Move Brings Region's
Fishery into Compliance
with Court Decision
NMFS Northeast Region
N E W SGloucester, Mass.– NOAA Fisheries has announced its plan to get the region's summer flounder fishery rules into compliance with a recent federal court decision. The NOAA Fisheries plan will not change the allowable landings for this year, but the 2001 quota will be set to assure that rebuilding of this important commercial and recreational fish stock is on schedule.
"We have put a priority on meeting the court's requirements," said Patricia Kurkul, regional administrator for NOAA Fisheries in the Northeast, "however, this fishing year is nearing its last quarter and changing the 2000 quota now would have few practical effects."
The successful challenge to the plan was filed by environmental groups. The court found that the quota was one of the most reliable measures used in the plan, and ruled that this number should be set at a level that has at least a 50% probability of achieving the target fishing mortality rate for the year.
The quota in 1999, without considering the effects of any other plan measure, was estimated to have only an 18% probability of achieving the target fishing mortality rate for that year. The 2000 quota alone is similarly estimated to have a 25% probability of achieving the target fishing mortality rate for the year.
To comply with the court decision, the agency is revising requirements for the 2001 quota, setting a biomass target for 2001 rather than a fishing mortality target. The resulting 2001 quota will have at least a 50% probability of achieving the biomass (total weight) that should be present by the end of 2001 if fishing mortality in 1999, 2000, and 2001 did not exceed the plan target.
"Fortunately, early indications from the stock assessment are that the rebuilding effort is not too far off track," says Kurkul. A report issued in July indicates that while the fishing mortality rate in 1999 exceeded the target in the plan, the stock has responded to recovery measures and biomass has increased since 1991 and been relatively stable since 1994. "I anticipate that after adjustments, the 2001 quota will not be radically different from those of recent years since the plan measures have improved stock condition," she says.
The agency is also allowing any underharvest of an individual state's commercial quota this year to be added to that state's quota in 2001. "This provision will assure that any states that have taken action to encourage harvesters to conserve fish for the remainder of this year will benefit from that restraint," says Kurkul.
After the court decision, NOAA Fisheries advised the states and permit holders that the quota for 2000 would be revised as a result of the finding, and appealed for immediate, voluntary restraint on harvest to defray the amount of adjustment in the quota that might be needed to meet the court's requirements.
The changes announced today are being issued as an interim emergency rule. Final action on the 2001 quota will be undertaken through the process outlined in the plan, involving both the Mid-Atlantic Fishery Management Council and the Atlantic States Marine Fishery Commission. That process was unchanged by the court ruling.