Highly Migratory Species Report

by John T. Koegler

(from Jersey Coast Anglers Association January 1998 Newsletter)

This is the time of year when a great deal of thanks must be conferred on those who worked so hard for better fisheries management during 1997. Bluefish were abundant offshore, many small stripers everywhere, better bottom fishing during the bitter part of the season, plus a partial Bluefin tuna season saved by a 4 fish per boat limit. A good Mackerel season for the first time in years due in part to NO Russian ships in Delaware bay. Many thanks to Governor Whitman for her decision. Clearly a time to express our thanks to out Governor, members, of Congress and the Senate plus all the councils and commissions and their staff s for better fish management decisions in 1997.

Even ICCAT, for the first time adopted mandatory conservation measure for Marlin, both blue and white. The agreement required countries to reduce landings of these species by at least 25% from 1996 levels starting in 1999. A host of other ICCAT issues was covered Some measures were toughening up, setting the stage for better management of the Ocean's HMS fisheries in the future, if observed.

A compromise limit of 4 Bluefin tuna per boat in place of one tuna was available for much of the season and the school quota was not reached. Large Coastal sharks were declared overfished, all of them representing a milestone. Sadly these sharks are so overfished that even if commercial fishing stops in US waters tomorrow, these sharks will not recover for 40 years, if then. A sad tale proving NMFS's inability to manage commercial overfishing effort.

A major tagging program of Large Bluefin near Cape Hatteras last winter produced quality results. Two archival tags were recovered in US water in August by US fishermen. These tuna had tiny high tech data recorders placed inside them which tracked the movement of these fish with a data recorded every two minutes for six months. One surprising item showed these tuna diving to 2,400 feet and remaining there for over 30 minutes while maintaining their 80 degree body temperature in the 35 degree depths. New time release satellite Pop-Up tags all worked, proving Bluefin's toughness and wide geographic range. A large number of these tags popped up near the Azores only several hundred miles off the mouth of the Mediterranean. Proving there is a mixing of the stocks. Everyone now knows, very tough United States Bluefin conservation efforts are being wasted and the benefits are being stolen by the eastern Atlantic fishers with no reward to US fishermen at all. How this will affect future management remains to be seen. This dramatic new data was not reported at the US ICCAT meeting in November as expected but in the New York Times October 21 issue! NMFS grants supported this research. Normal procedure requires detailed quarterly grant reports? What's up?

Sailfish releases in Florida are fantastic this early winter season. A key factor appears to be a huge rebound in bait due to Florida's commercial net ban in state waters. Proving one more time that no fish species can recovery to quantity numbers without an abundant food source. Maryland recently banned Reduction bunker boats from their state waters. New York's new law closes 13 miles of Long Island sound to reduction bunker boats. As a result, New York anglers had one of their best striper and bluefish seasons on record.

HMS management division appointed a Billfish and HMS management Advisory Panels which could speed the changes needed to aid meaningful recovery of the HMS species. Both groups will meet at Baltimore's Sheraton Inner Harbor Hotel, 300 South Charles Street, (1-410-962-8300) on Sunday January I1 1:00 to 5:30 and on Monday Jan 12, 9 to 5,00. The HMS AP will discuss quota allocation and effort controls in the Atlantic Bluefin tuna fishery. Billfish AP will cover a rebuilding schedule for blue and white marlin plus ICCAT's recommendation for a 25% cut in 1999 landings!

US Fish, Game and Wildlife completed their once every five year economic study of recreational fishing and hunting spending for the 1996 spending year, Many minor changes were made providing a more useable data base. This data can now be used as a. economic management tool in saltwater fisheries. This economic report when combined with the new National Standard # 1 specifying "Optimum Yield" as the national standard for fisheries management, should have a major impact on fisheries management.

Optimum yield was recently defined by NMFS as; "Optimum yield is the amount of fish that will provide the greatest overall net economic benefit to the nation,,particularly with respect to food production and recreational opportunities, taking into account the protection of marine ecosystems. 46

Many important US fisheries were declared overfished by NMFS on October 11, 1997. All these fisheries must have their management plans rewritten. The law requires stock recover in no more than a 10 year time span. They must complete their rewrites within 12 months or NMFS will do it for them. As these regulations are revised will the recreational economic information, required by law be included?

Compare these New Jersey statistics:

New Jersey Recreational fish spending in 1996

New Jersey Commercial Landings 1993

New Jersey recreational fisheries are worth 33 times more in "Overall net economic benefit to the nation" than commercial fisheries? If the law is followed all management fish quotas must be revised to reflect this "greater overall Bet economic benefit to the nation" of recreational fisheries? How many recreational anglers and businesses wig provide the huge effort needed to make this occur?

My very best wishes to all for a joyful holiday season and a healthy and happy New Year.

More TIGHT lines for 1998, JTK.

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