Ending Overfishing Through Annual Catch Limits

The Magnuson-Stevens Fishery Conservation and Management Act requires annual catch limits and accountability measures in federal fisheries to end and prevent overfishing. If catch of a stock is approaching or exceeding its annual catch limit, fishery managers use accountability measures to ensure the limit is not exceeded or correct for any overage. Accountability measures are usually some combination of size limits, trip limits, gear restrictions, and seasonal closures. All federal fisheries currently operate under annual catch limits. International fisheries and stocks with a short (1 year) life history do not require these limits.

NOAA Fisheries and the regional fishery management councils use stock assessments to estimate fishing rates over time and to determine if overfishing has been occurring.

Annual Catch Limit Performance

Graph showing annual catch limit performance

Annual catch limits aim to end and prevent overfishing. By the end of 2016, only about 8 percent of approximately 390 annual catch limits were exceeded.

There are many reasons why catch may exceed the annual catch limit. For example:

  • The population size of the stock is actually bigger than scientists thought and catch rates were higher than anticipated.

  • Fishermen caught more fish than expected as bycatch in another fishery.

  • New reporting requirements for fishermen provide better data than was captured historically.

By monitoring catch levels annually, NOAA Fisheries and the councils can prevent chronic overfishing and the depletion of fish populations.


Learn how annual catch limits are set for U.S. fisheries.

New England fisheries