The South Atlantic Fishery Management Council, headquartered in Charleston, S.C., is responsible for the conservation and management of fish stocks within the federal 200-mile limit of the Atlantic off the coasts of North Carolina, South Carolina, Georgia and east Florida to Key West.
When Congress passed Public Law 94-265, the Magnuson Fishery Conservation And Management Act of 1976 (MFCMA), it extended the U.S. jurisdiction of fisheries out to 200 miles and created a new form of regional government through the eight regional fishery management councils. The role of the councils is to develop fishery management plans needed to manage fishery resources within the 200-mile limit. This limit, sometimes referred to as the Exclusive Economic Zone or EEZ or "federal waters" extends offshore from state waters (three miles in the South Atlantic) to 200 nautical miles. Outer boundaries of the EEZ off the southeastern coast vary according to areas where jurisdictional boundaries meet with Bermuda, the Bahamas and Cuba.
In 1996 the Sustainable Fisheries Act (SFA) became law and amended the Magnuson Act which is now called the Magnuson-Stevens Fishery Conservation and Management Act. Congress passed the SFA to protect marine fish stocks with requirements to prevent and stop overfishing, minimize bycatch and protect habitat.
Council members are citizens from each of these southeastern states who are knowledgeable of some aspects of the fisheries. They serve three-year terms and are appointed by the Secretary of Commerce from lists of nominees submitted by the governors of the states. Appointed members may serve a maximum of three consecutive terms. The official responsible for marine fisheries management in each state, as well as the regional director of the National Marine Fisheries Service are also voting members. Non-voting members include representatives of the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service, U.S. Coast Guard, State Department, and Atlantic States Marine Fisheries Commission.
The Council meets four times each year, once in each of the southeastern states. Before final action on any proposed rule change is taken, the Council involves the public through informal public scoping meetings, public hearings and input at Council meetings. Proposed rule changes are then sent to NMFS for further review, public comment and approval before being implemented.
In addition, the Council receives input and recommendations from knowledgeable people from other state and federal agencies, universities and members of the public who serve on various committees and panels. These include Advisory Panels, the Scientific & Statistical Committee and Stock Assessment Panels.