Oceana, the largest international advocacy group working solely to protect the world’s oceans, filed suit late-Friday in Federal Court to challenge the National Marine Fisheries Service (NMFS) and its implementation of Mid-Atlantic fisheries regulations. Oceana is challenging the Omnibus Annual Catch Limit Amendment, which sets rules for fisheries from New York to North Carolina. The Amendment was originally intended to set scientifically-based annual catch limits and accountability measures for all 13 fish species managed in the region as a means to end overfishing and responsibly managing the fisheries in the future. Oceana believes the Amendment fell far short of its goal.
“The Magnuson-Stevens Act – the law governing U.S. commercial fisheries – requires NMFS to set limits on the number of fish caught regardless of whether or not the species is a target of the fishermen,” said Gib Brogan, Northeast representative for Oceana. “Current methods completely ignore bycatch – the catch of non-target fish and ocean wildlife. Oceana believes that limits should be set for both target species and bycatch to ensure that fisheries are not taking too many fish out of the oceans.”
NMFS recently released its U.S. National Bycatch Report, which shows that bycatch is rampant in the Mid-Atlantic. For example, the most recent estimates indicate that in the Mid-Atlantic trawl fishery one pound of non-target fish is caught for every three pounds of fish being brought to shore. This wasteful bycatch is often thrown overboard, dead or dying and includes species that are specifically targeted by fishermen in other federal or state managed fisheries. Unfortunately, fishery managers are failing to take into account the fish that are caught in multiple fisheries as target catch and bycatch.
Fisheries management requires high quality data about targeted catch and bycatch. Oceana is also challenging the inadequate catch data collection program for these fisheries.
“Across the Mid-Atlantic region, bycatch data collection and reporting is unacceptably spotty,” said Brogan. “Without accurate estimates of both target fish catch and bycatch, assessing whether catch limits have been followed is challenging to nearly impossible. Responsible fishing relies entirely on reliable data and monitoring.”
Oceana is confident that if this amendment is overturned, a full analysis of the region’s fish catch, including bycatch, along with a critical analysis of data collection needs will improve the management of Mid-Atlantic fisheries.