The Biological Opinion on 10 Fishery Management Plans in the Greater Atlantic Region and the New England Fishery Management Council’s Omnibus Essential Fish Habitat Amendment 2 required NOAA Fisheries to convene a working group to address Atlantic sturgeon bycatch in the federal large mesh gillnet fisheries. The working group was required to:
- Review all available information on Atlantic sturgeon bycatch in the federal large mesh gillnet (defined as greater than or equal to 7 inches).
- Develop an action plan by May 27, 2022, to reduce Atlantic sturgeon in these fisheries by 2024.
- Include in the action plan an evaluation of information available on post-release mortality, identification of data needed to better assess impacts, and a plan, including timeframes, for obtaining and using this information to evaluate impacts.
On November 22, 2021, NOAA Fisheries staff from the Greater Atlantic Regional Fisheries Office and Northeast Fisheries Science Center first convened the Atlantic Sturgeon Bycatch Working Group to address the requirements of the Biological Opinion. On February 14, 2022, the working group was expanded to include experts from the state wildlife and marine resource agencies of New York, New Jersey, Delaware, Maine, Rhode Island, and Connecticut.
Since its formation, the working group has worked collaboratively to produce an Action Plan with two primary components.
The first is a literature review and analysis of data from the Northeast Fisheries Observer Program. Through this review, the working group uses available data to make conclusions regarding bycatch of Atlantic sturgeon, including identification of the most relevant fisheries, summarization of gear research focused on bycatch mitigation, and observations about known sturgeon aggregation and migratory pathways.
The second is a suite of recommendations, based on the conclusions made in the literature review, to NOAA Fisheries, the New England Fishery Management Council, and the Mid-Atlantic Fishery Management Councils that should be considered, refined, and implemented in order to reduce Atlantic sturgeon bycatch in subject fisheries by 2024.