Mid-Atlantic Council Takes on Management of Emerging Fishery
On March 7th, The Mid-Atlantic Fishery Management Council voted to bring chub mackerel into the existing fishery management plan (FMP) for Atlantic mackerel, longfin squid, shortfin squid and butterfish. Wild Oceans supported the Council’s decision, emphasizing that chub mackerel, like the other species in the FMP, are an important component of the prey base and that a commercial fishery should be managed to ensure that predator needs are met.
Schools of chub mackerel (Scomber colias), also known as “tinker” mackerel, are a welcome sight for anglers fishing offshore in the mid-Atlantic during the summer and early fall. Tunas, sharks and billfish pursue schools of forage fish like chub mackerel to the region’s canyons, creating spectacular fishing opportunities that attract thousands of recreational fishermen to the region each year. Annually, New England and Mid-Atlantic highly migratory species (HMS) anglers contribute an estimated $266 million in total economic output, supporting over 1,800 jobs from Maine to North Carolina.
So it’s no wonder that anglers were alarmed to learn that a commercial chub mackerel had emerged in the northeast. Commercial landings jumped dramatically in 2013 to 5.25 million pounds. Half a dozen industrial bottom trawls designed to target shortfin squid are responsible for nearly all the chub mackerel catch with fishing effort concentrated offshore of New Jersey, Delaware, Maryland and Virginia in June through October.
The developing fishery was discovered when the Mid-Atlantic Council began seeking public input on an action to conserve unmanaged forage species in the region. The Unmanaged Forage Omnibus Amendment, implemented in 2017, prevents the development of commercial fisheries for a list of unmanaged forage species by limiting fishing vessels to a possession limit of 1,700 pounds of all species combined. Chub mackerel was left off the list because a sizable directed fishery was already operating. Instead, the Council implemented a temporary chub mackerel annual landings limit of 2.86 million pounds, an amount based on an average of recent annual landings that was intended to keep the fishery from expanding beyond its current footprint “until the Council has had an adequate opportunity to assess the scientific information relating to any new or expanded directed fisheries and consider potential impacts to existing fisheries, fishing communities, and the marine ecosystem.”
Chub mackerel management measures in the FMP include a significantly increased total allowable landings limit of 4.5 million pounds – a departure from the Council’s original “freeze the footprint” objective. Neither the Council nor its Scientific and Statistical Committee incorporated ecological considerations in the proposed catch limits, citing a lack of quantifiable data that would justify a more precautionary approach.
Nonetheless, if the Mid-Atlantic Council’s plan is approved by NOAA Fisheries, data collection will be given greater priority in federal programs. Managing chub mackerel under our federal fisheries law, the Magnuson-Stevens Fishery Conservation and Management Act, will also provide the Council with the framework and tools needed to ensure that chub mackerel is managed for the greatest overall benefit to the Nation, benefits that include the quality of the recreational fishing experience; the contribution of recreational fishing to the national, regional, and local economies; and maintaining adequate forage for all components of the marine ecosystem..
The Mid-Atlantic Council has already responded to anglers’ concerns by funding a research study to document the importance of chub mackerel tin the diets of recreationally-important highly migratory species. Once the study concludes, the Council will review the results to determine if the chub mackerel catch limits or the measures in the FMP should be amended.