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Annual Catch Limits (ACLs)

Overview of the ACL-Setting Process

In 2006, amendments to the Magnuson-Stevens Act (MSA) included additional requirements to prevent and end overfishing and rebuild overfished stocks. The added measures require regional fishery management councils to amend their fishery management plans to include a mechanism for specifying annual catch limits (ACLs) for all stocks or stock complexes at a level such that overfishing does not occur and to implement measures to ensure accountability for adhering to these limits. The MSA further directed that, unless otherwise provided for under an international agreement to which the U.S. participates, this mechanism had to be established by 2010 for stocks subject to overfishing, and by 2011 for all other stocks. ACLs are required for all federally managed stocks, whether the FMP includes a catch share program or not.

ACL Graphic

According to the National Standard Guidelines of the National Marine Fisheries Service, a regional fishery management council’s ACL for a stock may not exceed the acceptable biological catch (ABC) recommendation of the council’s Scientific and Statistical Committee for that stock. The ABC is a range of allowable catch for a stock that incorporates consideration of the stock’s life history and reproductive potential, vulnerability to overfishing, and uncertainty associated with factors such as stock assessment results, time lags in updating assessments, retrospective revision of assessment results, and projections. The National Standard Guidelines allow a council to divide an ACL for a stock into sub-ACLs a multispecies sector ACLs, which determine the annual catch entitlements (ACEs) allocated to sectors in the Northeast Multispecies Sector Program.

Trends in Annual Catch Limits

The charts provided below show the sector allocation of ACLs for allocated stocks in the Northeast Multispecies Sector Program from fishing year (FY) 2010 through 2017. Catch share programs do not directly affect decisions about ACLs, but indirectly affect those determinations because catch share programs are typically implemented coincident with enhanced catch accounting and monitoring requirements, which can reduce management uncertainty and scientific uncertainty. Provisions of the Northeast Multispecies Sector Program, including the AMs listed below, together with the increased levels of at-sea observer coverage, are expected to contribute to a reduction in uncertainty. However, the ACLs for many stocks have been cut since the implementation of the catch share program: eastern GB cod (-85.5 percent), western GB cod (-81.9 percent), GOM cod (-93.7 percent), GB yellowtail flounder (-74.1 percent), CC/GOM yellowtail flounder (-55.3 percent), American plaice flounder (-56.5 percent), GB winter flounder (-67.9 percent), SNE/MA yellowtail flounder (-35.6 percent) and witch flounder (-56.3 percent). In several cases, overfished stocks have not responded to rebuilding plans (Biomass). For seven stocks (including all haddock stocks), ACL was higher in FY 2017 than in FY 2010.

 

 

In Their Own Words

Although some of the quantitative data analyzed for this indicator exhibited clear trends, it was challenging to discuss the relationships between observed data trends and implementation of the respective catch share programs, especially in the Northeast. The Measuring the Effects of Catch Shares project team believed that those stakeholders most involved in the fishery, either as active participants or as representatives of an involved coalition of participants (e.g., sector managers in the Northeast), would be able to provide insight and help to explain trends seen in the existing quantitative data. The following quotes were selected to illustrate some of those perspectives and highlight trends such as effects on small vessels, the effect of avoiding “choke stocks,” fleet diversification, and product quality. The individual quotes do not represent findings or conclusions for this indicator, nor do they represent a consensus across any category of participants.

“These other guys, they’ll throw choke species fish overboard all day long. And they’ll sleep just as good that night, as if they’ve done nothing. And that’s the bottom line.”
~ Fishermen

“I have a black bottom on the boat and I went and got some white boot tar paint and I put on it about half way down from the water line, “No codfish allowed.” This one guy came down and he is standing there cocking his head. He says to me, “How are you going to read that if its underwater?” I said, “You don’t understand. That is for the codfish to read.””
~ Fishermen

“We lost our groundfish populations here in Eastern Maine long before sectors started, and the qualification years that they used for the allocation of the quota was well after people had participated in the fishery. So we didn’t see a sharp decline in participation in the fishery at the beginning of sectors because those fishermen were largely done fishing for groundfish anyway just because of the stock size in Eastern Maine.”
~ NGO

“Yeah, catch shares when they first came into play they worked because the allocation that NMFS gave us was so much higher than it is today.”
~ Fishermen

“Well, I mean they haven’t been able to use haddock as a direct fishery. When they go target haddock they catch choke species like codfish and stuff like that. The choke species suffocate them from totally capitalizing on the haddock.”
~ Fishermen

“These other guys, they’ll throw choke species fish overboard all day long. And they’ll sleep just as good that night, as if they’ve done nothing. And that’s the bottom line.
~ Fishermen

“So with the pressures on fishermen to try and survive, to try to remain fishermen, to try to remain groundfish fishermen, I think it’s safe to assume that there is a lot of catch that we are not accounting for. That’s another perilous part of this whole catch share program. With catch that’s not being accounted for, what do you get? You get errors in the assessments.”
~ Government

“The alternative is to go back to days at sea, and I don’t think people understand just how fewer days at sea we’d have with these low quotas because they think catch shares caused these low quotas. No, catch shares didn’t cause these low quotas.”
~ Fishermen

“So there is a huge disconnect here all the way around at the most fundamental level, regardless of catch shares. Everybody in New England says the only people who can’t catch fish off the coast of New England is the United States government, and they’re the only ones who matter.      “
~ Fishermen

“The bigger guys, I mean they can go out. They have enough fuel capacity to be able to get off the fish that they shouldn’t be catching and move somewhere else. And if they’re fishing on some of the George’s stocks that are in far better shape. They go fill their boat full of haddock.”
~ Government

“There are fishermen that are really hurting. When catch shares came in some of the bigger boats came in and scooped up whatever quota there was, right out in front of them. If stocks had been healthy, it wouldn’t have happened.”
~ Government

“Well, I’m of the opinion that the new management system has been an equal opportunity constrainer. I mean I know that information shows that the impacts seem to be more on the smaller boat fleet than on the bigger boat fleet but when we started there was a lot more small boats than there were big boats. I know from experience a lot of people that were under 50 feet that were fishing under days at sea are no longer fishing today. If they were cut down to 25 days at sea and a 200 pound trip limit with a two for one counting in the Gulf of Maine, probably those same boats would not be fishing. I don’t think it’s because of the design of the system. If the stocks are going down, the regs are going to get tighter, whether it’s days at sea or quotas.”
~ NGO

“Well, the big boats can take advantage of the healthy stocks, which is haddock, haddock and reds right now. The inshore small boats, the little 38 to 40 footers, last year they got hammered hard. I mean Gloucester, I mean they had a huge day boat fishery down there for codfish. Guys go out and get their codfish and come back in. Gone because of the Gulf of Maine cod restrictions. The same thing happened to our boats here this summer. They couldn’t fish inshore because of the codfish. There is a crap load of cod out there. So these guys couldn’t fish because they didn’t have the quota for it. So if you’re out there and you have an observer on board, you catch codfish and you’re screwed. You shut down your sector for the year.”
~ Processor

“We also closed some areas that we thought were high potential catch areas. We subsequently reopened those this year because we found that we still had enough cod quota and it wouldn’t be a problem. So we self-imposed restrictions on our members to avoid cod. They also have to report their Gulf of Maine cod catch daily. If you find this hot spot of cod you report that [to the sector manager] and then he broadcasts it to everybody through email to try to stay away from this area, unless you happen to have some cod allocation.”
~ Industry Representative

“New England’s broken. It’s not working. Nothing makes sense. The fish that they say they’re abundant I don’t catch, and the fish that they say they’re depleted, that’s all I catch.                “
~ Fishermen

“With, what are there, 19 different species or something like that? And they all fluctuate relative to one another. So in one year you have one or two choke species, and then two years later it’s a completely new set of choke species that you hadn’t planned for.”
~ Fishermen

“I have a black bottom on the boat and I went and got some white boot tar paint and I put on it about half way down from the water line, “No codfish allowed.” This one guy came down and he is standing there cocking his head. He says to me, “How are you going to read that if its underwater?” I said, “You don’t understand. That is for the codfish to read.””
~ Fishermen

“Well, I mean they haven’t been able to use haddock as a direct fishery. When they go target haddock they catch choke species like codfish and stuff like that. The choke species suffocate them from totally capitalizing on the haddock.”
~ Fishermen

“The bigger guys, I mean they can go out. They have enough fuel capacity to be able to get off the fish that they shouldn’t be catching and move somewhere else. And if they’re fishing on some of the George’s stocks that are in far better shape. They go fill their boat full of haddock.”
~ Government

“There are fishermen that are really hurting. When catch shares came in some of the bigger boats came in and scooped up whatever quota there was, right out in front of them. If stocks had been healthy, it wouldn’t have happened.”
~ Government

“Well, I’m of the opinion that the new management system has been an equal opportunity constrainer. I mean I know that information shows that the impacts seem to be more on the smaller boat fleet than on the bigger boat fleet but when we started there was a lot more small boats than there were big boats. I know from experience a lot of people that were under 50 feet that were fishing under days at sea are no longer fishing today. If they were cut down to 25 days at sea and a 200 pound trip limit with a two for one counting in the Gulf of Maine, probably those same boats would not be fishing. I don’t think it’s because of the design of the system. If the stocks are going down, the regs are going to get tighter, whether it’s days at sea or quotas.”
~ NGO

“Well, the big boats can take advantage of the healthy stocks, which is haddock, haddock and reds right now. The inshore small boats, the little 38 to 40 footers, last year they got hammered hard. I mean Gloucester, I mean they had a huge day boat fishery down there for codfish. Guys go out and get their codfish and come back in. Gone because of the Gulf of Maine cod restrictions. The same thing happened to our boats here this summer. They couldn’t fish inshore because of the codfish. There is a crap load of cod out there. So these guys couldn’t fish because they didn’t have the quota for it. So if you’re out there and you have an observer on board, you catch codfish and you’re screwed. You shut down your sector for the year.”
~ Processor

“We also closed some areas that we thought were high potential catch areas. We subsequently reopened those this year because we found that we still had enough cod quota and it wouldn’t be a problem. So we self-imposed restrictions on our members to avoid cod. They also have to report their Gulf of Maine cod catch daily. If you find this hot spot of cod you report that [to the sector manager] and then he broadcasts it to everybody through email to try to stay away from this area, unless you happen to have some cod allocation.”
~ Industry Representative

“With, what are there, 19 different species or something like that? And they all fluctuate relative to one another. So in one year you have one or two choke species, and then two years later it’s a completely new set of choke species that you hadn’t planned for.”
~ Fishermen

“So with the pressures on fishermen to try and survive, to try to remain fishermen, to try to remain groundfish fishermen, I think it’s safe to assume that there is a lot of catch that we are not accounting for. That’s another perilous part of this whole catch share program. With catch that’s not being accounted for, what do you get? You get errors in the assessments.”
~ Government

Accountability Measures

Accountability measures (AMs) are management controls to minimize both the frequency and magnitude of ACL overages and to correct or mitigate in as short a time as possible overages that occur. In the Northeast Multispecies Sector Program, the following AMs apply to sectors:

  • If a sector exceeds its quota for any stock allocated to a sector, the sector will be prohibited from fishing in the stock area for that stock, until such time that it has acquired additional quota from another sector.
  • Any overages at the end of the fishing year will be deducted from that sector’s quota of each stock for the following fishing year.  A sector can balance such an overage by acquiring quota from another sector.
  • If a sector disbands at the end of a fishing year following an overage, but does not have sufficient quota to cover the overage, an appropriate days-at-sea, sector share penalty, or fishing prohibition will apply to each permit during the following fishing year, depending on whether that permit enters the common pool, or another sector.
  • If a sector remains operational following an overage, but does not have sufficient allocation to cover the overage, vessels participating in that sector will be prohibited from fishing the stock areas associated with the overage until the sector acquires sufficient allocation to cover the overage of that stock for the stock area in question.
  • In addition to sector-specific AMs, a sector may be subject to AMs for non-allocated stocks (i.e., stocks for which the sector does not have any quota) resulting from an overage of the overall quota.

Information Sources

Brinson, A. and E. Thunberg. 2013. The Economic Performance of U.S. Catch Share Programs.

National Marine Fisheries Service, NOAA Technical Memorandum NMFS-F/SPO-133. National Marine Fisheries Service. 2009. NMFS’s National Standards Guidelines.

National Marine Fisheries Service, Greater Atlantic Regional Office. 2015. Northeast Multispecies.

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