Managers Focus on Shifts & Changes in Fisheries Movement Along the Atlantic Coast

(NEWSLETTER - Spring 2019)


Things are changing in fisheries. Some species are being found in locations where fishermen haven’t seen them before. In other locations, species once thought plentiful are no longer there. Are stocks migrating northward and shifting their locations or simply expanding (or contracting) their ranges? Is climate change responsible?


Fishery managers are exploring ways to address shifts in stocks across jurisdictional boundaries, looking at both scientific and management needs. In March, representatives from both the Mid-Atlantic and New England Councils met with members of the South Atlantic Council during its scheduled meeting in Jekyll Island, GA, to continue discussions on how to best approach necessary changes to address these issues.


“The Mid-Atlantic Council has been involved with climate change in fisheries for a while,” explained Dr. Chris Moore, Executive Director of the Mid-Atlantic Fishery Management Council, referencing a series of workshops held in 2015 to address climate change concerns. More recently, following the 2017 Northeast Region Coordinating Council meeting, Dr. Moore noted that 21 species in the South Atlantic Council’s Snapper Grouper management complex were added to vessel trip reports (VTRs) required from federally permitted vessels in the Mid-Atlantic and New England regions for data collection purposes. The addition is designed to better document catches of species, such as blueline tilefish, groupers, and king mackerel, that continue to be encountered more frequently north of traditional fishing grounds along the Atlantic coast.



During the March South Atlantic Council meeting, managers reviewed catches along the Atlantic coasts and noted data needs for stock assessments and challenges in working collaboratively. “One of the key factors [for data] is having fishery-independent surveys working across jurisdictions with a common methodology that captures as many of these species as possible,” explained Dr. Clay Porch, Director of the NOAA Fisheries Southeast Fisheries Science Center in Miami, FL. During the meeting, it was noted that an Atlantic Coast Science Coordination Workshop is being scheduled in 2019 involving the Southeast Science Center, and the Greater Atlantic Science Center to continue to address data needs and collaboration as species movement occurs.


“The reality is there are three fishery management councils, 15 states and one commission involved, so for better or worse, the east coast has the most complex management program in the country,” said Robert Beal, Executive Director of the Atlantic States Marine Fisheries Commission (ASMFC). “Allocation is hard, no matter how you do it, and reallocation is even worse. Somebody is going to get more fish, and somebody is going to get less fish…that’s not an easy thing to do.” Beal noted the ongoing management issues with black sea bass off the Mid-Atlantic coast now being seen off the coasts of Connecticut and other southern New England states. The shifting stock, which is managed by both the Mid-Atlantic Council and the ASMFC, is causing tensions between states and managers.


During the same meeting, managers agreed to form two groups to address the identified management challenges:

  1. Group 1 will address Science/Data – The Northeast and Southeast Fisheries Science Centers are leading this effort and a workshop is to be held in 2019. The councils want to be involved in the workshop/discussions, in part to ensure ongoing fishery-independent data collection programs continue (e.g., SEAMAP, NEAMAP, SEFIS, and State programs). The South Atlantic Council’s Citizen Science Program is exploring a mechanism for the public to act as an early warning system to report when new species show up in an area.
  2. Group 2 will address Governance – The executive directors, chairs, and vice-chairs from the New England, Mid-Atlantic, and South Atlantic councils and the ASMFC Executive Director will work to develop a way to manage these species that clearly identifies each group’s roles/responsibilities without any group losing authority. This group will designate staff from their respective organizations to evaluate various approaches, and the group will meet periodically this year, working together to develop a strategy to address management needs.



NOAA Plans for Fisheries Science and Management in the Face of Climate Change

There are numerous challenges facing fisheries management under changing climate and ocean conditions. A new report from NOAA Fisheries identifies these challenges and makes recommendations on how NOAA can better detect, understand, assess, and manage shifting distributions and changing productivity of marine species with changing climate and ocean conditions.

Feature from NOAA Fisheries:


Adaptation Strategies of Coastal Fishing Communities as Species Shift Poleward

Migration of species northward impacts fishing communities as well. A recent article from ICES Journal of Marine Science shows how fishing communities have adapted over time, with a focus on eastern NC. Read more at:


Read the Recent Article about the study from The New Food Economy – As warming waters push fish north, fishing communities have little choice but to follow

[Back to e-Newsletter - South Atlantic Update, Spring 2019]