ASMFC Approves Amendment 2 to the Bluefish FMP

ASMFC Approves Amendment 2 to the Bluefish FMP to Adjust Allocation and Establish a Rebuilding Plan

ASMFC (August 6, 2021) …The Atlantic States Marine Fisheries Commission approved the Amendment 2 to the Interstate Fishery Management Plan (FMP) for Bluefish: Allocation and Rebuilding Program. The Amendment updates the FMP goals and objectives, initiates a rebuilding plan, establishes new allocations between the commercial and recreational sectors, implements new commercial allocations to the states, revises the process for quota transfers between sectors, and revises how the management plan accounts for management uncertainty.

The Commission’s Bluefish Management Board and the Mid-Atlantic Fishery Management Council (Council), who jointly manage bluefish, initiated the Amendment in December 2017 to consider revisions to the commercial and recreational fisheries allocations and the state-specific commercial allocations. In 2019, an operational stock assessment for bluefish indicated the stock was overfished, and the Board and Council subsequently incorporated the rebuilding plan in the Amendment.

Given the stock’s overfished condition, the Amendment establishes a 7-year rebuilding plan to be achieved through a constant fishing mortality approach. Rebuilding progress will be analyzed through management track stock assessments every two years. The 2021 management track assessment will be used to inform specifications for the 2022-2023 fishing years. The Amendment also revises sector allocations, increasing the recreational allocation from 83% to 86% of the acceptable biological catch and decreasing the commercial allocation from 17% to 14%. Catch data from 1981-2018 were used as the basis for sector allocations since this time series captures the cyclical nature of the fishery, while providing each sector with sufficient access to the resource considering historical usage.

The Amendment revises state-by-state commercial allocations to better reflect the current distribution of the stock and the needs of the states’ commercial fisheries. The Amendment allocates a baseline quota of 0.1% to each state, and then allocates the rest of the commercial quota based on landings data from 2009 to 2018 (see Table 1 below). Recognizing that several states will be losing quota during a time when the coastwide commercial quota is already at an historic low, the Amendment phases-in the allocation changes over 7 years in order to reduce short-term economic impacts to the affected commercial fishing industries. State allocations will be reviewed by the Commission and Council within 5 years.

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ASMFC Approves Amendment 2 to the Bluefish FMP to Adjust Allocation and Establish a Rebuilding Plan

The Amendment updates the sector transfer process to allow for quota transfers in either direction between the commercial and recreational sectors. Previously, quota could only be transferred from the recreational sector to the commercial fishery. The transfers will now be capped at 10% of the acceptable biological catch for a given year.

Finally, the Amendment modified the management uncertainty tool within the FMP to a sector-specific approach. It allows the Commission and Council to apply a buffer to either sector, in the form of a quota reduction, to account for management uncertainty during specifications. While this tool has not been used often, the modified approach allows managers to better target areas of uncertainty within one sector without reducing the quota or harvest limit in the other sector.

Given the joint nature of the Amendment and the federal process that requires the Council’s Amendment to undergo federal review and rulemaking, the implementation date for the Commission plan will be set once NOAA Fisheries approves the Council’s Amendment. The Amendment is expected to go into effect for the 2022 fishing year.

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