost-sharing program; (2) an industry-wide cap on the number of times catch may be released before it is hauled on deck and sampled by an observer; and (3) a requirement for mackerel and longfin squid dealers to document how they estimated species composition of the weights of the fish they report.

We expressed our concerns about the implementation of these measures throughout the development of this amendment and, most recently, articulated them in our comment letter (dated June 5, 2012) on the draft environmental impact statement.  The proposed rule for Amendment 14 also described our concerns about these measures’ consistency with the Magnuson-Stevens Fishery Conservation and Management Act and other applicable laws.  In addition, the proposed rule described the recent partial disapproval of similar measures in Amendment 5 to the Atlantic Herring Fishery Management Plan

Commonly Asked Questions

Q.        Why did NOAA Fisheries disapprove the recommendations for increased observer coverage on limited access mackerel trips, and the requirement that industry pay $325 per day towards observer costs?

A.        The Mid-Atlantic Fishery Management Council made a recommendation to increase observer coverage to 100% on all limited access midwater trawl and Tier 1 small-mesh bottom trawl mackerel trips, 50% on Tier 2 small-mesh bottom trawl trips, and 25% on Tier 3 small-mesh bottom trawl trips.  

The at-sea costs associated with an observer in the mackerel fishery are higher than $325 per day.  Currently, we do not have a legal mechanism to allow cost-sharing of at-sea costs between NOAA Fisheries and the industry.  Budget uncertainties prevent NOAA Fisheries from being able to commit to paying for increased observer coverage in the mackerel fishery.  Requiring 100-percent observer coverage would amount to an unfunded mandate.  Because the Mid-Atlantic Fishery Management Council did not identify a funding source to cover all of the increased costs of observer coverage, we cannot approve it at this time.

Q.        Did NOAA Fisheries disapprove other measures associated with the Council’s recommendation for increased observer coverage for limited access mackerel vessels?

A.        Yes, because these additional measures are inseparable from the increased observer coverage requirement.  Specific measures that were disapproved include:

Q.        What are you doing to try to fund increased observer coverage in the mackerel fishery?

A.        NOAA Fisheries is working with both the Mid-Atlantic and New England Fishery Management Councils to address the funding challenges identified in Amendments 14 and other recent actions concerning observer coverage in the Atlantic herring and Northeast multispecies fisheries.   We recently agreed to take the lead on an omnibus action to better define the costs of observer coverage and create requirements for any fisheries that desire to increase observer coverage using industry funding.  After the omnibus amendment is complete, the Council’s recommended observer coverage levels could be put in place in a future Council action.

Q.        What measures did NOAA Fisheries approve to reduce slippage?

A.        If catch is discarded before it has been made available to the observer, that catch is considered slippage.  We approved the Council recommendation prohibiting slippage, which will improve the quality of observer monitored catch data, especially data on the bycatch of species in the mackerel and longfin squid fisheries.  Consistent with the Council recommendation, the only time when slippage will be allowed is when safety, mechanical failure, or spiny dogfish catch would prevent the catch from being brought aboard the vessel.  We also approved the requirement that a released catch affidavit (statement by the vessel operator) be completed for slipped catch on limited access mackerel and longfin squid trips, which can provide us with more information about when and why slippage occurs.

Q.        Why did NOAA Fisheries disapprove the slippage cap for the mackerel fishery?

A.        The Council had recommended that for limited access mackerel vessels, once 10 slippage events occur across the entire mackerel fleet by vessels carrying an observer, the vessel would be required to stop fishing and immediately return to port.

We did not approve this measure due to legal and fairness concerns. For instance, once a slippage cap has been met (after the 11th slippage event in a management area), the vessel that commits this slippage event would be required to return to port even if had not had a role in the previous 10 events.  Furthermore, there is not strong rationale for the trigger being set at 10 slippage events, versus any other number.

For these reasons, we believe the slippage caps are inconsistent with Federal law (Administrative Procedure Act) and National Standard 2 and had to be disapproved.  

Q.        Why did NOAA Fisheries disapprove the dealer reporting requirement?

A.        Dealers are currently required to accurately report the weight of fish, obtained by scale weights and/or volumetric estimates.  Because the recommended measure does not specify the methods dealers must use to determine weight and allows volumetric estimates, we don’t expect this will change dealer behavior.  Therefore, it is not expected to improve accuracy of dealer reported catch weights. 

The Council also recommended that the dealers report methods used to determine relative species composition of purchased catch.  However, it did not provide standards for estimating species composition.  Without consistent standards, we would be unable to incorporate this qualitative information into catch monitoring.   We disapproved this measure because the utility of the measure does not outweigh the additional reporting and administrative burden on the dealers (so it is inconsistent with National Standard 7 and the Paperwork Reduction Act).

Q.        If Amendment 5 will not increase observer coverage or establish a slippage cap, does the amendment contain other improvements to catch monitoring?

A.        Yes.  It contains a number of measures including:  (1) Establishing trip notification requirements for the mackerel fishery to help place observers on vessels; (2) establishing pre-landing notification requirements for the mackerel fishery to facilitate enforcement; (3) requiring VMS and daily VMS catch reports for the mackerel and longfin squid fisheries to facilitate quota monitoring; (4) expanding vessel requirements to help observers collect catch information in a safe and efficient way; (5) prohibiting slippage, with exceptions for safety concerns, mechanical failure, and spiny dogfish preventing catch from being pumped aboard the vessel, and requiring a released catch affidavit to be completed for each slippage event to help improve catch data; and (6) evaluating the effectiveness of the voluntary river herring bycatch avoidance program to help improve our understanding of interactions with river herring.

Q.        What are the approve measures that will minimize bycatch of river herring and shad in the mackerel fishery?

A.        There are several approved measures that have the potential to minimize interactions with river herring and shad in the mackerel fishery. 

One of those measures is the ongoing voluntary river herring bycatch avoidance program, conducted by the Sustainable Fisheries Coalition, MA Division of Marine Fisheries, and the University of Massachusetts Dartmouth’s School of Marine Science.  The Mid-Atlantic Fishery Management Council will review this program and may use the information generated to create additional measures to avoid river herring interactions with the mackerel fishery in a future action. 

Another measure places a cap on the amount of river herring and shad that can be caught in the mackerel fishery.  This cap amount will be finalized when catch limits are set for 2014.  At its June 2013 meeting, the Mid-Atlantic Fishery Management Council selected a combined catch cap for river herring and shad of 236 mt.  The Council is finalizing its analysis of these measures and will submit its final recommendation to NOAA Fisheries shortly when it submits it 2014 catch limit recommendations.