Dogfish Days at the ASMFC

A couple posts ago I recapped fishery management measures that have gone into place for spiny and smooth dogfish.  Those measures covered dogfish fisheries in federal waters, which are defined as waters between 3 and 100 miles off the coast.  Waters within 3 miles are considered state waters and fishery management in these areas is the responsibility of the states bordering them.  In order to make sure that all of the states along the U.S. Atlantic coast are at least talking to each other before they put rules in place (and hopefully ensuring those rules are consistent both between states and between state and federal waters), the Atlantic States Marine Fisheries Commission (ASMFC) meets to negotiate and set fishery management measures within state waters.  For highly migratory species like sharks, this mostly involves making sure rules are consistent between state and federal waters.  But things can get interesting if there’s contention between the states and NOAA.  Here’s how the dogfish fisheries did during last week’s ASMFC meeting.

For spiny dogfish, the ASMFC voted to approve the quota agreed upon by the Mid-Atlantic and New England Fishery Management Councils, which amount to a 20 % reduction in the 2016-2017 spiny dogfish quota from the quota set for 2015.  This may not end up being a big deal because the fishery rarely met the older quotas due to a lack of market demand, but it does provide an extra check against an anticipated dip in the spiny dogfish stock.  The ASMFC also voted to increase daily trip limits to 6,000 lbs/day from the 5,000 approved by NMFS and the councils, specifically in the northern fishery region the covers the New England states (Connecticut, Rhode Island, Massachusetts, New Hampshire, and Maine).  These states also get allocated 58 % of the available quota, with the remainder divided between the southern region (New York through North Carolina) based on historical landings.  Virginia and North Carolina are the big winners there, allocated about 10.7 % and a little over 14 % of the quota, respectively.

Things were a little more interesting for smooth dogfish, mostly because this is the first state waters quota this species has ever had.  Smooth dogs got a quota of 1,201.7 metric tons.  In addition, the ASMFC partitioned the quota between states landing smooth dogfish, with Virginia (34.8 % of the quota) and North Carolina (~28.6 %) allocated the most.  One of the more interesting developments in smooth dogfish management is the fallout from the Shark Conservation Act of 2010.  That act effectively prohibited shark finning (defined as removing fins from the shark at sea, requiring fishermen to land the whole shark) in U.S. waters, with the exception of smooth dogfish, which can be processed at sea by vessels targeting them.  While the hands of NMFS and any other U.S. fishery management agency are tied by this literal act of Congress, they do have some leeway in defining what counts as “targeting” smooth dogfish in order to prevent bad actors from landing piles of other shark fins claiming them as smooth dogfish.  The federal councils decided to define targeting as a catch made up of at least 25 % smooth dogfish and the discussion was brought up at the ASMFC meeting to make this rule consistent in state waters.  However, this requires an amendment to the current state-level coastal sharks fishery management plan, so the issue (and hopefully the necessary amendment) will come back at the next ASMFC meeting in May.