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Fisheries management overview

Local fisheries are managed by multiple levels of government. Read on to learn about the Division of Marine Fisheries' involvement in the fisheries management process.

Commonwealth marine fisheries management

The Division of Marine Fisheries (DMF) is the state agency responsible for managing the Commonwealth’s commercial and recreational marine fisheries (Massachusetts General Law Chapter 130). State jurisdiction extends to three nautical miles from shore, although all of Cape Cod Bay and Nantucket Sound are subject to state fisheries regulations. Among other authorities, the Director can change regulations that govern:

  • The manner of taking fish
  • Legal size limits
  • Seasons
  • The amount of fish to be taken

Certain actions by the Director require a public comment process and are subject to the approval of the Massachusetts Marine Fisheries Advisory Commission (MAFC) and the Commissioner of the Department of Fish and Game.

Interstate fisheries management

Some fish are a shared coastal resource and are managed cooperatively by the Atlantic coastal states through the Atlantic States Marine Fisheries Commission (ASMFC). The ASMFC develops and adopts interstate fishery management plans, which are then implemented at the state level. The Atlantic Coastal Fisheries Cooperative Management Act allows for the Secretary of the U.S. Department of Commerce to close a state's fishery if found out-of-compliance with an ASMFC plan. The ASMFC has management plans for 27 nearshore migratory fish species. 

Each state in the ASMFC has 3 representatives, who have 1 combined ballot on votes taken by the Commission's species management boards. These representatives include:

  • The director of the state’s marine fisheries management agency
  • A state legislator
  • An individual appointed by the state's Governor to represent stakeholder interests

A representative from the District of Columbia, the Potomac River Fisheries Commission, and the two federal fisheries management agencies (NOAA Fisheries and U.S. Fish & Wildlife Service) may also vote.

The Interjurisdictional Fisheries Act also supports the states’ management of their shared fishery resources. The Act provides grants to states for management activities. A large part of funds from the Act help pay for the collection of catch and effort statistics and other data for stock assessments which inform management decisions.

Federal fisheries management

Some fisheries go beyond state level and are managed regionally in collaboration with the federal government.

In 1976 the Magnuson-Stevens Fishery Conservation and Management Act established eight regional fishery councils to manage the living marine resources within the United States exclusive economic zone (EEZ), spanning from 3 to 200 miles offshore. The regional councils develop federal fishery management plans, which are implemented by NOAA Fisheries after it ensures that 10 National Standards with the Magnuson-Stevens Act have been met.

The New England Fishery Management Council (NEFMC) has developed management plans for 9 species or species groups occurring in the EEZ off Maine through Connecticut.

There are 18 voting members on the NEFMC:

  • The Regional Administrator of NOAA Fisheries Greater Atlantic Region
  • The principal state official with marine fishery management responsibility for Maine, New Hampshire, Massachusetts, Rhode Island, and Connecticut
  • 12 members nominated by the governors of the New England coastal states and appointed by the Secretary of Commerce for 3-year terms

There are also 4 non-voting members representing the U.S. Coast Guard, U.S. Fish & Wildlife Services, U.S. Department of State, and ASMFC.

Many of the NEFMC's managed fisheries, as well as those of the Mid-Atlantic Fisheries Management Council (NY-NC), are fished for in state waters or outside their region. In these cases, the Council works with the ASMFC to coordinate management plans between federal and state waters. 

Federal shellfish management

Nationally, the harvest and handling of all bivalve molluscan shellfish is regulated by the National Shellfish and Sanitation Program (NSSP). The NSSP was established for the sanitary harvest and handling of shellfish in interstate commerce for human consumption. The NSSP "Guide" is developed and administered today by the U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA) and the Interstate Shellfish Sanitation Conference (ISSC), a federal/state cooperative. Massachusetts is a voting member on the ISSC. 

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