Fisheries Management & Legislative Report

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


Summer Flounder

Summer Flounder has consumed much of my time the past few months. In one week, I met with John Bullard and Sam Rauch acting director for NMFS. John Toth covered the John Bullard meeting in his column. I had a good 2 ½ hour conversation with Sam Rauch about summer flounder, black sea bass and the Marine Recreational Statistical Survey. Since he met with Commissioner Martin in the morning, he had already discussed New Jersey’s most pressing problems. I am in the unique position of having worked with the summer flounder, black sea bass and scup management plan since its inception. On Good Friday, I received the ASMFC response to our appeal. In part, the email said, “Commission Leadership determined the appeal did not meet the qualifying guidelines under appeal criterion five and three but could be forwarded to the ISFMP Policy Board for consideration under criterion two.” I will share more information after I have an opportunity to discuss this with New Jersey’s other commissioners and Commissioner Martin. The good news is the Policy Board will hear our appeal. The Commission on Summer Flounder, Black Sea Bass and Scup Meeting is May 10 and the Policy Board meets on May 11.

Black Sea Bass

Paul Haertel included an update of the Council decisions in his column. I received a press release about the increase in the commercial quota on Good Friday. It will be interesting to see what happens in the May 10 meeting. I am looking forward to a proposed increase in the recreational quota as well. I made this an explicit request at both of my meetings. What I stated to both John Bullard and Sam Rauch was that the issues with black sea bass are even more upsetting than the issues with summer flounder. How can you not propose an increase on a stock that is at 230% of where it should be? If we were 230% of where we should be with summer flounder, would they still be denying us an increase? The Summer Flounder Meeting is a joint meeting with the Mid-Atlantic Fisheries Management Council. I am hopeful both groups will come to their senses and vote for an increase. Right now, neither group has any credibility with the recreational community. Until then, we have to wait and see.

Concerns on Cuts to EPA

There are two articles below talking about the proposed cuts to EPA and the denial of climate change by the Executive Branch and the new EPA Director. The letter from New Jersey’s politicians is by-partisan to fight these cuts. The impact on New Jersey’s environment would be devastating, both for the health of all the citizens and our quality of life. The other release is from 17 Republican Congressmen, including New Jersey’s Congressman Lobiondo. It deals with the long-term impact of climate change and suggests a path forward. This is designed as a Republican resolution and it would be good if our other Republican Congressmen would sign on and support it.

Endocrine Disruptors

This is another topic I have been bringing to your attention for what seems like forever. I first got involved when I realized that endocrine disruptors were having the same impact on the fish population as Agent Orange was having on the soldiers who served in Vietnam. I have continued to give you articles about the impact on fish populations and how endocrine disruptors affect their sexual reproduction, changing males to females and creating males who attempt to lay eggs. There is an article below talking about an ongoing study on the Hudson River. I had seen some preliminary studies on what could be impacts on humans but have not put any of those articles in the newspaper. When I read the article in the New York Times, I felt it was my obligation to share this information. The article includes a major study that shows that with the increase in endocrine disruptors in Hunan Province China, the number of males applying to donate sperm who were qualified went from 56% in 2001 to 18% in 2015. You need to read this article to see how that is just an example of the problems endocrine disruptors are creating all over the world. I always believed that sooner or later we would find evidence of these problems in humans. I guess that time is now. Perhaps now that we are seeing human impacts, we will take this problem more seriously and develop a plan to get the endocrine disruptors out of our water.

State Budget

(Reprinted from last month’s newspaper)

I cannot believe that I am singing the same song that I was in the early 80’s. The Bureau of Marine Fisheries Budget is limited to New Jersey tax dollars except for a few fees on the commercial side. When JCAA was complaining about the budget in the 80’s there were very few fisheries’ plans or restrictions for either the commercial or recreational side. Except for some Federal quotas or size limits, there was nothing that needed to be monitored. In the late 80’s the Mid Atlantic Council and ASMFC began working on joint management plans for summer flounder, scup, black sea bass and bluefish. The ASMFC was working on plans that were advisory with no enforcement except for striped bass. There was considerable money coming into New Jersey and ASMFC to fund the necessary stock assessment work and monitoring of striped bass to fulfill the requirements of the Atlantic Coast Conservation Act. When the Atlantic Coast Conservation Act was passed in the 90’s the fishing world changed. The fisheries management plans required gathering much more information which cost money. There were stock assessments that needed to be done for every species. There was quota management that needed to be done for both commercial and recreational. If we were going to manage by quotas we needed more accurate data about commercial catch landings and bycatch and similar data for the recreational sector. As time passed, we realized how little we knew and how difficult it was to implement the plans based on good science and good data. We also realized how expensive this would be. I remember arguing at a 1994 joint meeting of ASMFC and the Mid-Atlantic Fisheries Management Council that the data we had on scup and black sea bass was so poor as to be useless. I began calling for better data and was ignored.

We are not in 2017. New Jersey went from few management requirements for both commercial and recreation fisheries to a point where New Jersey needs to gather more and more with less and less money and staff. I will be attending the Assembly and Senate Budget Hearings to plead, once again, for more money for the Marine Fisheries budget. The only thing that has changed is that I no longer go and ask for an increase on the 3.1 million dollar budget but begin by asking them to stop cutting the budget. All the old timers know where we were 25 years ago and how much more complex it is now. In 1981 the budget for Marine Fisheries was 3.1 million dollars. That was in 1981 dollars, supporting a staff 4 times what it is now. We are now trying to do 10 times the work with 25% of the personnel with a budget of only 1.9 million dollars. The hiring at the Bureau of Marine Fisheries was frequently been frozen as it has been for the last few years. This has resulted in a great reduction in staff. The other problem is the staff that began working under the larger budget is now reaching retirement. Instead because of frustration with the lack of ability to do a good job, they are retiring as early as possible.

I will be testifying before the Senate and Assembly committees and will include my testimony in this newspaper or on our website. I will also put online the new economic study that shares clear recreational data by Congressional district. If you need it more immediately, just email me.

The Senate and Assembly are all up for election this November. We have people running for governor and some of them are in positions where they could be helpful now. It is important for you to contact your state legislators, the Governor’s office and the Lieutenant Governor’s office to tell them that you are not asking for an outrageous increase in the budget for Marine Fisheries. What you are asking for is the same budget we had in 1981 at 3.1 million dollars as a starting point to rebuild the Bureau of Marine Fisheries.

Samples Taken to Find Out Extent of Pharmaceutical Pollution in Hudson
by Scott Fallon, Asbury Park Press, 4/12/2017

Scientists are taking samples of the Hudson River this month in an ambitious plan to measure how much pharmaceutical pollution gets washed into the waterway during heavy rains and to pinpoint its source.

Anti-depressants, blood pressure medicine, decongestants and other medicines already have been detected in the Hudson in preliminary samples.

The latest round of testing is a larger sweep of the river, including the portion that passes by New Jersey, at a time of the year when pollution overall is washing into the Hudson at a greater rate due to runoff and sewage overflows. Residue from medicine has made its way into rivers, streams and sources of drinking water for decades, but scientists have only begun identifying it recent years as testing has improved.

Little is known about their health effects on humans, but pharmaceuticals have had a major impact on wildlife.

The Hudson study comes on the heels of a federal report that showed male fish in New Jersey’s Wallkill River — a tributary of the Hudson — were developing female reproductive characteristics, mostly likely due to hormone-based drugs that made their way into the water.

“There is a big universe of chemicals that we just don’t know what their impact is,” said Dan Shapley, water quality director of the Hudson Riverkeeper advocacy group. “It took years for us to understand that greenhouse gases change the Earth’s temperature, that nutrients added to water devastate coral reefs. We’re just starting to look at what pharmaceuticals can do.”

Most pharmaceutical pollution is believed to come from human waste, everyday medication that passes through a person unabsorbed. It also comes from people improperly disposing of their old medication in a toilet. Sewage plants are not capable of filtering pharmaceuticals before treated waste is released back into waterways. Other sources of pharmaceutical pollution include street or farm runoff containing animal waste.

The study — by Riverkeeper, Columbia University, Cornell University, CUNY and the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency — is a continuation of work that began in 2015 to target pharmaceuticals, industrial runoff and other pollution in more than 200 miles of the river from New York Harbor to the George Washington Bridge to Albany.

Water samples taken two years ago found 83 of 117 targeted chemicals in the Hudson, ranging from the anti-depressants to blood pressure medication to the insect repellent DEET.

Researchers hope the latest work will allow them to pinpoint the sources of pollution. And they expect to find much more with samples taken last week, since untreated sewage was entering the Hudson due to heavy rain. Plus the study has expanded to south of the Tappan Zee Bridge, where the Hudson hits New Jersey.

The problem is not limited to the Hudson. Scientists across the globe have found fish, birds, otters and other mammals with significant amounts of over-the-counter and prescription drugs absorbed into their organs. That was seen in North Jersey two years ago when a study by the U.S. Geological Survey found that male fish in two of North Jersey’s most protected areas — the Wallkill River in Sussex County and the Great Swamp in Morris County — had developed female sexual characteristics. The findings alarmed clean-water advocates, who say the problem may be more widespread, considering that most fish in North Jersey swim in waters that are even more likely to be tainted.

More than 100,000 people in upstate New York get their drinking water from the Hudson, Shapley said. Since no New Jersey community gets water from the Hudson, the most likely human exposure to pharmaceuticals is from eating fish.

New Jersey officials advise against eating more than a minimal amount of fish caught from the Hudson because of decades of industrial and sewage contamination. But anglers, many of them new immigrants, can be found along the riverfront casting their lines from Bayonne to Alpine, especially in warmer months.

Unlike the voluminous data on the health effects of bacteria and other pathogens in the region’s water, the science on pharmaceuticals is in its infancy.

“It’s a human fingerprint that’s more unique, because we haven’t been studying it for decades as we have with other pollution,” said Gregory O’Mullan, an environmental microbiologist at Queens College in New York.

Researchers hope the study will also help pinpoint the origin of the pollution. By measuring pharmaceuticals, scientists will be able to differentiate whether the pollution came from animals, untreated human sewage or a sewage treatment plant.

Animal waste remains a huge problem for rivers and streams, whether it’s from farms or, more likely in the case of New Jersey, from street runoff pushing animal feces into waterways.

“Having that information on the source is going to be very helpful when you speak to managers about how to fix the problem,” O’Mullan said.

His work is funded partially by $15,000 from the New York Sea Grant, which is slated to be cut under President Donald Trump’s proposed budget.

Are Your Sperm in Trouble?
by Nicholas Kristof, N.Y. Times, 3/11/2017

Let’s begin with sex.

As a couple finishes its business, millions of sperm begin theirs: rushing toward an egg to fertilize it. But these days, scientists say, an increasing proportion of sperm — now about 90 percent in a typical young man — are misshapen, sometimes with two heads or two tails.

Even when properly shaped, today’s sperm are often pathetic swimmers, veering like drunks or paddling crazily in circles. Sperm counts also appear to have dropped sharply in the last 75 years, in ways that affect our ability to reproduce.

“There’s been a decrease not only in sperm numbers, but also in their quality and swimming capacity, their ability to deliver the goods,” said Shanna Swan, an epidemiologist at the Icahn School of Medicine at Mount Sinai, who notes that researchers have also linked semen problems to shorter life expectancy.

Perhaps you were expecting another column about political missteps in Washington, and instead you’ve been walloped with talk of bad swimmers. Yet this isn’t just a puzzling curiosity, but is rather an urgent concern that affects reproduction, possibly even our species’ future.

Andrea Gore, a professor of pharmacology at the University of Texas at Austin and the editor of the journal Endocrinology, put it to me this way: “Semen quality and fertility in men have decreased. Not everyone who wants to reproduce will be able to. And the costs of male disorders to quality of life, and the economic burden to society, are inestimable.”

Human and animal studies suggest that a crucial culprit is a common class of chemical called endocrine disruptors, found in plastics, cosmetics, couches, pesticides and countless other products. Because of the environmental links, The New Yorker once elegantly referred to the crisis as “silent sperm,” and innumerable studies over 25 years add to the concern that the world’s sperm are in trouble.

And so are men and boys. Apparently related to the problem of declining semen quality is an increase in testicular cancer in many countries; in undescended testicles; and in a congenital malformation of the penis called hypospadias (in which the urethra exits the side or base of the penis instead of the tip). These problems are often found together and are labeled testicular dysgenesis syndrome.

There is still disagreement about the scale of the problem, and the data aren’t always reliable. But some scientists are beginning to ask, at some point, will we face a crisis in human reproduction? Might we do to ourselves what we did to bald eagles in the 1950s and 1960s?

“I think we are at a turning point,” Niels Erik Skakkebaek, a Danish fertility scholar and pioneer in this field, told me. “It is a matter of whether we can sustain ourselves.”

One recent study found that of sperm donor applicants in Hunan Province, China, 56 percent qualified in 2001 because their sperm met standards of healthiness. By 2015, only 18 percent qualified.

“The semen quality among young Chinese men has declined over a period of 15 years,” concluded the study, which involved more than 30,000 men.

Perhaps even more alarming, Canadian scientists conducted a seven-year experiment on a lake in Ontario, adding endocrine disrupting chemicals and then observing the impact on fathead minnows. The chemicals had a devastating impact on males, often turning them into intersex fish, with characteristics of both sexes but incapable of reproducing.

The crisis for male reproductive health seems to begin in utero. Male and female fetuses start pretty much the same, and then hormones drive differentiation of males from females. The problem seems to be that endocrine disrupting chemicals mimic hormones and confuse this process, interfering with the biological process of becoming male.

How should we protect ourselves? Swan said she avoids plastics as much as possible, including food or drinks that have touched plastic or been heated in plastic. She recommends eating organic to avoid pesticide residues, and avoiding Tylenol and other painkillers during pregnancy. Receipts from thermal printers, like at gas pumps and A.T.M.s, are also suspect. When in doubt, she consults guides at ewg.org/consumer-guides.

Yet this isn’t just a matter of individual action, but is also a public policy issue that affects tens of millions of people, their capacity to reproduce and their health and life expectancy.

What’s needed above all is more aggressive regulation of endocrine disrupting chemicals. America has been much slower than Europe to regulate toxic chemicals, and most chemicals sold in the U.S. have never been tested for safety.

The larger question is why we allow the chemical industry — by spending $100,000 on lobbying per member of Congress — to buy its way out of effective regulation of endocrine disruptors. The industry’s deceit marks a replay of Big Tobacco’s battle against regulation of smoking.

If you doubt the stakes, look at the image with this column of a hapless sperm swimming in circles, and remember this: Our human future will only be as healthy as our sperm.

Former N.J. Governor’s Unite to Push Environmental Initiatives in Washington
by Alyana Alfaro, Observer, 4/4/2017

A bi-partisan group of former New Jersey elected officials on Tuesday announced that, despite differences in politics, they were joining together to push environmental advocacy issues in Washington, D.C. The group — which includes former Governors Tom Kean (R), Christie Whitman (R), Jim Florio (D) and Brendan Byrne (D), as well as former Democratic Congressman Rush Holt and former NJ Assemblywoman Maureen Ogden (R) — wants New Jersey’s current congressional delegation to fight to protect public land, water, air and wildlife.

The former elected officials on Tuesday released the “Principles to Protect our Public Lands, Water, Air and Wildlife.” Those principles claim that environmental protections are “fundamental to the economic success and vitality” of both the state and the nation, that the environment is fundamental to health/well-being, and that “environmental protection must remain a bipartisan matter.” In their letter the officials also call for support of environmental laws, including the Clean Water Act, Clean Air Act, National Environmental Policy Act, Endangered Species Act, and Wilderness Act and Antiquities Act. Additionally, they push for protection of public land, promoting renewable energy, an acknowledgement of climate change and demand that “all federal agencies, policies and laws be grounded in sound science.”

According to a joint statement, the call for environmental protections is due to the current political climate at a “time when the nation’s environmental laws and regulations are facing unprecedented efforts to rescind and weaken them in Washington.” Last month, President Donald Trump signed a sweeping executive order to change U.S. regulations to carbon emissions, boost coal production and reduce considerations of climate change in other federal rules. During the 2016 presidential election, Whitman was one of the most notable Republicans in New Jersey to vocally oppose Trump during his campaign. She is also the former head of the Environmental Protection Agency under President George W. Bush.

During a Tuesday press call announcing the principles, Whitman said that New Jersey elected officials cannot allow for national policies to effect the health of state residents. As a former EPA official, Whitman criticized Trump’s recent call for steep cuts to the agency.

“Thirty-one percent cuts to the Environmental Protection Agency… is basically doing away with the agency,” Whitman said. “It is doing away with enforcement, it is doing away with environmental research that tells us what is acceptable for human health, what can we tolerate without doing away with the future. This is extremely important. While I know it is easy for people to say they hate regulation because it forces them to do something or spend money on a problem I don’t think is real, I don’t think they have fully thought through the consequences of what happens when we stop protecting our environment.”

Principles to Protect our Public Lands, Water, Air and Wildlife

We, the undersigned former Governors and elected officials, and leaders of New Jersey Conservation Foundation, embrace our responsibility as environmental protectors. We affirm that land and natural resources must be protected and conserved for the health and enjoyment of current and future generations.

We call upon every Member of New Jersey's Congressional Delegation to honor New Jersey’s legacy of environmental protection and progress and join us in advocating for these Principles to Protect our Public Lands, Water, Air and Wildlife.

We acknowledge that clean water, clean air, parks, forests, and farms are fundamental to the economic success and vitality of the State of New Jersey and the United States of America.

Moreover, the quality of our environment is fundamental to our health, wellbeing and quality of life.

We acknowledge that environmental protection must remain a bipartisan matter. Therefore;

We will support and defend environmental laws, including the Clean Water Act, Clean Air Act, National Environmental Policy Act, Endangered Species Act, Wilderness Act and Antiquities Act, which provide the basic underpinnings for the protection of our environment and the public good.

We will protect and defend public lands and continued public funding for land preservation to celebrate our natural heritage, safeguard our drinking water and secure quality of life for future generations.

We will promote renewable energy and energy conservation, knowing that such action will create millions of jobs without generating pollution or relying on fossil fuels. Renewable energy and energy conservation provide vast health and economic benefits while securing our energy independence.

We will demand that all federal agencies, policies and laws be grounded in sound science.

We will work to address the critical and impending threat of manmade climate change that faces our Nation and our world.

Signed, Hon. Rush D. Holt Hon. Brendan T. Byrne Hon. James J. Florio Hon. Thomas H. Kean Hon. Christine Todd Whitman Hon. Maureen Ogden
ASMFC Spring Meeting - May 8-11, 2017
The Westin Alexandria - Alexandria, Virginia

Look for comprehensive agenda with meeting details and webinar information at ASMFC web page

Preliminary Agenda Monday May 8 8:00am – Noon Climate Change Work Group 1:00 - 2:30pm Atlantic Herring Section 2:45 - 5:15pm American Lobster Management Board Tuesday May 9 8:00 - 10:15am American Lobster Management Board (continued) 8:30am - 5:00pm Law Enforcement Committee 10:30am - 12:30pm Tautog Management Board 1:00 - 3:15pm Atlantic Striped Bass Management Board 3:30 - 5:45pm Atlantic Menhaden Management Board 6:30 - 8:00pm Annual Awards of Excellence Reception Wednesday May 10 8:00 - 9:30am Executive Committee 9:45 - 10:45am Coastal Sharks Management Board 11:00am - Noon Atlantic Coastal Cooperative Statistics Program (ACCSP) Coordinating Council 1:00 - 5:30pm Summer Flounder, Scup, and Black Sea Bass Management Board and Mid-Atlantic Fishery Management Council
  • Review and Consider Scup Draft Addendum XXIX for Final Approval
  • Update on Summer Flounder Comprehensive Amendment Work and Analysis
  • Review Implementation of 2017 Summer Flounder and Black Sea Bass Recreational Measures
Thursday May 11 8:00 - 10:30am Interstate Fisheries Management Program Policy Board 10:30 - 11:00am Business Session (if necessary) 11:15am - 3:00pm South Atlantic State/Federal Fisheries Management Board
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