A Story of Sustainability: Atlantic Surfclam and Ocean Quahog

Photograph courtesy of Sea Watch

In 1977, the Atlantic Surfclam and Ocean Quahog (SC/OQ) fishery became the first fishery in the United States to be regulated under the Magnuson Stevens Act (MSA). Fisheries management under the MSA is based on Best Available Science, and Fishery Management Plans (FMP) are living breathing documents.

The National Fisheries Management Service (NMFS) uses a network of eight regional councils to manage the harvest of wild-caught fish and shellfish within the Exclusive Economic Zone (EEZ) – federal waters waters ranging three miles from the coast to 200 miles off the shore of the United States. As new science reveals itself, the councils can change or reduce uncertainty in a fishery by the amendment process. The SC/OQ fishery has had 17 amendments to its FMP, which consists of roughly 10,000 pages of regulations.

One of those amendments, Amendment 8, was passed in 1990, making the SC/OQ fisheries the first to be managed with an ITQ, or Individually Transferable Quota, system. The ITQ system replaced other means of restricting harvest and divided the allocation among active permit holders, allowing the fishermen to harvest their portion of the allocation when it was most economically viable and safe for them to do so.

What about the science?

Where does the science come from, who interprets the science, who makes the decisions and how often are the FMPs reviewed? All these are big questions, ones that are far too deep to fully explain here, but the very basic principles are such:  

The science begins with at-sea surveys for each particular species that is being evaluated. The frequency of surveys depends on the life cycle of the species. Because surfclams and ocean quahogs are long-lived species, the surveys can occur as frequently as every three to six years. The data is collected by the Northeast Fishery Science Center and sent through the council process, then to the Secretary of Commerce for final approval.

Uncertainty is always at the forefront of concern when modeling fisheries’ stock status. To alleviate as much uncertainty as possible from the process, industry and the federal agencies combine to do “cooperative science.” At a recent council meeting, NOAA’s assistant administrator, Chris Oliver, explained that in this tough budgetary environment, cooperative science would be more important than ever. The SC/OQ fishery has been active in cooperative science since the mid-1990s through the National Fisheries Institute, and were also involved in the creation of the National Science Foundation’s Science Center for Marine Fisheries in 2012, along with other domestic fisheries.

The Atlantic Surfclam and Ocean Quahog fisheries achieved Marine Stewardship Council (MSC) certification, the world’s most credible standard for sustainable wild-caught seafood, in December of 2016. The MSC is an international nonprofit organization established to set global scientific standards for sustainable fishing practices and to ensure an ocean teeming with life for this and future generations.

At Sea Watch, we’re committed to fishing sustainably and are proud to be a leader in protecting the world’s oceans and supporting sustainably managed fisheries.

This post is sponsored by Sea Watch