Planning for the future of the East Coast monkfish fishery has begun, and a May 4 online session will be a kickoff for fishermen to participate in the process.

The New England Fishery Management Council initiated the Framework 13 Adjustment to the federal monkfish management plan at its April 12-14 meeting in Mystic, Conn., an update to the plan that happens every three years.

According to an outline from the council, Framework 13 will include specifications for the 2023-2025 monkfish fishing years. The council will also look at developing possible moves to:

• Revise days-at-sea allocations and possession limits, including the incidental possession limit;

• Management measures to reduce monkfish discards in the Southern Fishery Management Area;

• Requiring 12-inch mesh for monkfish gillnets;

• Requiring vessel monitoring systems (VMS) across the monkfish fishery.

The last two issues of 12-inch mesh and vessel monitoring are lowest priority because most of the fleet — estimated at around 95 percent — use 12-inch, and likewise, around 90 percent have monitoring. Resolving those would just be a matter of consistency if the council wants to do it.

The council wants to hear from fishermen on May 4 and beyond to help develop Framework 13, and to developing a coming monkfish fishery performance report.

The council and its monkfish committee need more information to “better understand present conditions in the fishery and interpret data related to trends in and relationships between landings and abundance,” according to a council advisory.

The monkfish fishery diverges between its northern area, where most fish are caught in trawling, and the southern area with its directed gillnet fishery. NEFMC graphic.

Among those trends, they are looking to get a handle on are prices and demand. Despite Covid receding from its peak of mayhem in the markets, landings in the southern management area are down for reasons that remain unclear.

Monkfish are scheduled for a Management Track Stock Assessment in 2022, with a peer review in September 2022. Those findings will help guide the monkfish committee’s work. The council recommended that the Northeast Fisheries Science Center consider recent monkfish discard mortality research in the management track assessment.

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Associate Editor Kirk Moore was a reporter for the Asbury Park Press for more than 30 years and a 25-year field editor for National Fisherman before joining our Commercial Marine editorial staff in 2015. He wrote several award-winning stories on marine, environmental, coastal and military issues that helped drive federal and state government policy changes. Moore was awarded the Online News Association 2011 Knight Award for Public Service for the “Barnegat Bay Under Stress,” 2010 series that led to the New Jersey state government’s restoration plan. He lives in West Creek, N.J.

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