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Operational Guidelines

All fishery management actions must comply with the Magnuson-Stevens Act as well as with other applicable laws, including the National Environmental Policy Act, Regulatory Flexibility Act, Endangered Species Act, Coastal Zone Management Act, and the Paperwork Reduction Act. The Operational Guidelines provide guidance on the development, review, and implementation of federal fishery management plans, amendments, and regulations. This guidance reflects and builds on the progress that NOAA Fisheries and the regional fishery management councils (councils) have made towards fostering a cooperative and accessible public process for managing our nation’s fisheries since implementation of the Fishery Conservation and Management Act in 1976.

The 2015 Operational Guidelines supersede all other versions produced by NOAA Fisheries and the councils. Unlike prior versions of the Operational Guidelines (1997, draft 2005), this approach sets forth high-level goals and outlines objectives for achieving those goals. The core of the document consists of 7 guiding principles for NOAA Fisheries and council partnership that apply to all actions taken to develop, review, and implement Magnuson-Stevens Act fishery management actions. These guidelines recognize the importance of Regional Operating Agreements as the basis for how those guiding principles are implemented and how the regions and councils describe their own processes and procedures. The appendices contain additional detailed information on terminology, a description of the process, discussion of other applicable laws and the rulemaking process, and links to additional resources.

  Operational Guidelines and   Appendices 

Regional Operating Agreements (ROAs)

Details of how each council/NOAA Fisheries region pair implements the Magnuson-Stevens Act and other requirements throughout the fishery management process are set forth in ROAs. The ROAs confirm the mutual interests and describe the working relationships between a NOAA Fisheries region and the council, and may also include the corresponding NOAA Fisheries Science Center and Office of Law Enforcement. ROAs give NOAA Fisheries and the councils a platform to specify coordination mechanisms and roles and responsibilities in the fishery management plan process and identify necessary tasks and ensure they are appropriately assigned and completed.

New England
Council / GARFO
Council / GARFO
South Atlantic
Council / SERO
Council / SERO
Gulf of Mexico
Council / SERO
Council / WCRO
North Pacific
Council / AKRO
Western Pacific
Council / PIRO

Templates and Examples

As described in Appendix 3 of the Operational Guidelines, some council/NOAA Fisheries region pairs use standardized templates to develop fishery management plans, amendments, and other documents. Standardized documentation, when possible and appropriate, can improve efficiency and readability and facilitate public and internal review. This standard documentation can make it easier for readers to locate the information they are most interested in and see how the various requirements of the Magnuson-Stevens Act, other applicable laws, and executive orders have been addressed. Below are some examples used by the South Atlantic, Gulf of Mexico, and Caribbean Councils and NOAA Fisheries.

1. Technical Writing Guidelines, Document Formatting, and Document Outlines

These guidelines were developed as a cooperative effort between the Southeast Regional Office and the South Atlantic, Caribbean, and Gulf of Mexico Councils. They provide a standard format for document development in the southeast. Depending on the council and the type of action, there may be slight variations in this standard format.
Coastal Migratory Framework Amendment 2 is an example of how the South Atlantic Council applies the technical writing guidelines, document formatting, and document outlines in a completed amendment.

2. Committee Report Example

Some councils use the committee system of conducting business at council meetings, and in such cases, most of the actual decision development takes place during committee meetings. This is an example of a report prepared by a staff member to document actions taken during a South Atlantic Council committee meeting. This report becomes immediately available to council members and the public.

3. Template for Summary of Approved Council Motions

This is an example of a document prepared following each South Atlantic Council meeting summarizing all approved council motions.  

4. Template for Status of Active Amendments

This is an example of how the South Atlantic Council describes the inclusion of management measures in each amendment/action and the development status of each. With all of the activity councils face, this status document has proven to be useful for council members, staff, and the general public.

5. Template for Gulf of Mexico Council ABC Control Rule

This document was prepared by the Gulf of Mexico Council. It sets forth a template for how a council and/or Scientific and Statistical Committee could outline an acceptable biological catch control rule. A council will set an overfishing limit which is then used, through scientific analysis and risk assessment, to determine the acceptable biological catch. An acceptable biological catch then informs what the annual catch target or annual catch limit is for a fishery.

6. Template for Action Items

This template provides the framework by which a council outlines any action items that need to be discussed by the council. The Gulf of Mexico Council uses this template.