WEST COAST GROUNDFISH FISHERY
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 fishery management plan includes a catch share program or not.
According to the National Standard Guidelines of the National Marine Fisheries Service, 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 single value selected from a range of possible values based on 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. Examples of sub-ACLs are the West Coast’s sector-specific ACLs, which determine the quota pounds (QP) allocated to vessels in the West Coast Shorebased IFQ Program.
A suite of accountability measures applies to all sectors of the groundfish fleet, including in-season catch monitoring and adjustments to keep within specified harvest guidelines. Other accountability measures used in the overall management framework to respond to sector-specific ACLs for overfished species include automatic closure of sectors, depth restrictions, and changes in season length. In addition to all the existing measures in the management framework, the following specific accountability measures apply to the Shorebased IFQ program:
- If a vessel exceeds its quota for any stock on a trip, it must be covered with QP within 30 days of the time that data or documentation from the trip shows there is an overage.
- If the overage is within the carryover provision, the vessel has 30 days (or a reasonable time, whichever is greater) after the QPs for the following year are issued.
- For any vessel with an overage (catch not covered by QP), fishing that is within the scope of the IFQ program will be prohibited until the overage is covered, regardless of the amount of the overage, using QP from the following year(s), if necessary.
- Limited entry permits attached to vessels with an overage may not be sold or transferred until the deficit is cleared.
- A carryover allowance is intended to allow surplus QP in a vessel’s QP account to be carried over from one year to the next or allow a deficit in a vessel’s QP account for one year to be carried over and covered with QP from a subsequent year. However, the surplus carryover provisions can only be implemented when the groundfish fishery ACL has been set below the ABC. Surplus QP may not be carried over for more than one year.
- The carryover allowance is limited to up to 10 percent carryover for each species.
- Observers must monitor the sorting of catch, and the weighing and discarding of any individual bycatch quota and IFQ species.
- The sorting, weighing, and reporting of any IFQ species must be monitored by a shoreside landings monitor.
Trends in Annual Catch Limits
The charts provided (see below) show the ACLs for allocated stocks in the Shorebased IFQ Program from 2011 through 2017. In general, there has not been large variability in ACLs over the seven-year period, and for some stocks ACLs increased considerably in recent years. 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 Shorebased IFQ Program, including the accountability measures listed above, together with increased levels of at-sea observer coverage, are expected to contribute to a reduction in uncertainty.
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. National Standards Guidelines.
Pacific Fishery Management Council. 2010. Groundfish Fishery Management Plan, Appendix E. Description of Trawl Rationalization (Catch Shares) Program.