Get Informed on Draft Amendment 10 and Dolphinfish Management

March 2021 Update

When compared to other pelagic fish species, dolphin have not received the same management attention by domestic or international fishery management agencies over the same amount of time. In the past decade, NOAA Fisheries has conducted between 115 to 125 stock assessments per year, but never for dolphin.  Internationally, the Inter-American Tropical Tuna Commission conducted the first modern stock assessment for dolphin in the Eastern Tropical Pacific Ocean; while this assessment is important, there exists no comparable assessment in the Atlantic.  Population assessments are crucial to prevent overfishing  from occurring and help fishers to catch the maximum number of fish over the long-term.  Negative signals of changes in the Atlantic dolphin fishery have been observed.  Does this mean dolphin are being overfished? 

Scientifically, it is unknown.  But, anecdotal and research observations over a broad area, as well as the number of unknowns with regards to the level of directed landings and bycatch of the species, raise many red flags regarding the health of the stock in our region.  Recently, the South Atlantic Fishery Management Council (SAFMC) wrapped up its March meeting and identified its preferred management actions for revisions to the Dolphin/Wahoo Atlantic Coast Fishery Management Plan, which, given the rise in fishing effort over the past 2 decades in our region as well as the combination of many other compounding anthropogenic factors, does not go far enough to ensure the conservation of dolphin.  In their meeting, Council members voted (11-5) in support of a reduction in the vessel limit to 48 dolphinfish per vessel for all recreational anglers along the U.S. East Coast.  This would represent a 2.32% reduction in landings (or 383,477 lbs wet weight) and is the first major action the Council is considering to take to help safeguard the dolphin stock since Amendment 2 expanded the minimum size to South Carolina in 2012.  When considering that NOAA Fisheries has documented a 3 fold and 1.5 fold increase in marine recreational trips in the Atlantic and Gulf of Mexico in their most recent Fisheries of the United States reports to 140 million and 56 million trips, respectively, this reduction does not seem in

Figure 1 Number of estimated recreational Atlantic and Gulf of Mexico (GOM) anglers (millions) and estimated number of recreational trips (millions) as reported by the NMFS in the last five published Fisheries of the United States Annual Reports.

line with the rise in fishing effort.    Although not yet formally included, the Council did decide to initiate a framework action on developing a 20″ size limit for anglers in North Carolina and any location to the north.  Lastly, there were several conservation actions that were brought forward rather widely in public comment but the Council chose not to include.  These include a minimum size increase (although the framework action may partially address this), the use of circle hooks when bailing, and a vessel limit lower than 48.   Below, is the history of major management decisions for dolphin in the Western Central Atlantic (WCA) and Eastern Tropical Pacific Ocean (ETP).  In order to justify the need for additional management and conservation measures for dolphin in the WCA, it is necessary to review the past 2 decades of dolphin fisheries management and compare this with the rise in fishing effort over the same time period.  Check back soon for these results.  

Figure 2. Timeline of major dolphinfish related management and regulatory actions by United States fishery management councils (WCA Management (U.S. EEZ)) and country or Regional Fisheries Management Organization (RFMO) management actions in the Eastern Tropical Pacific Ocean (ETP) by year.  Stars indicated South Atlantic Fishery Management Council amendments to the original dolphin/wahoo fishery management plan approved in 2003.  The flag indicates the Inter-American Tropical Tuna Commission’s modern stock assessment of Ecuadorian and Peruvian dolphinfish commercial fisheries in 2016.  CFMC = Caribbean Fishery Management Council.  See list below for more information regarding the timeline events.   


Major Dolphin Management Decisions since 2003

The first and most comprehensive fishery management plan for dolphin and wahoo in the U.S. was approved by the South Atlantic Fishery Management Council in 2003.  The plan included 24 actions that defined the management unit, set permit requirements, established a maximum sustainable and optimum yield, established a commercial landings cap and recreational vessel and bag limit, and a 20″ minimum size in Florida and Georgia.  Click here to see the original dolphin FMP.   


The final rule to implement the Original Dolphin/Wahoo FMP was issued on May 27, 2004.  Click here to see the final rule.


The amendment was included in the Comprehensive Annual Catch Limit Amendment. This amendment established allowable biological catch (ABCs), annual catch limits (ACLs), and accountability measures (AMs) as well as allocations for both commercial and recreational sectors; prohibited bag limit sales of dolphin from “for-hire” vessels; and established a minimum size limit of 20″ FL for South Carolina. 

The expansion of the minimum size from Florida and Georgia waters to include South Carolina was established to prevent the targeting of peanut or chicken dolphin, reduce waste, and increase yield in the fishery. This action was adopted in part to establish similar regulations off states which already had minimum size limit regulations (i.e., Florida and Georgia).  This action allowed the harvest only after most female dolphin are sexually mature and have spawned.  The Council concluded that other proposed measures (i.e., bag limit, trip limit, etc.) were the primary measures to protect and conserve the resource but  expanding the minimum size into South Carolina would provide additional benefits to the stock and enhance existing state regulations.  The Council determined this action best achieveed the goals of the FMP and the management objectives to: (1) address localized reduction in fish abundance, (3) minimize conflict and/or competition between recreational and commercial user groups, and (4) optimize the social and economic benefits of the fishery.

At the time, the loss in producer surplus to the for-hire sector of approximately $15,000 was expected as a result of the proposed recreational minimum size limit for dolphin. In addition, it was estimated that this action would only affect the 134 vessels with for-hire dolphin-wahoo permits in South Carolina and therefore the loss in producer surplus per for-hire vessel was estimated at approximately $112.  Click here for the final rule.   


Allowed dolphin and wahoo fillets (with skin intact) to enter the U.S. EEZ after lawful harvest in The Bahamas; Specified that two fillets of any length of dolphin, wahoo, and snapper-grouper were equivalent to one fish; explicitly prohibited the sale or purchase of any dolphin, wahoo, or snapper grouper recreationally harvested in The Bahamas.  Click here for the final rule. 


The Inter-American Tropical Tuna Commission utilized an 8-year monthly catch per unit effort time series of Ecuadorian and Peruvian artisanal longline, length composition, and tuna purse seine bycatch data to conduct an exploratory stock assessment of dolphin in the southern Eastern Pacific Ocean.  IATTC was unable to draw any conclusions about stock status because no reference points were previously defined in the region.  However, advances were made in the understanding of dolphin population dynamics and further research and data collection was prioritized (e.g., movements, growth, and gender-specific landings) to strength the results of future stock assessments.  Click here to read about this stock assessment.


Established a dolphin commercial trip limit of 4,000 lb (1,814 kg), round weight, once 75 percent of the commercial ACL is reached for vessels with a Federal commercial permit for Atlantic dolphin and wahoo.  Click here for the final rule. 


The most impactful potential conservation measure to the Dolphin/Wahoo fishery management plan pertains to the potential reduction in the recreational vessel limit from 60 to 48 dolphinfish per vessel.   According to the SAFMC, total recreational landings would be reduced by 2.32%, or 383,477 lbs wet weight, with a 48 fish vessel limit for the Atlantic region.  Given the rise in global recreational fishing effort as well as need to mitigate climate impacts on dolphin this reduction does not go far enough for this species.  According to Cisneros-Mata et al. (2019) dolphinfish were identified as the species to have the largest catch reductions due to climate change.  In addition, Freire et al. (2019) documented that since the 90s, recreational landings of dolphinfish have been on the rise and North America accounts for a large proportion of those landings.  Based on those studies as well as the level of unknowns regarding U.S. recreational landings totals, directed international commercial landings in the WCA, as well as bycatch, a reduction of more than 2.32% in recreational landings is needed in order to safeguard the WCA dolphin stock.  

Amendment 10 also increases the recreational sector allocation to 93% of the total ACL (24,570,764 lbs ww) while reducing the commercial allocation to 7% of the ACL.  Amendment 10 also stands to allow properly permitted commercial fishing vessels with trap, pot, or buoy gear on board that are not authorized for use in the dolphin wahoo fishery to possess 500 pounds per trip of dolphin and wahoo caught by rod and reel.  We feel this trip limit is too high and should be 250 pounds per trip. 


February 2021 Update

In March 2016, the South Atlantic Fishery Management Council (SAFMC) initiated a process to consider changes to Amendment 10 of the U.S. Atlantic Coast Dolphin/Wahoo fishery management plan (FMP) in reaction to the commercial annual catch limit (ACL) being met and an ensuing harvest closure in 2015.  Last April, the SAFMC’s Scientific and Statistical Committee (SSC) recommended a new acceptable biological catch (ABC) level for dolphin and wahoo after incorporating recreational landings data from new methods, a revised U.S. commercial landings data stream, and data from the highest U.S. landings between 1994 and 2007. The SAFMC’s goals are to incorporate the SSC’s new catch level recommendations and to address management changes needed in the fishery based on public input in Amendment 10. After a scoping process that

began in 2018, after a scoping process that began in 2018, the SAFMC has arrived at preferred alternatives for changes to Amendment 10 and the Dolphin/Wahoo FMP.  While the SAFMC introduces some key conservation measures to help alleviate the growing pressures on dolphin, within the draft amendment, there is no discussion of expanding size limits along the U.S. Atlantic coast to ensure more dolphinfish reach maximum reproductive output before being harvested.  Furthermore, there is no discussion of expanding conservation measures, including size, vessel, or bag limits, to the Gulf of Mexico, a location that feeds dolphin to the Florida Keys and U.S. Atlantic coast.  NOW is the time to provide your comments to the SAFMC. Click here to read our letter to the SAFMC, which could not have been compiled without your participation in our tagging program since the onset of this study.  We provide this letter to you for you to read our suggestions on how to ensure conservation for dolphin in the WCA.  Comments are now closed but we will keep you informed on when a new open public comment period. 

Embedded below is our letter for your reference.

Public Comment Dolphin Wahoo Amendment 10
  • Beyond Our Shores Foundation
  • PO BOX 3506
  • Newport, RI 02840

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