Goals and Strategies for Rebuilding New England Groundfish Stocks

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Depleted stocks, Reference points, Groundfish, Overfishing, Adaptive management, Rebuilding goals

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Rebuilding depleted fishery resources is a worldwide problem. In the U.S., the Magnuson Stevens Fishery Conservation and Management Reauthorization Act (MSRA) of 2007 requires that “Conservation and management measures shall prevent overfishing while achieving, on a continuing basis, the optimum yield from each fishery…”. However, translating this legal mandate into tangible goals and actions presents several technical challenges, especially for resources that have been chronically over-exploited. For example, maximum sustainable yields and biomass reference points are poorly estimated for stocks that have been overfished for a long period of time and are poorly defined unless sufficient data are available from periods of low-fishing mortality rates and relatively high-stock sizes. The conundrum of how to set meaningful rebuilding goals given limited information on the population dynamics and trophic interactions of a rebuilt stock can generally be addressed through adaptive management procedures incorporating learning about density-dependent population dynamics. Monitoring changes in life history parameters and recruitment is critical for successful rebuilding strategies realizing the full yield potential of rebuilt stocks while periodic re-evaluation of rebuilding targets is also needed to address uncertainties due to density dependence, trophic interactions or environmental factors. This paper summarizes the development and implementation of goals and strategies to rebuild New England groundfish stocks over the past decade. Management is particularly challenging because the true yield and population size potentials of these interacting stocks is unknown due to chronic overfishing throughout the modern history of the fishery, uncertainty in compensatory/depensatory population dynamics and in the degree of stationarity in environmental control of groundfish recruitment.

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Citation / Publisher Attribution

Fisheries Research, v. 94, issue 3, p. 355-366