Decisions on Bluefish, Atlantic Mackerel & Summer Flounder.

Title Photo: Rex Messing of SIMMS Fishing aboard with Capt. Jaime Boyle

Meeting Preview: Mid-Atlantic Fishery Management Council August 2023

This time of year is traditionally the busiest stretch for fisheries management. Regional Fisheries Management Councils are reviewing stock assessments and committee recommendations for new catch levels. Meanwhile, the Atlantic States Marine Fisheries Commission meets for its Summer Meeting. As many of you know, the ASMFC meeting involved a critically important decision for striped bass, which was ultimately delayed. We’ll address that in a separate blog soon. In an effort to keep our member anglers, guides, and business owners up to date on the resources they rely on, here are a few brief notes that will be discussed at this week’s Mid-Atlantic Fishery Management Council August Meeting:


  • There are two new stock assessments for bluefish—a 2022 Research Track and a 2023 Management Track Assessment. These assessments are considered a significant improvement over the previous assessment but produce some changes for bluefish management. Notably, the reference points were reduced by roughly half. ASGA is watching this process closely because “lowering the goalposts” is never a good thing for the long-term health of the resource–we’ll have another blog in the coming weeks for a deeper dive into the assessment and bluefish management. Based on the new assessment, bluefish are not subject to overfishing and are not overfished, but they remain in a rebuilding state. Bluefish SSB is rebuilding, but the stock is still just 60% of the SSB target.

  • Bluefish are jointly managed by ASMFC and MAFMC. Next week, those management entities will take the information from this new stock assessment and recommendations from the SSC and Monitoring Committee to approve catch limits. There was a possibility that bluefish could be liberalized, but that was not the SSC’s recommendation. ASGA strongly prefers that management remain cautious and conservative with bluefish so the stock continues to pace towards rebuilding

Summer Flounder

  • Summer flounder recruitment has been below average since 2011, and the strong-2018 year class is not materializing to be as high as initially projected. Managers are looking at a new ABC for summer flounder that is 42% lower than the 2023 value. Fishery managers will approve ACLs and then be looking at the Harvest Control Rule to make final decisions on recreational measures.

  • Speaking of the Harvest Control Rule, the Council and Commission will receive an update on the HCR 2.0 effort, which is a new approach to managing recreational fisheries and is intended to replace the Percent Change Approach which was approved for management last year—ASGA has concerns that this management framework may lead to unsustainable fisheries and will be monitoring this closely. 

Atlantic Mackerel

  • Mackerel are a key forage species up in the Northeast and historically were prevalent in the Mid-Atlantic. However, they too are in a rebuilding plan. Unfortunately, a fresh stock assessment found that the stock was, again, not showing signs of recovery—spawning stock biomass currently sits at 12% of the biomass target. The MAFMC is considering emergency action to close the directed commercial mackerel fishery for the remainder of 2023 and likely for the next couple of years.

  • While recreational landings of mackerel are a minimal portion of total mackerel removals compared to commercial qutoas, MAFMC instituted a 20-fish bag limit for the recreational sector last year as part of the Mackerel Rebuilding Plan 2.0 action. At this time, that bag limit is not expected to change in the near future. 

Other Notes

  • East Coast Climate Change Scenario Planning: This extensive effort has been finalized and now has actions/recommendations for how managers can work towards climate-ready fisheries. This is an attempt to address the challenges climate change is already imposing on fisheries and management. ASGA fears that increased calls for flexibility and nimbleness may hamper precautionary fisheries management along the Atlantic coast. The best way to mitigate the impacts of climate change on fisheries is to have abundant fisheries.

  • NOAA Fisheries Climate Governance Report: While entities along the Atlantic Coast were collaboratively working on the above scenario planning effort, NOAA Fisheries drafted this Climate Governance Report (frustrating many involved in the scenario planning, might I add). Fish are moving, and they do not care about Councils’ jurisdictions or state/federal water boundaries. We have to ensure these shifting fish are managed appropriately, meaning their distribution is represented in the decision-making process. However, giving away or taking on new Fishery Management Plans is proving controversial. This will be an interesting discussion, and we will certainly be hearing more about fisheries governance issues in the coming years. 

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