Sustainable Fisheries Division

Bottomfish being auctioned at the United Fishing Agency in Honolulu

Annual Catch Limits FAQs

The figure above shows the relationship
between OFL, ABC, and ACL

What is an Annual Catch Limit?
An annual catch limit (ACL) is the amount of fish that can be caught by fishermen over a period of one year.

Why are ACLs needed?
ACLs are intended to prevent or end overfishing by fishermen

By who and how are ACLs determined?
Fishery scientists and managers use the best scientific information available (including catch and effort data) to determine the maximum amount of fish that can be caught without harming a fish stock.

This amount of catch is called the “maximum sustainable yield” (MSY). MSY is the annual amount of catch (measured by numbers or weight of fish), corresponding with the “overfishing limit” (OFL). Overfishing occurs when annual catch exceeds the OFL.

Since the OFL does not account for scientific uncertainty, scientists must determine an acceptable biological catch (ABC) that accounts for data gaps; the greater the uncertainty, the lower the ABC.The law requires ACLs to be at or below the ABC. ACLs can apply to all fishermen combined (e.g., entire fleet) or be assigned to different groups of fishermen, such as commercial and recreational or state and federal fishermen. Each group may have its own ACL for the same fish stock.

What are Accountability Measures?
Accountability measures (AMs) are regulations that try to keep the total fish catch under the ACL. ACLs can be (1) in-season measures; and (2) measures that correct overages (total catch exceeding ACL).

In-season AMs take place during the fishing season. They are usually short-term and can include trip or bag limits, area closures, or temporary closure of a fishery. If an ACL is exceeded a correction is made to reduce the ACL for the following fishing season. This will help ensure that the total fish catch stays below the limit for future harvests.

What federal fisheries will have ACLs and AMs in 2011?
All fisheries in federal waters will have ACLs and AMs. Fisheries that are managed by international organizations (fisheries for tunas, billfish, mahimahi, and ono) or fisheries that harvest species with an annual life cycle (a short life cycle) will not likely have ACLs.