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Frequently Asked Questions – National Standard 1 Final Rule

Question 1: What is National Standard 1? Why is it important?

Question 2: Why are the National Standard 1, 3, 7 and General sections of the guidelines being revised together?

Question 3: NOAA Fisheries proposed revisions to the National Standard 1 (NS1) guidelines in January 2015. How are the final revisions different from the proposed revisions?

Question 4: Do the final revisions to the guidelines require Councils to revise their FMPs?

Question 5: Based on the new guidelines, how does a Council determine whether or not a fish stock needs to be federally-managed?

Question 6:  What is a “multi-year overfishing stock status determination”?

Question 7: What is the difference between the overfishing limit (OFL), the acceptable biological catch (ABC), and the annual catch limit (ACL)? How are these three concepts related?

Question 8: What is an ABC control rule?

Question 9: What is a carry-over ABC control rule? Does it prevent overfishing?

Question 10: What is a phase-in ABC control rule? Does it prevent overfishing?

Question 11: For an overfished stock that requires a rebuilding plan, how do Councils determine the maximum time for the stock to rebuild?

Question 12: How do the new NS1 guidelines advance ecosystem-based fisheries management (EBFM)?


Question 1: What is National Standard 1? Why is it important? 

Answer: The Magnuson-Stevens Fishery Conservation and Management Act (MSA) establishes 10 National Standards for sustainable U.S. fisheries management. Every federal fishery management plan (FMP), FMP amendment, or regulation implementing a FMP in the United States must comply with these standards. National Standard 1is a critical component of sustainable fisheries in the U.S. and requires that fishery conservation and management measures prevent overfishing while achieving, on a continuing basis, the optimum yield (OY) from each fishery. NOAA Fisheries issues guidance – known as the National Standard 1 guidelines – to assist the eight regional fishery management councils (Councils) and NOAA Fisheries in complying with these requirements.

The National Standard 1 guidelines play an important role in our successful efforts to prevent overfishing and rebuild overfished fisheries. Since 2000, 39 federally-managed fish stocks have been rebuilt and the number of stocks that are overfished or experiencing overfishing are at historic lows. On top of these conservation successes, our efforts to rebuild fish stocks have real economic benefits. In 2014, U.S. commercial and recreational saltwater fishing generated more than $214 billion in sales impacts and supported over 1.8 million jobs in the fishing industry and across the broader economy.

Question 2: Why are the National Standard 1, 3, 7 and General sections of the guidelines being revised together? 

Answer: One of the primary objectives of revising the National Standard 1 guidelines was to streamline the guidelines and improve their utility for fisheries managers. The National Standard 3 and 7 guidelines and the “General” section of the previous guidelines used different terminology to describe the same concepts and sometimes provided duplicative or related guidance. In the final guidelines, the National Standard 1, 3, 7 and General sections were revised to produce more streamlined, consistent, understandable, and user-friendly guidance.

Question 3: NOAA Fisheries proposed revisions to the National Standard 1 (NS1) guidelines in January 2015. How are the final revisions different from the proposed revisions?

Answer: NOAA Fisheries carefully considered and addressed the comments received during the comment period in its final revisions to the NS1 guidelines. The main substantive change in the final revisions was the removal of the proposed definition for depleted stocks. Public commenters expressed concern that the definition was too complicated and may not adequately distinguish between stocks in decline due to environmental factors and stocks in decline due to fishing pressure.

The final revisions also added more explanation to clarify the agency’s intent on certain provisions and reiterate the MSA’s requirements to end and prevent overfishing.

Question 4: Do the final revisions to the guidelines require Councils to revise their FMPs? 

Answer: The revisions do not require the regional fishery management councils to revise their current FMPs. However, if a Council chooses to utilize some of the new provisions within the new NS1 guidelines, such as phase-in or carry-over acceptable biological catch (ABC) control rules, such provisions need to be described within an FMP (for more information on phase-in/carry-over ABC control rules, see questions 9 and 10). 

Question 5: Based on the new guidelines, how does a Council determine whether or not a fish stock needs to be federally-managed? 

Answer: The MSA requires a Council to prepare an FMP when a fishery “requires conservation and management” (16 U.S.C. 1852(h)(1)). The new National Standard guidelines clarify and streamline guidance on determining whether a stock requires conservation and management.

Specifically, stocks that are predominantly caught in federal waters and are overfished or subject to overfishing (or likely to become so) require conservation and management. Beyond such stocks, the new National Standard guidelines include a non-exhaustive list of 10 other factors that Councils need to consider when determining whether other stocks require conservation and management.

Question 6:  What is a “multi-year overfishing stock status determination”? 

Answer: The MSA requires NOAA Fisheries to report annually to Congress on the status of stocks (16 U.S.C. 1854(e)(1)). NOAA Fisheries reports on three general types of stock status each year – overfishing (i.e., the annual rate of catch is too high), overfished (i.e., the population size is too small) and rebuilt (i.e., a previously overfished stock has increased in abundance to the target population size). 

Data used to determine whether a stock was subject to overfishing in the most recent year is often subject to uncertainty. In contrast, as time goes on, sources of such uncertainty (e.g., catch misreporting, model misspecification, etc.) are identified and corrected, resulting in more certainty in data points from prior years. Uncertainty in the data from the most recent year can cause fluctuations and inconsistencies in a stock’s overfishing status (i.e., “subject to overfishing” and “not subject to overfishing”). To ensure accuracy and consistency in overfishing status determinations and more stability to fisheries, the new NS1 guidelines allow overfishing status determinations to be based on up to 3 consecutive years of past data. This multi-year approach allows managers to utilize relatively certain data from prior years when the most recent data point is uncertain. The specific circumstances in which the multi-year approach will be used for a particular stock needs to be described in an FMP or FMP amendment.

While a multi-year approach can be used for reporting on stock status per MSA section 304(e)(1), it cannot be used as a basis to adjust future annual catch limits (ACLs) that would result in overfishing. The MSA requires – and the NS1 guidelines reiterate – that ACLs must be set to prevent overfishing each year.

Question 7: What is the difference between the overfishing limit (OFL), the acceptable biological catch (ABC), and the annual catch limit (ACL)? How are these three concepts related?

Answer: The Magnuson-Stevens Act requires annual catch limits (ACLs) that prevent overfishing for all federally-managed fish stocks. The OFL-ABC-ACL definition framework has been established in order to set ACLs that prevent overfishing while accounting for both scientific and management uncertainty.

The overfishing limit (OFL) is the best estimate of the maximum amount of a stock that can be caught in a year without resulting in overfishing. The acceptable biological catch (ABC) is the catch level recommended by a Council’s Scientific and Statistical Committee (SSC) that accounts for scientific uncertainty in the estimate of OFL, as well as any other sources of scientific uncertainty. The ABC may not exceed the OFL, and the degree to which the ABC is reduced from the OFL is based on the level of scientific uncertainty and risk preferences described in the Council’s ABC control rule (for more information on ABC control rules, see question 8).

Finally, the ACL is the limit on the total annual catch for a stock or stock complex. The ACL is informed by the OFL and ABC and cannot exceed the ABC. The ACL can be set lower than the ABC to account for the degree to which the stock’s management measures are able to accurately constrain catch (i.e., management uncertainty) as well as relevant ecological, economic, and social considerations.

Question 8: What is an ABC control rule? 

Answer: An ABC control rule is an established policy set by the Council, in consultation with its SSC, that articulates how the ABC will be set compared to the OFL. ABC control rules take into account scientific uncertainty as well as the Council’s risk policy (e.g., the acceptable probability that catch equal to the ABC would result in overfishing). Because the ABC cannot exceed the OFL estimate, ABC control rules generally specify the amount by which the ABC should be reduced from the OFL, based on the level of scientific uncertainty and the preferred probability that such a catch level would result in overfishing. The SSC applies the Council’s ABC control rule when making their ABC recommendation.

There are some circumstances, such as when a fishery does not catch its full ACL or a new stock assessment dramatically changes our understanding of the status of a stock, where a Council and its SSC may choose to use one of the other types of ABC control rules described in the new NS1 guidelines. These ABC control rules, known as carry-over/phase-in ABC control rules, allow Councils to respond to certain circumstances within the fishery while still accounting for scientific uncertainty and preventing overfishing (for more information on phase-in/carry-over ABC control rules, see questions 9 and 10). 

Question 9: What is a carry-over ABC control rule? Does it prevent overfishing? 

Answer: Some U.S. fisheries do not catch each stock’s full annual catch limit (ACL) every year. In years where a fishery’s catch is below its ACL (i.e., an “ACL underage”), Councils may “carry-over” some portion of the ACL underage into the next fishing year using one of two approaches. First, if the ACL underage is relatively minor, a Council may account for it by adjusting next year’s ACL upwards as long as it does not result in an ACL that exceeds the pre-specified ABC. The new NS1 guidelines also specify that a carry-over ABC control rule can be applied to account for the ACL underage by adjusting next year’s ABC.

One outcome of an ACL underage is that the uncaught portion of the stock’s ACL remains in the water and increases the stock’s abundance for the next year. Thus, a carry-over ABC control rule establishes a policy that allows Councils to carry-over some portion of an ACL underage into the next year by adjusting the ABC upwards to account for the increased stock abundance that results from an ACL underage. Carry-over provisions are designed to relieve the pressure to catch the entire ACL each year which could result in fishing in unsafe situations or harvest during poor market conditions. Carry-over provisions also reduce the likelihood that an ACL is exceeded by minimizing incentives to catch every last pound.

The resulting ABC recommended by a Council’s SSC using a carry-over ABC control rule must still prevent overfishing every year and consider scientific uncertainty as well as the Council’s risk policy. Further, the portion of the ACL that is carried over into the next year should be adjusted for biological factors such as natural mortality and growth. To ensure that carry-over ABC control rules do not lead to overfishing, the new NS1 guidelines require Councils to articulate, within an FMP or FMP amendment, when a carry-over ABC control rule can and cannot be used and how the control rule prevents overfishing. Finally, the new NS1 guidelines recommend that Councils consider the suitability of using carry-over provisions for stocks that are overfished and/or rebuilding, as the MSA requires such stocks to be rebuilt in as short a time as possible.

Question 10: What is a phase-in ABC control rule? Does it prevent overfishing? 

Answer: Large changes in catch limits due to new scientific information about the status of a stock can have negative short-term effects on a fishing industry. To help create more stable fisheries over the short-term, the new NS1 guidelines allow Councils to develop an ABC control rule that gradually phases in changes to catch limits over a period of time not to exceed 3 years, as long as overfishing is prevented. For example, if a new stock assessment suggests that a 15% reduction in the stock’s ABC is needed, a phase-in ABC control rule could incrementally reduce the ABC by 5% each year over a period of three years, as long as the ABC does not exceed the OFL in any year (i.e., overfishing is prevented each year).

To ensure that phase-in ABC control rules do not lead to overfishing, the new NS1 guidelines require Councils to first articulate within an FMP or FMP amendment when a phase-in ABC control rule can and cannot be used and how the control rule prevents overfishing. Finally, the new NS1 guidelines recommend that Councils consider the suitability of using phase-in provisions for stocks that are overfished and/or rebuilding, as the MSA requires such stocks to be rebuilt in as short a time as possible.

Question 11: For an overfished stock that requires a rebuilding plan, how do Councils determine the maximum time for the stock to rebuild? 

Answer: The MSA requires that overfished stocks be rebuilt in as short a time as possible, not to exceed ten years, subject to certain exceptions and considerations (16 U.S.C. 1854(e)(4)(A)(i)-(ii)). For all rebuilding stocks, managers need to specify a rebuilding time period that is as short as possible (referred to as Ttarget) and a maximum time to rebuild (Tmax). For many stocks, the maximum time to rebuild is less than or equal to ten years. However, some long-lived species cannot rebuild in ten years, even in the absence of fishing. For these stocks, the Tmax must be calculated to establish a measurable and biologically-linked upper bound on the duration of the rebuilding plan. 

The new NS1 guidelines include three different methods for calculating a stock’s Tmax. These calculation methods are designed to provide a Council and its SSC with options so that a Council is able to use a method that best aligns with the available biological data for the stock. NOAA Fisheries reiterates that it is the Ttarget – and not Tmax – that sets the time period for rebuilding in as short a time as possible per MSA section 304(e)(4)(A).

Question 12: How do the new NS1 guidelines advance ecosystem-based fisheries management (EBFM)? 

Answer: NOAA Fisheries supports the incorporation of EBFM into federal fisheries management and believes the implementation of EBFM can occur in a manner consistent with the new NS1 guidelines. The new NS1 guidelines also include several provisions to further facilitate the incorporation of EBFM into federal fisheries management. Notably, the new NS1 guidelines include a provision that allows Councils to take into account multi-species interactions within its management framework by using an aggregate approach to estimating the maximum sustainable yield of a fishery. Read additional information on agency activities related to ecosystem based management.