By Charles Witek
The National Marine Fisheries Service (NMFS) imposed emergency regulations on the shortfin mako shark fishery in early March, and is now considering new, permanent rules to help protect the declining mako population. However, in state waters, the new rules do not apply to all anglers.
That’s because NMFS generally does not have jurisdiction over state-waters shark fisheries, although it can regulate the actions of fishermen who hold federal Highly Migratory Species permits, regardless of where they pursue their quarry. Instead, such fisheries are governed solely by the states which, on the Atlantic Coast, act pursuant to the Atlantic States Marine Fisheries Commission’s (ASMFC) Interstate Fishery Management Plan for Coastal Sharks (Management Plan).
The Management Plan isn’t automatically amended to embrace changes to federal shark fishing rules. Instead, as ASMFC explains, “[The Management Plan] currently allows for commercial quotas, possession limits, and season dates to be set annually through [Coastal Shark Management] Board approved specifications. All other changes to commercial or recreational management can only be accomplished through an addendum or emergency action…While addenda can be completed in a relatively short period of time (less than 6 months), the timing of the addenda and state implementation can result in inconsistencies between state and federal shark regulations…Inconsistencies can create confusion for anglers and commercial fishermen, present challenges for law enforcement, and most importantly, undermine the conservation of the resource.”
That problem, as exemplified by the shortfin mako situation last spring, caused ASMFC to release a new Draft Addendum V to the Management Plan (Draft Addendum), and seek public comment on proposals to make ASMFC more responsive to changes in federal shark regulations.
As usual, one option in the Draft Addendum is to do nothing, and make no changes to the Management Plan. As suggested by ASMFC’s comments, quoted above, that is not a viable course of action.
Two other options are included in the Draft Addendum. One would allow ASMFC’s Coastal Shark Management Board (Management Board) to establish all required management measures, and not merely commercial quotas, seasons and possession limits, through annual specifications. While that would certainly be an improvement over the current process, it could still lead to unnecessary delay in adopting needed management measures, since in-season management measures, proposed after the annual specifications are set, could only be adopted if two-thirds of the Management Board agree.
The final option, designated “Option 3,” would authorize the Management Board to adopt new management measures whenever new scientific information or changes in federal rules suggest that such measures are needed. Such Option 3 would provide the Management Board with the greatest flexibility to respond to changes in the fishery, and would best protect the coastal shark resource.
ASMFC will be accepting comments on the Draft Addendum until 5:00 p.m. on October 1. Comments may be mailed to
Kirby Rootes-Murdy, Senior FMP Coordinator
Atlantic States Marine Fisheries Commission
1050 North Highland Street, Suite 200 A-N
Arlington, VA 22201
They may also be emailed to firstname.lastname@example.org, with the subject line “Draft Addendum V”.
We urge readers to comment on the Draft Addendum, and to support Option 3.