South Atlantic Fishery Management Council

Federal Fishery Managers Move Forward with Measures for Atlantic Spanish Mackerel

Small spanish mackerel is reeled up to the surface with a lure in it's mouth.

Port meetings planned to get input from mackerel fisheries along the Atlantic coast

The South Atlantic Fishery Management Council is considering modifying catch levels for Atlantic Spanish Mackerel following the latest stock assessment indicating the stock is neither overfished nor undergoing overfishing. The decision was made as Council members convened this week in St. Augustine, Florida to address a wide variety of federal fishery management issues.

Atlantic Spanish Mackerel are managed from the east coast of Florida northward through New York. These widespread coastal pelagics are popular with both recreational and commercial fishermen, targeted for their pleasant, mild flavor and sometimes used as bait for larger pelagic species. Based on recommendations from its Scientific and Statistical Committee, the Council agreed to develop a Framework Amendment to the Coastal Migratory Pelagics Fishery Management Plan for the Gulf of Mexico and Atlantic Regions to adjust the Acceptable Biological Catch (ABC) for Atlantic Spanish Mackerel. The Framework Amendment will adopt the recent ABC recommendation of 8,024,000 pounds whole weight. The stock is allocated 55% commercially and 45% recreationally, with the commercial fishery divided into two management zones – the Northern Zone extending from the NC/SC state line to the NY/CT/RI state line, and the Southern Zone from the NC/SC state line south to the Miami-Dade/Monroe County line in Florida. Each zone has its own quota and set of regulations. Landings primarily come from North Carolina in the Northern Zone and from Florida in the Southern Zone.

Mackerel Port Meetings

Spanish Mackerel and King Mackerel are managed through the Coastal Migratory Pelagics Fishery Management Plan for the Gulf of Mexico and Atlantic Regions and constitute the most economically valuable commercial fishery in the South AtlanticBased on recommendations from its Mackerel Cobia Advisory Panel, the Council plans to conduct port meetings for the King and Spanish Mackerel fisheries in 2024 to gain a comprehensive understanding to improve management efforts. The Council reviewed a planning document for the port meetings with the intent they are held in crucial fishing communities along the coast. The Council will coordinate with other councils, the Atlantic States Marine Fisheries Commission, and state partners to plan the meetings. The meetings will be open to members of the public and publicized as details become available.

King Mackerel Tournament Landings

At the request of the Council, NOAA Fisheries provided information on King Mackerel tournament landings over the past ten years and how those landings were accounted for against the annual catch limit. The information included each state’s process for permitting King and Spanish Mackerel tournaments and the tracking of tournament fish that may be donated to a state or federal dealer who then donates the monetary value from the sale to a charitable organization. Concerns have been expressed that tournament landings may be subtracted from commercial sector allocations. Council members also received public comment during this week’s meeting from commercial fishermen concerned that the sale of tournament-caught fish impacts the market price for King Mackerel. The Council’s Mackerel Cobia Advisory Panel will discuss the topic during its Fall 2023 meeting.

Other Business

The Council received the results of the latest stock assessment for Black Sea Bass, indicating the South Atlantic stock is both overfished and undergoing overfishing. The stock has rapidly declined since 2014 and fishing mortality has increased since 2000, with recreational landings and releases estimated to account for 90% of the mortality. The Council’s SSC will review stock projections during its July 2023 meeting and catch-level recommendations may be available later this year. Reductions in harvest are expected.

To help improve recreational data collection, the Council continued to discuss options to establish a private recreational permit for the snapper grouper fishery. Recommendations from the Council’s technical advisory panel were considered and will be incorporated into Snapper Grouper Amendment 46 addressing the permit requirements. Options for an educational component are also included in the draft amendment. Work will continue during the Council’s September meeting and public hearings are tentatively planned for early 2024.

The Council received an update on the ongoing management strategy evaluation (MSE) for the Dolphin fishery being conducted by NOAA Fisheries Southeast Fisheries Science Center, as well as proposed changes to  Dolphin management measures proposed by the Caribbean Fishery Management Council. After discussing the timing for the Dolphin MSE, expected to be completed in 2024, the Council agreed to delay further development of Dolphin Wahoo Regulatory Amendment 3 addressing changes to bag limits, vessel limits and expansion of minimum size limits until the MSE is completed. The Council will receive updates on the MSE during upcoming meetings.

Information about the June 2023 Council meeting, including committee reports and other meeting materials, is available from the Council’s website at:

The next meeting of the South Atlantic Fishery Management Council is scheduled for September 11–15, 2023 at the Town and Country Inn in Charleston, South Carolina.