NEFMC postpones final action on groundfishing changes, pursues COVID-19 impact options

Published on
April 20, 2020

The New England Fishery Management Council has continued to tackle managing the region’s fisheries, even as the COVID-19 pandemic has forced the council to meet via webinar.

During the recent April 14 to 15 meeting of the council – which was held entirely via webinar for the first time in its history – the council made a number of decisions pertaining to the region’s fisheries. Among those was a decision to postpone any final action on Groundfish Monitoring Amendment 23, which has been in development for three years.

Amendment 23 is a complete overhaul of how the region’s groundfish catch is monitored, which includes changes that would streamline how sector reporting requirements work, potentially implementing a dockside monitoring program, and more.

According to a release from the NEFMC, the final decision – which was slated to occur during the council’s June meeting – is being postponed until sometime after the meeting.

“Given these extraordinary times, the council did not set a specific date for when it intends to take final action,” the release said.

Instead, the council plans to conduct two additional webinar public hearings on the subject, and have the council’s executive committee review the status of the COVID-19 situation “at its early June meeting to determine whether it is feasible and safe to conduct in-person public hearings during the late spring and early summer.”

During the same meetings, the council also approved a range of alternatives for Amendment 21 to the Atlantic Sea Scallop Fishery Management Plan. The amendment, according to a NEFMC release, is intended to address Northern Gulf of Maine Management issues, the limited access general category individual fishing quota trip limit, and the potential one-way transfer of individual fishing quota from limited access vessels that hold it to limited access general category individual fishing quota-only vessels.

The council plans to select preferred alternatives at its June meeting and approve public hearing, which will likely occur later in the summer or fall.

The council also decided to address actions it could take to address COVID-19 for both the scallop and groundfish fisheries. For groundfish, at the behest of several industry associations, the council considered requesting an increase in carryover of unused 2019 groundfish annual catch limits into the 2020 fishing year.

The council itself does not take emergency action, but instead requests action through the Secretary of Commerce through NOAA fisheries. To that end, the council wrote a letter to NOAA requesting guidance.

For the scallop fishery, the council made recommendations, to the National Marine Fishery Service, that secretarial emergency actions be taken, including transferring unharvested quotas into fishing-year 2020 for 180 days.

“Although the council made this request, the final outcome is entirely in the hands of NMFS and the Commerce Department,” a NEFMC release said. “If NMFS decides to move ahead, the agency will determine the specifics of the emergency measures and the point at which the 180-day clock will begin ticking.” 

Photo courtesy of the New England Fishery Management Council

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