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 South Atlantic Fishery Management Council
News Release

January 8, 2004
CONTACT: Kim Iverson
Public Information Officer
(843) 571-4366

Dolphin/Wahoo Management Plan Approved for Atlantic

Dolphin, or "mahi-mahi", are one of the most popular and economically important fish targeted by offshore fishermen along the Atlantic coast. The newly approved Dolphin/Wahoo Fishery Management Plan will ensure harvests of both dolphin and wahoo are maintained at historical levels while setting the framework for long-term management.

New plan will establish management measures for dolphin and wahoo fishery in federal waters

The South Atlantic Fishery Management Council recently received notice that the Fishery Management Plan for Dolphin and Wahoo in the Atlantic Region has been approved by the Secretary of Commerce. The management plan, developed by the South Atlantic Council in conjunction with the Mid-Atlantic and New-England Councils, will set limits on catches of dolphin and wahoo for commercial and recreational fishermen in federal waters along the entire Atlantic coast. The precautionary management plan also establishes a framework for long-term management of both fish species.

"While neither dolphin or wahoo are considered overfished, the Dolphin/Wahoo Fishery Management Plan (FMP) is a risk-averse approach to management with an overall goal to maintain the status quo of the fishery," said Council Chair, David Cupka. "This plan has a long history of development and the Council is pleased to finally have a management plan in place for such economically important species." Cupka also serves as Chairman of the Councilís Dolphin/Wahoo Committee.

Brilliant in color and widely distributed, dolphin fish (or "mahi-mahi") are one of the most economically important recreational fish in the south Atlantic. Dolphin are highly sought by recreational and charter fishermen for their strong bite and fighting abilities, often clearing the water in an effort to shake the hook. Historically, dolphin have been targeted primarily by recreational fishermen, with an average of 87% caught recreationally and 13% harvested commercially. Ferocious predators, wahoo are commonly caught by fishermen targeting dolphin offshore, and both species are prized by seafood lovers.

"The approved actions in the FMP are a positive step that will provide equitable harvesting restrictions to the recreational and commercial sectors, and maintain the historical participation by both groups," stated Dr. Roy Crabtree, Regional Administrator with NOAA Fisheries and member of the South Atlantic Council. "For example, the FMP establishes bag limits, boat limits, and size limits to stabilize the recreational fishery at the current catch levels. Similarly, the FMP establishes a non-binding cap of 1.5 million pounds or 13% of the total landings for the commercial dolphin fishery."

Management measures included in the management plan and approved by the Secretary of Commerce include requirements for permits, size limits for dolphin, recreational bag limits for
both species, commercial trip limits for wahoo, and commercial longline closures in conjunction with current closures in the Atlantic for Highly Migratory Species. The plan will also prohibit the sale of recreationally caught dolphin or wahoo, with the exception of for-hire vessels that possess the appropriate state and federal commercial permits, who will be allowed to sell dolphin harvested under the bag limit.

Measures proposed in the Dolphin/Wahoo FMP that were disapproved by the Secretary of Commerce include qualifying criteria for obtaining commercial vessel permits, the establishment of commercial trip limits for dolphin and the designation of Sargassum (a free-floating seaweed) as Essential Fish Habitat for dolphin.

It is anticipated that the final rule will be published and management measures in place for the spring fishing season. "A great deal of time and effort has gone into the development and implementation of this management plan," said Cupka. "The Council is extremely appreciative to the fishermen and others who have been instrumental in its development and approval."

The South Atlantic Fishery Management Council, one of eight regional councils, conserves and manages fish stocks from three to 200 miles offshore of North and South Carolina, Georgia and east Florida.