Regulation Database – Fishery Management Councils

The Fish and Wildlife Service, based on authority provided by the Magnuson-Stevens Act of 1976, has created eight regions for fisheries management. Each region operates under the purview of a Fisheries Management Council, whose members include fishing industry representatives as well as conservation advocates. Councils seek to strike a sustainable balance by setting catch limits and other rules.

Fishery Management Councils

In July of 2013, The Pacific Fishery Management Council published the Pacific Coast Fishery Ecosystem Plan for the U.S. Portion of the California Current Large Marine Ecosystem. The plan’s purpose is to enhance the Pacific Fishery Management Council’s species-specific management programs, with specific attention paid to improving the council’s information regarding climate change and human-induced impacts to marine ecosystems. Changes in ocean temperature, acidity, and deep-water oxygen are assessed at the global scale, while upwelling patterns, changes in phenology, and interannual patterns are studied at the local and regional level. The plan calls for increased incorporation of scientific data on these topics into their management strategies in order to assess how fish populations will change in size and location over in the future.

In March 2017, the Council published the Ecosystem Initiatives Appendix to the Pacific Coast Fishery Ecosystem Plan for the U.S. Portion of the California Current Large Marine Ecosystem to “provide[] examples of how the Council could address issues that affect two or more Council FMPs or coordinate major Council policies across the FMPs to fulfill identified FEP needs.”

The Council adopted revised versions of Chapters 1 and 2 of the Plan in March 2020.  The revisions include linguistic changes to the Plan’s Vision, Purpose, Goals, and Objectives, and procedural changes in regards to “reviewing and updating the FEP,” and annual schedules for the California Current Ecosystem Status Report.

As of April 2020, the Ecosystem Workgroup was “reviewing and revising FEP Chapter 3,” and the final draft was to be submitted at the September 2020 Council meeting for adoption.

In 2009 the Western Pacific Fishery Management Council published 5 Fishery Ecosystem Plans that replace the Fishery Management Plans (FMP) that were previously in use. While the Fishery Management Plans dictated how the council would management five different species, the Fishery Ecosystem Plans (FEPs) dictate how the council will manage five geographical areas. These FEPs represent the shift toward ecosystem-based approaches to fishery management, and map out how the Council will reorganize itself to accommodate this new approach. The five Fishery Ecosystem Plans are the American Samoa Fishery FEP, Hawaii FEP, Marianas FEP, Pacific Remote Islands Area FEP, and the Pelagic FEP. The purpose of this shift is the recognition that “many of Earth’s marine resources are stressed and the ecosystems that support them are degraded.” In order to restore resiliency and promote restoration of these habitats an ecosystem-based approach is shown to be more successful, as it takes into account the interactions and relationships of species within an ecosystem rather than one species in isolation. While anthropogenic climate change is not explicitly listed as a cause of degradation, the plans recognize the effects of climate change on coral reef habitats and also call for the creation of a Regional Ecosystem Advisory Committee to investigate “land-based and non-fishing activities that potentially affect the marine environment.” Through these measures, the Council has built into its FEPs the ability to address climate change and to preserve biodiverse ecosystems.

Since codification of the structural changes in 2010, the following amendments have been made:





In August of 2009, the North Pacific Fishery Management Council approved a new Fishery Management Plan (FMP) for Fish Resources of the Arctic Management Area in compliance with the Magnuson-Stevens Act. The plan recognizes that climate change and melting sea ice will create conditions in which commercial fishers may want to develop in the Alaskan Arctic Exclusive Economic Zone (EEZ). In response to these climactic changes, the FMP states, “All federal waters of the U.S. Arctic will be closed to commercial fishing for any species of finfish, mollusks, crustaceans, and all other forms of marine animal and plant life.” Using an ecosystem-based management approach, the FMP protects Arctic marine resources from potential adverse effects of commercial fishing and addresses the impacts of climate change on species’ ranges and resiliency.

In September 2011, The Gulf of Mexico Fishery Management Council passed the Generic Annual Catch Limits/Accountability Measures Amendment for the Council’s Red Drum, Reef Fish, Shrimp, Coral and Coral Reefs. In compliance with the Magnuson-Stevens Act’s requirement to prevent overfishing, the amendment specifies overfishing limits, annual catch limits, and optimal yield limits, and also implements accountability measures if these limits are not met. When determining optimal limits, the amendment recognizes the potential negative effects of climate change, although states that “the extent of these effects are not known at this time.” However, the amendment includes a list of potential stressors from climate change including temperature changes, organism metabolic changes, decreases in marine productivity, altered species interactions, changes in precipitation patterns, and species susceptibility to predators. The new measures implemented by this amendment could “decrease the carbon footprint from fishing if some fishermen stop or reduce their number and duration of trips due to the establishment of catch limits.” Additionally, the amendment notes the Deepwater Horizon oil spill as a negative impact on the environment that may affect species populations over time.

In October of 2009, The South Atlantic Fishery Management Council passed Amendment 6 to the Fishery Management Plan for Coral, Coral Reefs, and Live/hardbottom Habitats of the South Atlantic Region, included under the Comprehensive Ecosystem-Based Amendment 1 for the South Atlantic Region (CE-BA 1). The amendment alters the Coral FMP to establish Coral Habitat Areas of Particular Concern (CHAPCs) with the goal of protecting coral reef ecosystems from degradation. The amendment prohibits all use of “bottom damaging” fishing gear, which includes bottom longline, trawl, dredge, anchors, pot or trap, etc. While the amendment does not mention climate change as a contributing factor to coral degradation, the preservation of coral habitats will improve the resiliency of marine ecosystems and help to mitigate the effects of climate change on marine resources.

On December 30th, 2011 the South Atlantic Fishery Management Council passed the Comprehensive Ecosystem-Based Amendment 2 for the South Atlantic Region. The Amendment includes the South Atlantic Region’s Amendment 1 to the FMP for Pelagic Sargassum Habitat of the South Atlantic Region (Sargassum FMP); Amendment 7 to the FMP for Coral, Coral reefs, and Live/Hard Bottom Habitats of the South Atlantic Region (Coral FMP); and Amendment 25 to the FMP for the Snapper-Grouper Fishery of the South Atlantic Region (Snapper-Grouper FMP). It also includes the South Atlantic and Gulf of Mexico Fishery Management Councils’ Amendment 21 to the FMP for Coastal Migratory Pelagic (CMP) Resources (CMP FMP). Noteworthy changes brought about by this amendment include the establishment of Annual Catch Limits (ACL) for species not currently overfished, the designation of 2 new Essential Fish Habitat (EFH) for Sargassum and Habitat Areas of Particular Concern (EFH-HAPCs) for Snapper-Grouper and Coral FMPs.

Included as part of the Comprehensive Ecosystem-Based Amendment 2 (CE-BA 2), Amendment 7, effective January 30, 2012, “specif[ies] the annual catch limit (ACL) for octocorals in the South Atlantic region.”  (parenthesis original). In particular, it modifies the fishery management unit for octocorals under the Plan to specify that octocorals are included in the exclusive economic zone off of North Carolina, South Carolina, and Georgia.

Amendment 8, effective August 17, 2015, expanded the Stetson-Miami TerraceDeepwater Coral Habitat Area of Particular Concern (HAPC), the Cape Lookout Deepwater Coral HAPC, and the Oculina Bank HAPC.  The Amendment also implemented a transit provision through the Oculina Bank HAPC.

Amendment 9, developed under the Joint Generic Dealer Reporting Amendment became effective on August 7, 2014.  Relevant to the Plan, the Rule “creates a single dealer permit . . . that is required to first receive the species currently covered by the six dealer permits. . . . A Gulf and South Atlantic dealer permit is not required to first receive South Atlantic coral, South Atlantic pelagic Sargassum, Gulf coral and coral reef species, and Gulf and South Atlantic penaeid shrimp species.”  Fisheries of the Caribbean, Gulf of Mexico, and South Atlantic; Revisions to Dealer Permitting and Reporting Requirements for Species Managed by the Gulf of Mexico and South Atlantic Fishery Management Councils, 79 Fed. Reg. 19,490 (Apr. 9, 2014) (codified at 50 CFR pt. 622).

The Council is currently developing Amendment 10 that would “allow[] fishing areas for golden crab [and] rock shrimp.”  Coral Fishery Management Plan / Amendments.

On August 12th 2011, NOAA approved the Mid-Atlantic Fishery Management Council’s Omnibus Amendment created in conjunction with the National Marine Fisheries Service. The Amendment applies to 6 of the Council’s Fishery Management Plans, and includes Amendment 13 to the Atlantic Mackerel, Squids, and Butterfish FMP; Amendment 3 to the Bluefish FMP; Amendment 2 to the Spiny Dogfish FMP; Amendment 15 to the Summer Flounder, Scup, and Black Sea Bass FMP; Amendment 16 to the Surfclam and Ocean Quahog FMP; and Amendment 3 to the Tilefish FMP. The Omnibus Amendment sets Annual Catch Limits and Accountability Measures, in compliance with the Magnuson-Stevens Fishery Conservation and Management Reauthorization Act of 2006. Through the prevention and ending of overfishing, marine resources will be more resilient to the effects of climate change. However, the Amendment fails to take climate change into account when determining Annual Catch Limits, stating that climate change is “beyond the scope of NMFS and Council Management.”

In 2017, the Council approved the Fisheries of the Northeastern United States Midatlantic Unmanaged Forage Omnibus Amendment in order to “prevent the development of new, and the expansion of existing, commercial fisheries on certain forage species until the Council has adequate opportunity and information to evaluate the potential impacts of forage fish harvest in existing fisheries, fishing communities, and the marine ecosystem.”

In 2019, the Council recommended implementation of management measures intended to provide more flexibility in the commercial and recreational fisheries for specific types of species.

The Council approved Amendment 21 to the Summer Flounder, Scup, and black Sea Bass Fishery Management Plan, which would change the summer flounder commercial state quota allocation system and fishery management plan goals and objectives.

Effective December 15, 2020, the Council changed its risk policy by “accepting a higher level of risk for stocks at or above biomass targets [which] could lead to increases in catch limits for healthy fisheries managed by the Council.”

On October 1st, 2014 the New England Fishery Management Council published a draft of Omnibus Essential Fish Habitat Amendment 2, which would apply to seven of the Council’s Fishery Management Plans. In compliance with the Magnuson-Stevens Fishery Conservation Management Act, the amendment—if passed—would minimize the negative effects of fishing on Essential Fish Habitat (EFH) through stricter regulations. It would also designate Habitat Areas of Particular Concern (HAPCs), which would require higher standards of protection and attention from the Council and Federal State Actions. One of the criterion for determining the location of an HAPC is “sensitivity to anthropogenic stresses.” As a result of this designation, ecosystems particularly at risk from climate change would have higher levels of protection. The Amendment was approved by the Council in June 2015, and went into effect on April 9, 2018. 

The Council published a  final Omnibus Deep-Sea Coral Amendment on January 2, 2020.

In a rule effective June 18, 2020 the Council also “establishe[d] three areas within the Great South Channel Habitat Management Area whether vessels may fish for Atlantic surfclams or blue mussels with dredge gear.”  

On December 30th, 2011 NOAA approved the Caribbean Fishery Management Council’s Annual Catch Limit Amendment. The Amendment sets Annual Catch Limits and Accountability Measures for reef fish, spiny lobster, queen conch resources, and corals and reef associated plants and invertebrates, in compliance with the Magnuson-Stevens Fishery Conservation and Management Reauthorization Act of 2006. Through the prevention and ending of overfishing, marine resources will be more resilient to the effects of climate change.