Groundfish Regulations

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November 6, 2017

NOAA Fisheries Seeks Comments on Proposed Rule for the New England Fishery Management Council’s Omnibus Essential Fish Habitat Amendment 

We are seeking public comment on an action that would:

  • Revise the essential fish habitat designations for all New England Fishery Management Council-managed species and life stages;
  • Add Habitat Areas of Particular Concern to highlight especially important habitat areas, including 16 canyons and two seamounts;
  • Revise the spatial management system within the Gulf of Maine, Georges Bank, and the southern New England area to better align with scientific advice on how and where to protect essential fish habitat while balancing the economic needs of the fishing industry;
  • Establish two Dedicated Habitat Research Areas;
  • Revise or implement seasonal spawning protection measures; and
  • Add a system for reviewing and updating the proposed measures.

Read the proposed rule and supplemental documents as published in the Federal Register, and submit your comments through the online portal. You may also submit comments through regular mail to: John Bullard, Regional Administrator, Greater Atlantic Regional Fisheries Office, 55 Great Republic Drive, Gloucester, MA 01930.

The comment period is open through December 5.

A map of the existing and proposed closures is below.

Questions? Contact Jennifer Goebel, Regional Office, at 978-281-9175


September 1, 2017

2017 Northeast Groundfish Operational Assessment

Meeting Materials Available


NOAA’s Northeast Fisheries Science Center is carrying out routine, regularly scheduled stock assessments for New England groundfish. The peer review will be September 11-15, and the NEFSC is sending the draft assessment reports and supporting information to the peer reviewers and making the information available to the public this Friday, September 1. At this stage the results are preliminary until they are vetted by the peer review panel.

You may now access the 2017 draft groundfish operational assessments and a range of additional materials through our data portal link here:


For each species stock, we will also include models, model inputs, maps, figures, tables, and other background materials that will be used by peer reviewers. We hope this will help you prepare for the assessment meeting if you plan to attend and to better understand the draft assessment results, recognizing that the results are not final until confirmed by the peer review panel.  Please let us know your thoughts on how we can continue to improve access to information for future assessment meetings.


The 2017 peer review of 19 Northeast groundfish operational stock assessments will occur September 11-15 in Woods Hole, MA.  The meeting will also be available by webinar and teleconference.


Questions? Contact Teri Frady at 508-495-2239 or

August 31, 2017


NOAA Fisheries Removes the Northern and Southern Windowpane Flounder AMs for all Trawl Vessels


Effective tomorrow, September 1, 2017, until February 28, 2018, non-groundfish trawl vessels fishing with a codend mesh size of 5 inches or greater are no longer required to use approved selective trawl gear (haddock separator trawl, rope separator trawl, or Ruhle trawl) in the large southern windowpane flounder Accountability Measure (AM) areas. For more information, read the permit holder bulletin and the emergency rule as filed in the Federal Register. 


Through a previous action, groundfish vessels may also fish in the AM areas without selective gear, effective September 1 2017 through April 30, 2018. While we were able to remove the accountability measures for the groundfish vessels through existing regulatory processes, an emergency rule was required to remove the accountability measures for non-groundfish trawl vessels. This emergency rule is intended to minimize economic harm to the fluke and scup fisheries.

Questions? Contact Aja Szumylo at 978-281-9195 or

August 17, 2017


NOAA Fisheries Approves Modifications to a Regulatory Exemption for Groundfish Sectors


NOAA Fisheries has approved a modification to the sector small-mesh exemption area. This action was proposed in an interim final rule published on April 28, 2017.


Through this action, we are expanding the area of the existing small-mesh exemption for groundfish sectors to increase sectors’ opportunities to use the exemption and to better match the footprint of the exemption to the fishery.


The larger area should create new opportunities for sector vessels to use this exemption, which will increase the efficiency of sector vessels participating in both the groundfish fishery and small-mesh exempted fisheries in southern New England.


All reporting and gear requirements for the exemption remain the same.


We are excluding the southern windowpane accountability measure areas from the sector small-mesh exemption area to limit impacts to groundfish stocks.


For more information, please see the notice as filed in the Federal Register.


Questions? Contact Kyle Molton at 978-281-9236 or


August 7, 2017


NOAA Fisheries Announces Northern Red Hake 

Possession Limit Reduction


The northern red hake commercial possession limit is reduced from 3,000 lbs per trip to 400 lbs per trip. Effective immediately, federally permitted vessels may not possess on board or land more than 400 lb of northern red hake per trip for the remainder of the 2017 fishing year (i.e., through April 30, 2018).


This reduction is required because the northern red hake fishery is projected to have reached or exceeded 37.9 percent of the total allowable landings.


Vessels that have started a fishing trip when this possession limit reduction becomes effective may retain northern red hake under the previous possession limit of 3,000 lb for the remainder of that trip.


Dealers issued federal dealer permits for small-mesh multispecies may not purchase more than 400 lbs of northern red hake per trip from federally permitted vessels for trips started after August 7, 2017. Federally permitted dealers must continue to report all fish purchased from any vessel.


Read the rule as filed today at 4:15pm and the permit holder letter on our website for more information.


Questions? Contact Reid Lichwell at 978-281-9112 or

July 31, 2017


NOAA Fisheries Announces Catch Limits for 4 Groundfish Stocks and Windowpane Flounder Accountability Measures in Framework 56


Today, NOAA Fisheries announces the implementation of Framework 56 to the Northeast Multispecies Fishery Management Plan.


Framework 56 sets catch limits for four groundfish stocks for the 2017 fishing year (through April 30, 2018). The changes in these catch limits relative to fishing year 2016 are as follows:

  • Georges Bank cod quota will decrease by 13%;
  • Georges Bank haddock quota will increase by 2%;
  • Georges Bank yellowtail flounder will decrease 23%; and
  • Witch flounder quota will increase 91%. 

We set catch limits for the 2017 fishing year for the remaining 16 groundfish stocks last year in Framework 55. The 2017 catch limits for these 16 stocks remain the same as or similar to 2016 limits.


The action sets sector allocations and common pool trip limits based on the 2017 limits and finalized 2017 sector rosters.


Framework 56 also:

  • Creates an allocation of northern windowpane flounder for the scallop fishery;
  • Revises the trigger for implementing the scallop fishery’s accountability measures for both its GB yellowtail flounder and northern windowpane flounder allocation; and
  • Increases the GB haddock allocation for the midwater trawl fishery.

Read the Framework 56 permit holder letter posted on our website.


Finally, this action implements the accountability measures for the 2017 fishing year for the northern and southern windowpane flounder.


Read the permit holder letter for summer flounder, scup, and black sea bass vessels regarding the southern windowpane flounder accountability measures posted on our website.


Questions? Contact Allison Ferreira at 978-281-9103 or


July 18, 2017 
                                NOAA Fisheries Closes MA Summer Flounder Fishery in Federal Waters Effective

NOAA Fisheries announces the closure of the summer flounder fishery in Massachusetts at 0001 on July 20, 2017. The Massachusetts state summer flounder fishery closes at 0001 on July 19, 2017.


This closure is required by regulation because, as of July 12, 2017, Massachusetts has landed 323,670 pounds (84% of their quota), and is projected to reach or exceed its annual quota on July 19, 2017.


Federally permitted vessels fishing for summer flounder may not land summer flounder in Massachusetts through the end of the 2017 fishing year (Dec 31, 2017), unless additional quota becomes available through a transfer and is announced in the Federal Register.


For more information, read the notice published in the Federal Register and the permit holder letter on our website.

Questions? Contact Cynthia Hanson at 978-281-9180 or
To help commercial fishermen who want to fish for groundfish and lobster on the same trip, our Sustainable Fisheries Division has put together a handy one-pager.
The basics:
You may fish for lobster and groundfish on a single trip if:
  1. You do not hold a federal groundfish permit and are fishing for groundfish exclusively in state waters.
  1. You are fishing under a federal groundfish permit and a federal non-trap lobster permit.
  1. You are hauling lobster traps on a declared groundfish trip on a federally permitted groundfish vessel (only federal permit categories A, C, and E), and are only using hook gear to target groundfish.
For more details and FAQs, please read the one-pager.
Questions? Contact Emily Keiley at 978-281-9116 or
April 27, 2017 

NOAA Fisheries Announces Fishing Year 2017 Northeast Multispecies (Groundfish) Regulations and provides updates on Windowpane Flounder Accountability Measures for Groundfish, Summer Flounder, Scup, Black Sea Bass


We are announcing groundfish management measures that will be effective on May 1, 2017, and providing updates on related management measures that will be coming soon.  Additional information summarizing the 2017 regulations is available in this

Northeast Multispecies Fishing Year 2017 Regulations bulletin.

Sector Measures/Sector Operations Plan

We have approved 19 sectors to operate in fishing years 2017 and 2018 (May 1, 2017, through April 30, 2019).

Common Pool Measures and Trip Limits

We are adjusting the common pool trip limits, effective at 0001 hours on May 1, 2017, to ensure that the common pool fishery is able to fully utilize its available quotas. The trip limits are summarized in Table 2 and 3 of the bulletin linked above.

Read the Sector Operations Plan interim final rule and the common pool trip limit notice as filed in the Federal Register for further details.

Initial Fishing Year 2017 Catch Limits

Last year, Framework 55 set specifications for all groundfish stocks for the 2017 fishing year.  These quotas will be in effect on May 1, 2017.

Note that Framework 56 will propose changes to catch limits for several groundfish stocks. Once we announce a proposed rule for Framework 56, detailed information will be available on the Northeast Multispecies webpage.

Windowpane Flounder Accountability Measures

The northern and southern windowpane flounder accountability measures will not be effective on May 1, 2017, for any trawl vessels, but will be put in place at a later date. Additional information on the 2015 windowpane overages, and the associated accountability measures, will be available in the Framework 56 proposed rule.

A summary of the windowpane flounder accountability measures for non-groundfish vessels can be found on this Summer Flounder, Scup, and Black Sea Bass Vessels: Southern WIndowpane Accountability Measures Implementation Delay bulletin.

Recreational Groundfish Measures

The current recreational measures will remain in effect on May 1, 2017 (see Table below).

However, we are preparing a proposed rule to solicit comments on the New England Fishery Management Council’s recommended 2017 recreational management measures. The Council recommended that recreational possession of Gulf of Maine cod be prohibited in 2017.  The Council also recommended that 2017 Gulf of Maine haddock bag limit be reduced from 15 fish to 12 fish, and that a fall closed season be added to the existing spring closure. Once we publish the proposed rule detailed information about the 2017 recreational management measures will be available on the Northeast Multispecies webpage.

Table: May 1 ,2017′ Gulf of Maine Cod and Haddock Recreational Trip Limits

Species Gulf of Maine Outside Gulf of Maine
















Cod 1 24 inches

(61.0 cm)

May 1 –

July 31


October 1 –

April 30

August 1


September 30







22 inches

(55.9 cm)




May 1


April 30

Haddock 15 17 inches

(43.2 cm)


March 1 –

April 14

May 1 –

February 28


April 15 –

April 30

Unlimited 18 inches

(45.7 cm)




May 1


April 30

Anglers are reminded to check their state regulations to ensure they comply with all federal and state requirements.

Questions? Contact Jennifer Goebel at 978-281-9175 or


 April 20, 2017  
NOAA Fisheries Approves Amendment 18 to Address Fleet Consolidation in the Groundfish Fishery
NOAA Fisheries has approved Amendment 18 to the Northeast Multispecies Fishery Management Plan. The Amendment establishes permit accumulation limits to minimize fleet consolidation in the groundfish fishery.
Amendment 18 limits the number of permits and annual groundfish allocation that an entity could hold. Also, to increase fishing opportunities and promote fleet diversity, Amendment 18 increases flexibility for fishermen on limited-access handgear vessels.
Read the final rule as published in the Federal Register, and the permit holder letter posted on our website.
Questions? Contact Jennifer Goebel at 978-281-9175 or
March 16, 2017
Groundfish Days-at-Sea Leasing Deadline
Extended to March 31
NOAA Fisheries announces an extension of the 2016 Days-at-Sea leasing deadline for the northeast multispecies fishery. If you hold a groundfish permit for 2016, you may submit DAS leases through March 31.
The Groundfish DAS leasing function has been re-opened in Fish Online. Paper DAS lease applications must be received in our office no later than March 31.
Questions? Please contact Mark Grant at
March 16, 2017

NOAA Fisheries Announces 2017 At-Sea Monitoring Coverage Levels for Groundfish Sector Fishery

NOAA Fisheries announces that for fishing year 2017 the total target at-sea monitoring coverage level is 16 percent of all groundfish sector trips.
This target coverage level is a 2 percentage point increase from the 2016 coverage level (14 percent). As the target coverage level is set based on an average of at-sea monitoring data from the past 3 full groundfish fishing years, this level is set based on data from the 2013-2015 fishing years.
Federally funded observer coverage provided by the Northeast Fishery Observer Program to meet the Standardized Bycatch Reporting Methodology (SBRM) requirements will partially satisfy the 16 percent coverage requirement. Sectors will therefore actually pay for at-sea monitoring coverage on less than 16 percent of their groundfish trips, but the total will depend on the SBRM coverage rates, which are not yet out.
We expect to be able to reimburse sectors for some portion of their ASM costs. We do not yet have the information we need to determine the reimbursement rate. We were able to reimburse 85 percent of at-sea monitoring costs in 2016, but expect the 2017 reimbursement rate to be lower.
Certain sector groundfish trips, those using gillnets with 10-inch or greater mesh in Southern New England and Inshore Georges Bank, are also excluded from the ASM requirement due to their low catch of groundfish species. This further reduces the portion of sector trips subject to industry-funded monitoring and better focuses monitoring resources.
Questions? Contact Jennifer Goebel at 978-281-9175 or
March 9, 2017
NOAA Fisheries Announces Increased Trip Possession Limits for Skate Wing and Bait Fisheries
NOAA Fisheries announces that we will increase the commercial per-trip possession limits for the skate wing and skate bait fisheries from March 15 through April 30, 2017, the end of the 2016 fishing year.
New per trip possession limits effective March 15:
Skate wings: 4,100 pounds (9,307 pounds whole weight)
Skate bait: 9,307 pounds (whole weight)
We are adjusting the commercial possession limit for the skate wing and skate bait fisheries to ensure fishermen are able to harvest the total quotas for these fisheries.

On May 1, 2017 (the start of fishing year 2017), the commercial skate wing possession limit will revert to the skate wing Season 1 possession limit of 2,600 lb of skate wings (5,902 lb whole weight) per trip, and the commercial skate bait possession limit will increase to 25,000 lb per trip.

Please note that barndoor and thorny skates are still prohibited species.




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