Annual Catch Limits: Northeast


Annual Catch Limits (ACLs)

Overview of the ACL-Setting Process

In 2006, amendments to the Magnuson-Stevens Act (MSA) included additional requirements to prevent and end overfishing and rebuild overfished stocks. The added measures require regional fishery management councils to amend their fishery management plans to include a mechanism for specifying annual catch limits (ACLs) for all stocks or stock complexes at a level such that overfishing does not occur and to implement measures to ensure accountability for adhering to these limits. The MSA further directed that, unless otherwise provided for under an international agreement to which the U.S. participates, this mechanism had to be established by 2010 for stocks subject to overfishing, and by 2011 for all other stocks. ACLs are required for all federally managed stocks, whether the FMP includes a catch share program or not.

ACL Graphic According to NMFS’s National Standard Guidelines, a regional fishery management council’s ACL for a stock may not exceed the acceptable biological catch (ABC)  recommendation of the council’s Scientific and Statistical Committee (SSC) for that stock. The ABC is a range of allowable catch for a stock that incorporates consideration of the stock’s life history and reproductive potential, vulnerability to overfishing, and uncertainty associated with factors such as stock assessment results, time lags in updating assessments, retrospective revision of assessment results, and projections. The National Standard Guidelines allow a council to divide an ACL for a stock into sub-ACLs. An example of sub-ACLs are the annual catch entitlements (ACEs) allocated to sectors in the Northeast Multispecies Sector Program; each participant in a sector contributes their potential sector contribution (PSC). The ACL is also the level of annual catch of a stock that serves as the basis for invoking accountability measures (AMs) when the quota is exceeded. AMs are management controls to minimize both the frequency and magnitude of ACL overages and to correct or mitigate in as short a time as possible overages that occur.

Accountability Measures

In the Northeast Multispecies Sector Program, the following AMs apply to sectors:

  • If a sector exceeds its quota for any stock allocated to a sector, the sector will be prohibited from fishing in the stock area for that stock, until such time that it has acquired additional quota from another sector.
  • Any overages at the end of the fishing year will be deducted from that sector’s quota of each stock for the following fishing year.  A sector can balance such an overage by acquiring quota from another sector.
  • If a sector disbands at the end of a fishing year following an overage, but does not have sufficient quota to cover the overage, an appropriate days-at-sea, sector share penalty, or fishing prohibition will apply to each permit during the following fishing year, depending on whether that permit enters the common pool, or another sector.
  • In addition to sector-specific AMs, a sector may be subject to AMs for non-allocated stocks (i.e., stocks for which the sector does not have any quota) resulting from an overage of the overall quota.
Trends in Annual Catch Limits

The charts provided below show the Sector allocation of ACLs, known as Annual Catch Entitlement (ACE), for allocated stocks in the Northeast Multispecies Sector Program from fishing year (FY) 2010 through 2017. As discussed by Brinson and Thunberg (2013), catch share programs do not directly affect decisions about ACLs, but indirectly affect those determinations because catch share programs are typically implemented coincident with enhanced catch accounting and monitoring requirements, which can reduce management uncertainty and scientific uncertainty. Provisions of the Northeast Multispecies Sector Program, including the AMs listed above, together with increased levels of at-sea observer coverage, are expected to contribute to a reduction in uncertainty. However, sub-ACLs for several allocated stocks in 2013 were at a low for the 2010-2017 time period. For many stocks we’ve seen substantial cuts since the implementation of the catch share program: eastern GB cod (-85.5 percent), western GB cod (-81.9 percent), GOM cod (-93.7 percent), GB yellowtail flounder (-74.1 percent), CC/GOM yellowtail flounder (-55.3 percent), American plaice flounder (-56.5 percent), GB winter flounder (-67.9 percent), SNE/MA yellowtail flounder (-35.6 percent) and witch flounder (-56.3 percent). For 7 stocks (including all haddock stocks), sector ACEs were higher in FY 2017 than in FY 2010.

Information Sources

Brinson, A. and E. Thunberg. 2013. The Economic Performance of U.S. Catch Share Programs.

National Marine Fisheries Service, NOAA Technical Memorandum NMFS-F/SPO-133. National Marine Fisheries Service. 2009. NMFS’s National Standards Guidelines.

National Marine Fisheries Service, Greater Atlantic Regional Office. 2015. Northeast Multispecies.