Highly Migratory Species Report

by John T. Koegler

(from Jersey Coast Anglers Association March 2003 Newsletter)

New Marlin Rules

 Incremental Regulatory Elimination of Anglers

With each new regulatory move by NMFS and their supporting system, anglers are being eliminated from their fishery by the regulatory system. Increases in angler saltwater fishing participation created by rebounding fish stocks are being turned against anglers by a wide variety of regulatory mandates. Anglers’ contribution to the fish stock recoveries has been huge. But now anglers are being denied a meaningful part of that recovery.

The size fish usually caught by anglers from the beach or bay is being constantly increased, the bag limit decreased and the season shortened. Rules to control angler catches have been steadily tightened by increasing the legal size for fish that had been once considered to be trophy fish. This entire regulatory process is now becoming so tough on anglers’ ability to find and land a legal fish that the entire process is absurd.

Hopefully, anglers will realize that the regulatory process is now broken beyond minor repair. The must be fixed immediately if the huge economic impact generated by anglers’ spending is to continue. If the change in an angler’s ability to keep a fish is not reversed, coastal states shore-based economies will be sharply reduced. Regardless, if you count angler dollars spent, jobs created and taxes collected at any level, New Jersey recreational fishing expenditures represent an economic powerhouse. Anglers spend well over $1,500,000,000 in New Jersey each year. The jobs that $1,500,000,000 of angler spending supports is being completely ignored by the regulatory process. At an average salary of $25,000. per year, angler spending supports 60,000 jobs in New Jersey. Government mandated taxes on this spending such as sales tax, state and federal income tax, FDICA tax, fuel taxes, tackle tax at 10%, etc. is huge. Just the taxes collected on angler spending exceeds by many times the total dockside value of commercially caught finfish in New Jersey. $1,500,000,000 X .06 sales tax = $ 90,000,000 vs. $ 27,000,000 dockside value.

Commercial landing of finfish in New Jersey earns only $27,000,000 a year at dockside. $27,000,000 supports less than 1,000 directly related jobs at $25,000 per job. Yet commercial landings account for well over 50% of the total pounds of fish shared with anglers. The fish species anglers do not directly compete for increases the comparison with angler landings vs. commercial landings to over 80% commercial in pounds. What is most distressing is that in New Jersey there is little state budget support for the marine division that is responsible for monitoring the fishery resource that supports this massive recreational cash flow while the state collects huge tax dollars from the recreational industry.

Recreational angler rules and regulations are being toughened with little or no reason given to support the proposed changes. Commercial regulations have at the very same time been greatly liberalized even in fisheries where increased commercial landings will surely destroy the sustainability of a fishery, at least using the current rules that are used to manage fisheries.  Recently, NMFS regulatory changes seem to have become almost anti-resource.

NMFS new commercial harvest limits for Large Coastal Sharks (LCS) will not permit that fishery to remain under the legally mandated Maximum Sustainable Yield. (MSY). This was covered in last month’s report. How can NMFS do this?  Will not the National Environmental Groups sue NMFS on such an issue? Can NMFS change how MSY/ Optimum yield is determined?

As if by magic, in an action that appears questionable, NMFS has asked for public comment on their plan to review how they interpret National Standard #1 in the Magnuson Act which defines MSY.  Anglers have understood that it was Congress’s job to write the national standards and NMFS job to implement them.  NMFS intends to limit public comment on this issue to March 17, 2003.   What has happened at NMFS?


Am I being too tough on NMFS?  If you believe that, review the changes NMFS proposed at the recent Tuna and Billfish advisory meeting held in Silver Spring.


1-     Commercial landings of LCS sharks have been increased from 1,284 Mt. as proposed for 1997 to 1,714 Mt. in dressed weight for both 2003 and 2004. This is a major increase of 35%.  Environmental groups asked how NMFS could permit such a major increase. The answer was that NMFS used 20 additional databases that allowed this major increase in commercial LCS landings.


Two weeks earlier, Dalhousie University in Halifax, Canada issued a report on US and Canadian longline shark landings from 1986 to 2000. They determined that during this recent time period ALL large shark landings had collapsed by over 50% for all species and up to 89% for scalloped hammerheads. The time period used in the study does not measure the entire collapse of these shark populations because sharks have been commercially targeted for 30 years. Only the most recent 15 years are being measured by this report. This report was published in the prestigious magazine Science in their January 17, 2003 issue, pages 389/392 and titled “The Collapse and Conservation of Shark Populations in the Northwest Atlantic.”  Science magazine is available in any library.

2-     NMFS will issue a NEW recreational Highly Migratory Species (HMS) permit that anglers must buy to land tuna, shark, marlin or swordfish because both anglers and commercial categories are included, but there are new rules for anglers who choose to get a General Category permit that allows them to sell tuna.: If you get a General Category permit you will not be allowed to fish in any angler tournaments for billfish.


Also new but already passed is a shocking new rule. This rule was done without anglers even receiving the proper notice and a having a public hearing process at which to comment at.  If you land marlin, sailfish or swordfish, you must report that landing by calling NMFS phone reporting system. BUT THIS IS NOT ALL. NMFS will only issue a landing confirmation number AFTER a return phone call from them, when you will be asked 28 questions about your catch, one of which is about your use of circle hooks which NMFS is voluntarily promoting at this time. Not fully detailed at the meeting is the major fines being considered to force recreationals to follow NMFS new reporting rules. Anglers fishing in registered tournaments that report your their landings are exempted if they are reported.


Follow the History of Angler HMS Incremental Elimination through regulations by NMFS:


1.      Anglers must obtain a NMFS bluefin tuna boat permit. NMFS contended that all bluefin landed had to be counted because ICCAT requires a full count of landings. ALL other ICCAT countries refuse to count recreationally landed bluefin tuna. Thus, it is clear that the requirement to count recreational bluefin tuna is a NMFS interpretation of the rules, not an ICCAT requirement.

  1. Next, anglers had to BUY a NEW Tuna permit for ALL tuna species, not just bluefin.

3.      Anglers were next restricted to three Yellowfin (YFT) tuna per person per boat trip. No restrictions were placed on commercial YFT sale, despite National Standard # 4      that requires “fair and equitable” treatment. Commercials land 50% of the US reported YFT and yet have no trip limit of any kind.

  1. All angler billfish tournaments had to report their billfish landings and get a NMFS tournament permit.
  2. Anglers must BUY an HMS permit that covers all HMS species, not just tuna.  Now you cannot participate in billfish tournaments if you have chosen a General Categories permit which they consider a commercial permit.   
  3. Anglers can only keep one swordfish per angler per trip, further limited to three swordfish per vessel per trip. In the year 2000 anglers landed 20 Mt of swordfish compared to commercials 3,800 MT. Yet, anglers get a one swordfish landing limit without cause, absurd reporting rules without reason, and finally fines and penalties to be imposed without conscience. All required in the name of fairness without any doubt!


Involved sportsmen have long believed that it was a NMFS objective to eliminate any competition from recreational anglers for important commercial species. Anglers who have studied the rules can show and then prove that commercial fishermen receive very preferential regulatory treatment from this agency.

Review what will be imposed on the HMS anglers this year. We implore you to respond to NMFS new proposal before their deadline for public comment ends on March 17. Their NEW Amendment #1 for the HMS covers Marlin, Shark, Tuna and Billfish. This Management Plan change originally consisted of just commercial shark modifications, but it has been altered. If you do not comment, then you deserve what you will get in the future, ELIMINATION FROM SALTWATER SPORTFISHING.

Get the complete proposal from Chris Rogers and then send your comments to:

Chris Rogers, chief

HMS Division

1315 East-West Highway

Silver Spring MD. 20910

1-301-713-2347- phone

1-301-713-1917 fax