Emergency action to temporarily boost the Gulf of Maine haddock catch is needed to avoid potential shutdowns during the 2023 groundfish fishing year that starts May 1, the New England Fishery Management Council said.

The council is asking the National Marine Fisheries Service to take emergency action “to address a critical Gulf of Maine haddock situation that is expected to result in significant fishery impacts during the 2023 groundfish fishing year,” according to a statement issued Thursday as the council wrapped up a three-day meeting at Mystic, Conn.

Council members learned that “fishermen have been encountering Gulf of Maine haddock at very high catch rates,” according to the council. “The proposed 2023 annual catch limit (ACL), however, is extremely low.”

One fishermen told of making one single trip when he caught so much haddock that it was equivalent to what his entire allocation will be for the 2023 season. Other fishermen have warned that an early shutdown of the fishery is very likely, with major impacts as a result.

Even without targeting haddock, fishermen need haddock quota to account for bycatch while harvesting other species. The haddock quota as now proposed is part of Framework Adjustment 65 to the Northeast Multispecies Fishery Management Plan for 2023-2025, which is now undergoing review at NMFS.

In a detailed explanation, council officials offered their rationale for voting to ask NMFS for a step-up in the allowable biological catch. The motion approved by members recommends emergency action to set the Gulf of Maine haddock ABC at 90 percent of the fishing mortality rate (F) at maximum sustainable yield (MSY).

That would be an increase from the 1,936-metric ton allowable biological catch now in Framework 36, with 75 percent fishing mortality rate which is calculated to carry a  27.1 percent probability of overfishing.

Going to 90 percent would potentially result in a 2,281-mt ABC, marking a 345-mt increase over what was submitted in Framework 65 – raising a 40 percent probability of overfishing.

“While 345 mt of additional Gulf of Maine haddock wouldn’t be enough to sustain a widescale targeted fishery, industry members told the council it would increase their ability to work on other species longer into the fishing year with more haddock available to cover bycatch or unintentional large haddock tows,” according to the council.

Haddock are assessed at 270 percent of the council’s target biomass, so members say the temporary boost is well within their risk tolerance, and “will provide much needed economic and social relief for both the commercial and recreational components of the groundfish fishery and their dependent communities.”

While overfishing is occurring, the stock at 270 percent of target is not overfished, according to the council.

After looking at recent catch rates it appears that a Gulf of Maine fishery closure could happen as soon as August. Council officials said they are “unwilling to risk a 2023 Gulf of Maine fishery closure simply to conduct its standard rulemaking process given that emergency action in this situation was warranted.”

New England Fishery Management Council graphic.

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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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