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From ABC to YOY, fisheries management acronyms often baffle and bewilder; but with anglers pledging to attend upcoming fall and winter meetings, this quick primer might help bring things into clearer focus.
By Jim Hutchinson, Jr.
In setting OFL threshold- and then ABC below that - a regional fishery management council’s SSC will set an ACL and quite possibly an ACT, with the RHL somewhere in between that buffer; unless of course an AM, based on prior year’s MRIP performance, shows that F was above the previous threshold, in which case the stock’s FMP might require even deeper restrictions; but at the end of the day, the National Marine Fisheries Service (NMFS), the federal fisheries agency within the Department of Commerce, makes the final call. Like we said, alphabet soup!

Overfishing for example was once primarily a biological term given to what happens when a fish stock is harvested down at a level where it cannot replenish itself naturally through reproduction. In the years prior to 1976 and the implementation of the Magnuson Stevens Act (MSA), overfishing was rampant in fisheries like summer flounder and black sea bass.

When the Sustainable Fisheries Act was passed to revise MSA in 1996, a new statutory definition was created; in statutory terms, overfishing now occurs “whenever a stock or stock complex is subjected to a rate or level of fishing mortality that jeopardizes the capacity of a stock or stock complex to produce maximum sustainable yield (MSY) on a continuing basis.”

Today, overfishing occurs whenever a statistical figure set by NOAA Fisheries called maximum fishing mortality threshold (MFMT) is exceeded

Confusing? You bet it is! That’s why a set of National Standards was established so managers and council/commission delegates could be guided along the fisheries management process while keeping within the standards laid out by MSA. Of course, with all the tinkering with the law over the years - primarily thanks to environmental groups - these managers and appointed delegates were left with very little flexibility to think outside of the fisheries management box.

Realizing that many of these new statutory definitions have had a serious negative impact on our coastal fishing communities (yes, fish stocks like fluke and sea bass have been rebuilt, however the pendulum of legislative manipulation has left most fisheries far from what one would call reasonably accessible to most anglers), a coalition of recreational advocacy groups including the Recreational Fishing Alliance, American Sportfishing Association and National Marine Manufacturers Association have been working to revise the law, after having helped revise some of the key National Standards over the past couple of years.

On the other hand, some of the opposing environmental groups have been working to create new statutory definitions, one in particular through manipulating the word “abundance.” Statistically speaking, abundance is primarily a theoretical measure of how many fish are in a population or a fishing ground. In preying upon angler emotions in promoting abundant fisheries (as in “we need fish in such vast abundance that I can’t help but catch a few on every trip even while using the new fly I tied with dental floss and pipe cleaner”), some of the very same groups who helped create the statutory definition of “overfishing” while manufacturing acronyms like ACL and AM, hope to somehow influence Congress into writing up yet another mealy mouth, statutory definition.

And experience? That’s best described as the warm and fuzzy feeling you get while standing with your arms folded at the dock as your boat’s tied up in the slip while fluke, sea bass, and cod seasons are all closed because of someone else’s utopian vision of fisheries abundance.

Good luck at your next meeting!

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