Federal officials take first steps to protect chub mackerel, other forage species in the Mid-Atlantic

Published on
September 6, 2017

For the first time, the National Marine Fisheries Service has taken action to protect forage species in the Atlantic Ocean.

The new regulation, initially approved last year by the Mid-Atlantic Fishery Management Council, covers such species as anchovies, herrings, mackerel, and sardines up to 200 miles off the coastline from New England to central North Carolina. The Fisheries Service, part of the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration, chose to protect the fish because of the important role they play in the ecosystem. 

The fish, along with some crustaceans and mollusks, are considered prey for larger fish sought by commercial and recreational fishermen as well as marine mammals and birds.

Similar regulations are already in place in some Pacific regions. Among the specifics of the Mid-Atlantic regulations are an established landing limit of just less than 2.9 million pounds for Atlantic chub mackerel and a 1,700-pound possession limit for all species. Portions of the regulation will expire at the end of 2020 to give federal officials an opportunity to incorporate the Atlantic chub mackerel into the Atlantic mackerel, squid, and butterfish fishery management plan.

The measure is the culmination of a six-year process, when the Mid-Atlantic Fishery Management Council began looking into protecting the small prey. During a two-month public comment period held earlier this year, the majority of the responses were positive, although some fishing interests did oppose aspects of the regulation.

The action received the support of The Pew Charitable Trusts, which helped generate more than 11,000 letters supporting the regulations. According to organization, protecting the prey should have a trickle-up benefit – not only for the predators, but for the fishing industry, too.

According to an article written by Pew conservation officials Peter Baker and Joseph Gordon,“(W)hen there are enough forage fish in the ocean, the overall ecosystem thrives, helping top predator populations flourish and increasing the yield of catchable fish. In turn, our country gains more seafood from our own waters, as well as expanded recreational and business opportunities.” 

The rule was published in the Federal Register on Monday 28 August and is set to take effect on 27 September. 

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