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Fisheries Management & Legislative Report

by Tom Fote
(from Jersey Coast Anglers Association February 2017 Newsletter)

Contents:

Summer Flounder Hearing

On January 5th, the ASMFC held a hearing in NJ. Luckily snow was in the forecast so the crowd was only 170. The Galloway Public Library had seats for about 80 so some left when they could not get into the room but about 70 stood for the whole hearing. This hearing could have gotten out of hand but the anglers conducted themselves with true class and made me proud. When Adam Nowalski asked if anyone in the room wanted to talk about an option, not one hand was raised in support of any option. They did not believe any reduction should take place until the next Bench Mark Stock Assessment takes place, so they support status quo. They are in good company. Below you will see a letter from Senator Cory Booker (D) and Robert Menendez (D) and Congressmen Frank Pallone (D), Frank Lobiondo (R), and Tom Macarthur (R) saying the same thing. There are two resolutions, AR206 & AR205, going through the NJ Assembly. One is by Assemblyman David Rible (R Wall) and the other one is by Assemblyman Vince Mazzeo (D Atlantic). Both resolutions pretty much say status quo until the next assessment is done. AR206 was voted out of committee on January 19. Senators Bob Smith (D) and Kip Bateman (R) are sponsoring a similar resolution in the NJ Senate that calls on NMFS to maintain status quo. I met with DEP Commissioner and the Fish and Wild staff and several recreational groups and everyone supported Status Quo including Commissioner Martin. I usually do not put party affiliation next to legislator’s names but I wanted to show that this is a real bi-partisan effort both at the state and federal level. The other great thing that has happened is it has brought the recreational groups in New Jersey and the national groups working together. If other states do the same, we can get a lot accomplished.

New Jersey Bureau of Marine Fisheries Budget

New Jersey’s recreational anglers are working hard and united to stop the reduction in the Summer Flounder fishery for 2017. The recreational anglers need to do the same for New Jersey’s Bureau of Marine Fisheries Budget (NJBMF). I have mentioned many times over the years that the NJBMF budget in 1981 was 3.1 million dollars. There were no saltwater recreational management plans in effect so they were directing the efforts on commercial fisheries and research on the fish stocks of NJ. When I was appointed to the NJ Marine Fisheries Council in the late eighties there were management plans for striped bass recreationally by the Atlantic States Marine Fisheries Commission (ASMFC) protecting the 1982 year class with its constant raising of the size and bag limits and a 14 inch size limit on summer flounder and federal regulations on bluefin tuna. The Striped Bass Emergency Act was passed in 1984 and required ASMFC to regulate and put in a management plan to rebuild the stocks. The states were required to work together and to fill the data gaps to effectively manage and rebuild the striped bass stock. The Striped Bass Management Plan required NJ to do a lot more sampling and stock assessment work. This cost money but the good news was the Federal Government through the US Fish and Wildlife Agency (USF&W) and National Marine Fishery Service (NMFS) were given a lot of money to pass on to the states through grants to accomplish the stock assessment requirement of the plan. In 1990 I was appointed to the ASMFC and things had not changed much in recreational management. The exception was the start of ASMFC and Mid-Atlantic Marine Fisheries Council initiating management plans for bluefish, summer flounder, scup and black sea bass. Those plans moved forward but with very sketchy data. With the passage of the Atlantic Coast Conservation Act, everything changed. ASMFC now had the power to ask the Secretary of Commerce to put in a moratorium for any state that did not follow the plan. Instead of implementing just two management plans at the state level, states were now required to implement plans for multiple species without any additional funding. Today we almost have a management plan that requires a lot of work for the state. Yes, money was given to ASMFC to implement the plans but the funding sent to the states was not sufficient to do the job required. Everyone assumed the states would pick up the slack since there was a vested interest in the states to protect the fishery. While it may have worked somewhere else, it definitely did not work in New Jersey. Instead we lower the budget and reduced the number of persons working there In the last two years, the budget for the Bureau of Marine Fisheries is below the 1981 budget by 1.2 million dollars. And the number of people working for Marine Fisheries is about 25% of what we had in 1981. As a result, the dedicated employees of the Bureau of Marine Fisheries are not given the tools they need to do the job. As people leave to retire or find more fulfilling employment, no one is taking their place. I know people who left because of the frustration of not seeing any future in a job that is chronically underfunded.

How do we correct this problem? The short-term solution is for you to reach out to your Senators and Assemblymen and women to ask them to make sure the 2017 budget has a line item specifically for the Bureau of Marine Fisheries. They also need to work to remove the cap so all staff positions can be filled. That is not enough to solve the problem because returning the budget to 3.1 million is just 1980 dollars. In the long term we need to find a way to increase the Bureau of Marine Fisheries budget, not just for the recreational community but for the commercial anglers and the general public who love to go fishing. The work being done by the Bureau of Marine Fisheries will get only more challenging when we feel more of the impact of the warming of the oceans. We need to act now to prevent even more problems in the future. I know how much effort you are all putting in to maintaining the status quo for summer flounder. You need to double that effort in fighting for a proper budget for the Bureau of Marine Fisheries. JCAA is already working with legislators on this issue. Remember, every one of our Senators and Assemblymen/women are up for reelection in 2017. It is up to us to make this a campaign issue.

NJ Assembly Resolution 206

ASSEMBLY RESOLUTION urging the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration to conduct a new summer flounder assessment before implementing any catch limits for 2017.

WHEREAS, New Jersey fisheries are ranked among the best in the nation and it is estimated that there are as many as one million recreational saltwater anglers fishing in New Jersey; and

WHEREAS, Of the many varieties of fish found off of New Jersey’s shores, summer flounder are among the most sought after saltwater fish along the Atlantic Coast; and

WHEREAS, Summer flounder fisheries are managed cooperatively by the states through the Atlantic States Marine Fisheries Commission (ASMFC) and the Mid-Atlantic Fishery Management Council (MAFMC); and

WHEREAS, Together, these managing entities are responsible for developing summer flounder fishery regulations as part of the Summer Flounder, Scup, and Black Sea Bass Fishery Management Plan; and

WHEREAS, The management plan is implemented through regulations adopted by the National Marine Fisheries Service (NMFS), a division of the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA) within the Department of Commerce; and

WHEREAS, The management plan is designed to ensure the protection and maintenance of the summer flounder stock, primarily through the establishment of harvest limits, which are based on the most current stock assessment report published by NOAA; and

WHEREAS, Based on the 2016 Stock Assessment Update, the ASMFC and MAFMC have recommended a 40 percent cut in catch limits for the 2017 and 2018 summer flounder fishing seasons; and

WHEREAS, Highlighting NOAA’s heavy reliance on random sampling to gather data for the 2016 stock assessment report, a bipartisan group of legislators from New Jersey, including United States Congressmen Frank Pallone, Jr., Frank LoBiondo, and Tom MacArthur and United States Senators Cory Booker and Robert Menendez, have expressed concern about the accuracy of the estimates contained in the report and have questioned the need to implement such a drastic reduction in catch limits for the upcoming season; and

WHEREAS, The Department of Environmental Protection has expressed similar concerns, warning that the drastic reduction in catch limits will devastate recreational and commercial fishing in New Jersey and have a detrimental effect on the economy of the New Jersey shore, particularly as the State continues to recover from Superstorm Sandy; and

WHEREAS, Many communities along the New Jersey shore that rely heavily on fishing are already struggling, in part, due to reduced summer flounder quotas from prior years; and

WHEREAS, According to the Jersey Coast Anglers Association, from 2007 to 2014, New Jersey lost two million fishing trips, 40 percent of which were in pursuit of summer flounder; and

WHEREAS, Despite significant opposition to the recommended reduction in summer flounder catch limits, and the potential for severe economic damage to the State, at the end of December 2016, the NMFS adopted a rule implementing the recommended reduction in summer flounder catch limits for the 2017 and 2018 fishing seasons; now, therefore,

BE IT RESOLVED by the General Assembly of the State of New Jersey:

  1. This House respectfully urges the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration to immediately conduct a new summer flounder assessment and refrain from enforcing the reduced summer flounder catch limit until a new benchmark assessment of the summer flounder stock has been conducted.
  2. Copies of this resolution, as filed with the Secretary of State, shall be transmitted by the Clerk of the General Assembly to the President of the United States, the Chair of the Atlantic States Marine Fisheries Commission, the Chairman of the Mid-Atlantic Fishery Management Council, the Commissioner of the New Jersey Department of Environmental Protection, the Assistant Administrator for Fisheries, the Under Secretary of Commerce for Oceans and Atmosphere, and every member of Congress elected from the State of New Jersey.

STATEMENT

This resolution urges the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA) to immediately conduct a new summer flounder assessment and refrain from enforcing a reduction in summer flounder catch limits until a new benchmark assessment has been conducted.

Based on the 2016 Stock Assessment Update report published by NOAA, the Atlantic States Marine Fisheries Commission and the Mid-Atlantic Fishery Management Council jointly recommended a reduction in summer flounder catch limits for the 2017 and 2018 seasons. The findings in the report were based largely on data obtained through random sampling. As a result, the assessments made are merely estimates which may not represent the actual status of the summer flounder stock.

Concerned parties, including the bill’s sponsors and members of the New Jersey delegation to the United States Congress, warn that the significant reduction in catch limits could destroy the recreational and commercial summer flounder industries in the State, and cause tremendous harm to the economy of the New Jersey shore. Many communities along the New Jersey shore that rely heavily on fishing are already struggling, in part, due to reduced summer flounder quotas from prior years. According to the Jersey Coast Anglers Association, from 2007 to 2014, New Jersey lost two million fishing trips, 40 percent of which were in pursuit of summer flounder.

This resolution urges NOAA to conduct a new benchmark assessment of the summer flounder stock to ensure that the assessments are accurate, and a potentially-devastating reduction in summer flounder quotas is not implemented unnecessarily.

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