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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!

Want to sound like the smartest guy in the room at your next fishing club meeting? Try throwing around a few of these top 25 acronyms from the world of fisheries management.

Private anglers and recreational fishing industry leaders looking to attend upcoming Council and Commission meetings from October into December might want to review some of the key acronyms.

At the very least, this small bowl of alphabet soup should help peel away some of the mystery shrouding 21st Century fisheries management.

ABC - Allowable Biological Catch (ABC) is a term that refers to the range of estimated allowable catch for a particular species. The ABC is set each year by a scientific group; ABC estimate is ultimately used to set a lower annual Total Allowable Catch or TAC, creating a buffer between the two.

ACL – The use of Annual Catch Limits (ACL) was first established in 2006 by way of new language written into the Magnuson-Stevens Act by Congress. Under these new requirements, fisheries managers set a statistical ACL based on a four-step process where a fish stock’s overfishing limit is set by corresponding catch level to a stock’s maximum sustainable yield. Once allowable biological catch is recommended by the Scientific and Statistical Committee, Council will specify an ACL that cannot exceed ABC; council could also set an ACT depending on the level of management uncertainty). To ensure that an ACL is not exceeded, fisheries managers may utilize a series of accountability measures including but not limited to size limits, trip limits, gear restrictions, seasonal closures and future harvest payback mechanisms.

ACT – A regional fishery management council has the option to set annual catch targets (ACT) which can be used to account for management uncertainty in constraining catch below the ACL.

AM – The 2006 reauthorization of the Magnuson-Stevens Act mandated the use of ACL and accountability measures (AM) in federal fisheries to end and prevent overfishing. If catch is approaching or exceeding ACL, fishery managers use AM options including size limits, trip limits, gear restrictions, and closures to address. An AM may also be punitive in terms of requiring the recreational sector to pay back future quota in subsequent years when an ACL is exceeded in a prior season.

ASMFC – The Atlantic States Marine Fisheries Commission is an Interstate Compact ratified by the states and approved by the U.S. Congress in 1942; the Commission is responsible for conservation and management of 27 nearshore fish species in state waters (from shore out to 3 miles). Made up of 15 coastal states from Maine to Florida with each state sending three of their own appointed Commissioners; each state is generally represented by (1) a governor or designated appointee, (2) a state legislator or designated appointee, and (3) a staff member from the state’s fish and game department. Each state gets a single vote at ASMFC (Commissioners are not paid and are not bound by terms or term limits).

B: Biomass (B) refers to the body-weight of all the fish of one specific stock in the water; often given in tons or metric tons.

EEZ - Exclusive Economic Zone (EEZ) extends from the shoreline out to 200 nautical miles in which the country owning the shoreline has the exclusive right to conduct certain activities such as fishing. In the United States, the EEZ is split into state waters (typically from the shoreline out to 3 nautical miles) and federal waters (typically from 3 to 200 nautical miles). Often the acronym “EEZ” refers specifically to federal waters.

FMP – A Fishery Management Plan (FMP) is a strategic management plan for fisheries produced by regional fishery management councils and submitted to the Secretary of Commerce for approval.

F - Fishing Mortality (F) is a measurement of the rate at which fish are removed from a population by fishing. F exists when fishing seasons are open and also when closed as anglers catch and release untargeted species (each species has a set rate of ‘F’ for released fish).

IFQ - Individual Fishing Quota (IFQ) is a fishery management tool that allocates a certain portion of the TAC to individual vessels, fishermen, or other eligible recipients. IFQ fisheries currently exist in Atlantic surf clam, tilefish and cod, while IFQ mechanisms in the Gulf of Mexico are coordinated through a mechanism of Catch Shares in the red snapper fishery.

MAFMC - The Mid-Atlantic Fishery Management Council (MAFMC) is one of eight regional fishery management councils created when Congress passed Public Law 94-265, the Magnuson Fishery Conservation and Management Act of 1976. MAFMC is responsible for conservation and management of fishery resources within the federal 200-mile limit of the Atlantic off the coasts of New York, New Jersey, Pennsylvania, Delaware, Maryland, Virginia and North Carolina. Comprised of 21 voting members and four non-voting members; seven of the voting members represent the constituent states' fish and wildlife agencies, and 13 are private citizens nominated by the state governors and appointed by the Secretary of Commerce to fill three-year terms (members may not serve more than three consecutive terms; pays approximately $450 per day).

MRFSS – The Marine Recreational Fishing Statistical Survey (MRFSS) was launched in 1978 as a method of tracking participation trends in the recreational fishing sector; utilizing a two-pronged approach of random telephone surveys (coastal phone books) and sample dockside intercepts, MRFSS has been used to NOAA Fisheries to rigidly monitor angler harvest.

MRIP – The Marine Recreational Information Program (MRIP) is the new name assigned to MRFSS following the 2006 reauthorization of the Magnuson Stevens Act. While much of the functionality of MRFSS was redesigned in MRIP, the two-pronged approach of random surveys (now done through U.S. mail using a combination of coastal phone books and state registry databases) and dockside intercepts has been maintained. Today, MRIP results are used to by fisheries managers to monitor ACL’s in the recreational sector while administering corresponding AM’s and modifications to RHL.

MFMT – The Maximum Fishing Mortality Threshold (MFMT) is usually equivalent to the fishing mortality corresponding to maximum sustainable yield (FMSY) control rule. If current fishing mortality rates are above the F threshold, overfishing is said to be occurring.

MSY - Maximum Sustainable Yield (MSY) is the largest average harvest that can continuously be taken from a stock under existing environmental conditions. Also referred to as maximum sustained yield or sustainable catch; if harvest exists beyond MSY, biological overfishing will take place.

  • BMSY - In relation to MSY, BMSY takes into account the biomass (B) that enables a fish stock to deliver maximum sustainable yield. In theory, BMSY is the population size at the point of maximum growth rate.
  • FMSY - In relation to MSY, FMSY is the maximum rate of mortality (F) that will eventually result in a population size of BMSY.

MSA – First enacted in 1976, the Magnuson Stevens Fishery Conservation and Management Act (MSA) is the primary coastal fisheries law in the United States which created the fishery management councils and defined territorial waters. Major amendments to MSA were enacted in 1996 in the form of the Sustainable Fisheries Act; in 2007, MSA was reauthorized again which memorialized rigid rebuilding deadlines while requiring new ACL and AM requirements. The federal law is up for reauthorization again in the 115th Congress, with recreational fishing organizations pushing for reform through the Modern Fish Act (HR 2023 and S1520).

NEFMC - The New England Fishery Management Council (NEFMC) is one of eight regional councils established by federal legislation in 1976 and charged with conserving and managing fishery resources from three to 200 miles off the coasts of Maine, New Hampshire, Massachusetts, Rhode Island, and Connecticut (see MAFMC).

OFL – The Overfishing Limit (OFL) is statistical threshold set by fisheries managers to correspond with MSY. But because OFL does not account for scientific uncertainty, scientists must determine an ABC to account for data gaps; the greater the uncertainty, the lower the ABC. The Magnuson Stevens Act requires the ACL to be at or below ABC. When the size of a fish stock is smaller than the sustainable target set by NOAA Fisheries, a stock is considered Overfished. When a fish stock is being fished at an F mortality rate that exceeds the OFL set by NOAA Fisheries, that fishery is said to be experiencing Overfishing.

OY - Optimum Yield is the harvest level that achieves the greatest overall benefits to the nation, particularly with respect to food production and recreational opportunities and taking into account the protection of marine ecosystems. OY is different than MSY in that MSY considers only the biology of the species; OY is most often lower than MSY.

RHL – Recreational Harvest Limit (RHL) is the actual quota, typically assigned in millions of pounds, set for a specific fish stock and allowed to be harvested in the recreational fishing sector on an annual basis. Because of relative uncertainty in the recreational sector based on MRFSS/MRIP data, the RHL is typically lower than the recreational ACT.

SSC – Each management council has its own Scientific and Statistical Committee (SSC) which serves as primary scientific/technical advisory body within the region. The SSC provides ongoing scientific advice for fishery management decisions, including recommendations for acceptable biological catch, preventing overfishing, maximum sustainable yield, and achieving rebuilding targets, and reports on stock status and health, bycatch, habitat status, social and economic impacts of management measures, and sustainability of fishing practices.

TAC – The Total Allowable Catch (TAC) is the annual recommended/specified harvest for a particular species of fish set by a regional fisheries council from the range of acceptable biological catch (ABC).

YOY – Young of the Year (YOY) are those fish born within the past year; closely related to the term “recruitment” which measures how well a stock is performing in terms of new fish entering the population post-spawn.

By the way, while you’re attending any state or regional fish hearings, keep an ear open for a few of the other buzzwords and phrases, especially “overfishing,” “abundance,” and “experience.” These are what lawyers and scholars might refer to as terms of art. See more on page two.

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