Groundfish are fish species that live on or near the body of water they inhabit. The United States Department of Commerce's National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration, or NOAA, recently announced new measures, to be effective May 1st, to end overfishing and continue the rebuilding of groundfish in the waters of the Northeastern United States. The measures include new limits on catches and a major change in how the fishery will be managed.
For the first time, the U.S. will impose a cap on the amount of all groundfish of any species that are permitted to be caught. In addition, there will be measures to mitigate if the catch limits are exceeded. These measures provide some of the strongest safeguards to date for recovering groundfish stocks, the majority of which are overfished. Commercial vessels will no longer be allowed to catch certain groundfish species, including windowplane flounder, ocean pout, wolffish and southern New England winter flounder.
In addition to the new caps, these measures will fundamentally change the way this fishery will be managed. Fishing vessels may now fish with others as a group, or "sector." Sectors, which are voluntary for fishing vessels, are formed each year and given a portion of the total available groundfish catch based on the combined fishing history of their member vessels.
About half of the vessels, representing about 98 percent of the groundfish caught in recent years, that were eligible to join a sector have done so. If they don't opt into a sector, fishermen will continue to fish, but must comply with strict limits on the number of fishing days, trip limits for some species, and seasonal and area closures.
"Going forward we will make a concerted effort to monitor the effects of the new measures and to make improvements as quickly as possible," said the Assistant Administrator for NOAA's Fisheries Service, Eric Schwab. Mr. Schwab sent a letter to the New England Fishery Management Council, an intergovernmental unit representing federal and state governments with marine fisheries management responsibility in the Northeast region of the U.S., pledging to continue to work with the Council in making adjustments to catch limits or allowable fishing practices as stock assessment work, new gear research and other applied science provide additional information.
The U.S. is committed to working with its partners in the private sector and its international partners to protect saltwater groundfish and other marine life.