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by Kenneth Erickson, FWCB Class of 2018

When it comes to managing marine fisheries, no law is more influential than the Magnuson-Stevens Act. As part of this law, the National Marine Fisheries Service (NMFS) must implement accountability measures in the event that a stock is overfished. At the same time, conservation issues also involve input from the stakeholders. One of the primary concerns on the minds of stakeholders in fisheries is the case of allocation, or deciding who gets how many fish. Both legislation and stakeholders played a role in my work this spring at CMAST with Dr. Louis Daniel to learn about the development of a fishery management plan for cobia.

In both 2016 and 2017, NMFS closed the cobia fishery as an accountability measure in response to landings that nearly doubled the quota. This meant that no cobia could be landed more than three miles from shore. Not only was this a conservation issue because of the limits it imposed on an overfished stock, but also because states catch their fish in different areas. So, while this closure may have reduced the season in states such as Georgia, states such as North Carolina, that catch a large number inshore were able to keep their fishery going. This creates an economic impact as trips have to be cancelled and less cobia gear is sold if there is a federal closure. In my experience, this was one of many examples of decisions in fisheries management that are tradeoffs, in this case as a closure would protect the fish, but hurts the economy.

Tradeoffs are why the Atlantic States Marine Fisheries Commission is working to institute a coast wide management plan. The fishery management plan that I worked with tried to solve both the issue of overfishing and socioeconomic impact. These are simply two of the factors that make marine fisheries management a complex challenge for biologists. If the quota was to be split or managed cooperatively between the states, then states would be able to regulate their state fisheries more efficiently and keep landings closer to the quota. It would also allow for states to plan their economic seasons and update the recreational fishing industry about their progress towards a closure. One thing I’ve taken away from my Semester @ CMAST, is that as a future fisheries manager I need to prepare to think about different aspects and perspectives before acting.