The Magnuson Fishery Conservation and Management Act of 1976, (renamed the Magnuson-Stevens Fishery Conservation and Management Act when amended in 1996) established a U.S. exclusive economic zone (EEZ) between 3 and 200 miles offshore, and created eight regional fishery councils to manage the living marine resources within that area. The Act was initially passed to address heavy foreign fishing, promote the development of a domestic fleet and link fishing communities more directly to the management process.

It has been updated a number of times since it was initially passed to include additional issues such as provisions to address essential fish habitat (EFH), and establish annual catch limits (ACLs) and accountability measures (AMs) for all US fisheries. The Magnuson-Stevens Fishery Conservation and Management Act was last reauthorized in 2006.

Organizational Structure

Each Council has established its own process, broadly outlined in Section 302 of the MSA, to accomplish the work of developing rules that apply to the “managed” fisheries that operate within its areas of responsibility in the US exclusive economic zone. The New England Council relies heavily on its Oversight Committees, Advisory Panels, Plan Development Teams and Scientific and Statistical Committee to develop management actions.

Oversight Committees allow the Council to more efficiently develop alternatives and management measures for consideration and eventual inclusion in a fishery management plan (FMP). Each Council member serves on one or more oversight committees. Committees are generally related to a specific fishery or important management issue, such as habitat or ecosystem-based fisheries management (EBFM).

Committee members develop specific measures that will form the basis of the plan, plan amendment or framework adjustment to an FMP. Oversight committee recommendations are forwarded to the full Council for approval before they are included in any draft or final FMP.

Advisory Panels are made up of members from the fishing industry (from both commercial and recreational sectors), scientists, environmental advocates, and others with knowledge and experience related to fisheries issues. They meet separately or jointly with the relevant oversight committee and provide assistance in developing management plan measures.

Advisors are appointed every three years following a solicitation for candidates. After reviewing applications, the respective oversight committee recommends new or returning advisors. The Council's Executive Committee provides final approval of advisory panel members.

Plan Development Teams or (PDTs) provide an expanded pool of expertise for the purpose of conducting analyses and providing technical information to the Council. The PDTs also help ensure that Council FMPs, amendments, and framework adjustments meet scientific and legal requirements for review and approval.

Oversight committees may ask their PDTs to evaluate management proposals, develop options to meet FMP objectives, or to provide guidance on a variety of scientific, technical or FMP implementation issues. They provide technical analyses concerning species-related information, and develop issue papers, alternatives, and other documents as appropriate.

The NEFMC's Scientific and Statistical Committee provides the Council with ongoing scientific advice for fishery management decisions, including recommendations for acceptable biological catch, preventing overfishing, maximum sustainable yield, achieving rebuilding targets, and considerations related to the social and economic impacts of management measures.

The Council considers the recommendations of its committees, the advice forwarded by its Advisory Panels, and the analyses provided by its Plan Teams, as well as the testimony of affected stakeholders and the public in developing proposed management actions.