NOAA Fisheries has announced new regulations for the Atlantic dolphin and wahoo fishery of the Atlantic, increasing annual catch limits effective on July 9, but most fishermen won’t notice much of a difference.

The annual commercial catch limit for dolphin will increase from 1,065,524 to 1,157,001 pounds. The annual commercial catch limit for wahoo will increase from 64,147 to 70,542 pounds. There are no plans to increase the daily dolphin (10 per person) or wahoo (2 per day).

Dr. Michelle Duval of the N.C. Division of Marine Fisheries – and also vice chair of the South Atlantic Fishery Management Council – said the catch limits have only been exceeded once, in 2012, when the recreational wahoo fishery exceeded the catch limit, but by not a significant-enough amount to change the next season’s numbers.

“The catch-limit increases are the result of updates to the recreational data for these species using the Marine Recreational Information Program (MRIP) methodologies applied to historic recreational catches and revisions to commercial and for-hire landings,” Duval said. 

New accountability measures have been adopted for the dolphin and wahoo fisheries in Amendment 5, and they include a pay-back provision when the annual catch limit is exceeded and if the stock is overfished. The payback measures could include reduced allowed catches and/or closed or shortened seasons. There is also the flexibility to forego the payback measures if the total allowed catch or acceptable biological catch are not exceeded and the best scientific information available does not deem the payback necessary. 

The dolphin-wahoo agreement includes provisions to allow acceptable biological catch estimates, annual catch limits, and recreational annual catch targets to be modified using an abbreviated framework procedure to shorten the time it would take to make routine changes to harvest limits in response to new information from a stock assessment.

At its meeting this month, the SAFMC will be considering an amendment to the Dolphin-Wahoo Fishery Management Plan that would revise the existing allocation formula specifically for dolphin. The dolphin allocations are currently set at 92.46-percent recreational and 7.54-percent commercial. Several options are on the table, and the one favored by the Dolphin-Wahoo Advisory Panel would shift the allocation to 90 percent recreational and 10 percent commercial based on the average of the percentages of the total catch over the past 5 years.