The Mid-Atlantic Fishery Management Council (Council) and Atlantic States Marine Fisheries Commission’s Bluefish Management Board (Board) jointly recommended approval of the Bluefish Allocation and Rebuilding Amendment. The amendment updates the Fishery Management Plan goals and objectives for bluefish, initiates a rebuilding plan, establishes new allocations between the commercial and recreational sectors, implements new commercial allocations to the states, revises the process for quota transfers between sectors, and revises how the management plan accounts for management uncertainty.
Using catch data from 1981-2018, the revised sector allocations approved by the Council and Board will increase the recreational allocation from 83% to 86% of the acceptable biological catch while decreasing the commercial allocation from 17% to 14%. Recognizing that several states will lose quota due to the decision, the Council and Board decided to phase-in the allocation changes over 7 years and also committed to reviewing the approved state allocations within 5 years.
After weighing the pros and cons of shorter and longer rebuilding plan timeframes, the Council and Board also voted to select a bluefish rebuilding plan which utilizes a constant fishing mortality approach and is projected to rebuild the stock in 7 years. Rebuilding progress will be analyzed through management track stock assessments every 2 years.
The newly approved Amendment also updates the sector transfer process to allow for quota transfers in either direction between the commercial and recreational sectors. Previously, quota could only be transferred from the recreational sector to the commercial fishery. The transfers will now be capped at 10% of the acceptable biological catch for a given year. Following final consideration and implementation by NOAA Fisheries, the Atlantic States Marine Fisheries Commission will consider final approval of the Amendment at its August meeting.
In 2019, an operational stock assessment for bluefish indicated the stock was overfished, and the Council and Board subsequently decided to incorporate the rebuilding plan in the amendment. The assigned “overfished” status on bluefish led to the reduction in individual bag limits on bluefish in 2020, three fish for private anglers and five fish for those fishing on for-hire boats. Recreational harvest on an annual basis is monitored by the Marine Recreational Information Program (MRIP) and is tabulated by way of a series of dockside surveys and mailed questionnaires.
According to the New Jersey Division of Fish & Wildlife’s Marine Fisheries Administration, New Jersey commercial fishermen harvested just under 60% of its commercial allocation of bluefish in 2020, while the recreational sector in the Garden State saw its lowest recreational harvest in MRIP history by number and second lowest in terms of weight.
The Atlantic States Marine Fisheries Commission will hold their annual summer meeting from August 3 to 5 (ASMFC.org) while the Mid-Atlantic Fishery Management Council is slated to meet from August 9- 12 (MAFMC.org)