The Mid-Atlantic Fishery Management Council has approved a revised rebuilding plan and 2023 specifications for Atlantic mackerel. The first rebuilding plan for the stock was implemented in November 2019. However, an updated 2021 stock assessment found that, although the stock size almost tripled between 2014 and 2019, the stock was only 24% rebuilt in 2019 and unlikely to complete rebuilding as anticipated.
The revised rebuilding plan approved by the Council has a 61% probability of rebuilding the stock by 2032. Of the five rebuilding options considered, the Council selected this approach because it has a high probability of successfully rebuilding the stock while avoiding the severe economic impacts that would likely occur with some of the other alternatives. Compared to the original rebuilding plan, the revised plan uses lower predicted recruitment in projections to reduce the chance of underperforming stock growth predictions again.
The Council also voted to implement a first-ever federal waters recreational possession limit for Atlantic mackerel for 2023. Recreational catches of Atlantic mackerel have been relatively low historically, but recreational restrictions were deemed appropriate to achieve the total catch reduction required under the rebuilding plan. The Council had initially considered possession limits in the range of 10 to 15 fish per person, but they ultimately recommended a 20-fish per person limit based on the limited historical recreational catch and the importance of mackerel for recreational fishermen (including as bait). This limit is expected to reduce recreational catch by about 17%. Coordination with states that have substantial recreational mackerel catches (MA, NH, and ME) occurred during development of the plan, and it is hoped that these states will mirror the federal rules for their state waters in 2023.
Under the selected rebuilding plan, the acceptable biological catch (ABC) will be 8,094 metric tons (MT) for 2023. After accounting for expected Canadian catch, recreational catch, and commercial discards, the Council recommended setting the 2023 commercial quota at 3,639 MT. This quota is 79% lower than the initial 2021 rebuilding quota. A new Management Track Assessment will be available next year to inform 2024-2025 specifications.
The Council also discussed potentially scaling down the river herring and shad cap, currently set at 129 MT, in response to the reduced commercial quota. However, given the challenges associated with monitoring a very small cap, including potential closures based on a few observed trips, the Council voted to maintain the cap at 129 MT for 2023.
Finally, the Council agreed to request that NOAA Fisheries provide additional outreach and compliance assistance regarding the appropriate permitting and catch reporting for both commercial and for-hire vessels. Additional outreach should address any ambiguity regarding the need to have a permit and submit electronic vessel trip reports (eVTRs) by these vessels.
The Council will submit this amendment to the Secretary of Commerce for approval and implementation. Updates will be posted on the Atlantic Mackerel Rebuilding 2.0 page. For additional information about this action, contact Jason Didden at [email protected] or (302) 526-5254.