The National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration’s National Marine Fisheries Service (NOAA Fisheries) should reject a new proposal for managing Atlantic mackerel because the plan would not do enough to reverse overfishing of the species. That’s the message in a Dec. 21, 2022, letter from The Pew Charitable Trusts, the Conservation Law Foundation, the Natural Resources Defense Council, and Bennett Nickerson Environmental Consulting to NOAA Fisheries’ Greater Atlantic Regional Fisheries Office, which oversees federal management of Atlantic mackerel.
The proposal—technically an amendment to a larger management plan—was submitted by the Mid-Atlantic Fishery Management Council, which had chosen catch levels from among a range of options for helping to rebuild the Atlantic mackerel population. The groups signing the Dec. 21 letter urged NOAA Fisheries to send the proposal back to the council and request that it instead submit the most conservative alternative from those options.
Atlantic mackerel is vital prey for numerous marine predators, including whales, dolphins, tuna, and sharks, but is overfished and, as with many similarly important forage species, its population has declined dramatically in recent decades.
The Magnuson-Stevens Fishery Conservation and Management Act, the principal law governing marine fisheries in the United States, mandates that fishery managers move to end overfishing immediately when a stock is overfished and implement a rebuilding plan that recovers the stock in as short a time as possible—generally within 10 years.
Although the Mid-Atlantic Fishery Management Council’s plan would limit mackerel fishing, the alternative approach supported by the letter’s signers would leave significantly more fish in the ocean, end overfishing, and rebuild this critical species of forage fish to the benefit of the marine ecosystem and coastal communities.
“It is not too late for [NOAA Fisheries] and the council to change course and rebuild the mackerel stock,” the letter stated. The recommended alternative “follows the best available science, establishes a rebuilding trajectory that immediately ends overfishing … and ensures the highest overall probability of recovering the overfished Atlantic mackerel stock.”