FISHERIES MANAGEMENT & LEGISLATIVE REPORT
by Tom Fote
(from Jersey Coast Anglers
Association February 1998 Newsletter)
BE PART OF JCAAS AGENDA IN THE 208th NJ LEGISLATURE
In the closing weeks of the 207th session of the NJ Legislature, I spent a good deal of time in Trenton. I became more aware than ever how important it is to maintain continual contact with our legislators and how quickly we can lose touch on important issues. Five years ago, when we were in Trenton regularly and local clubs and their individual members were in constant contact with our legislators, we were a recognized presence in the legislature. That has changed. We have not been spending the time or doing our homework and many of the newer legislators have no idea how many people we represent throughout the state. It is important that we remedy this and you and your club members are the only ones who can make it happen. When I speak with a legislator who has gotten many letters and phone calls about an issue, he or she is more receptive to what I have to say. But those phone calls and letters cannot come from me or from the JCAA officers unless we live in that district. Legislators respond to pressure from constituents, you and your club members. JCAA and the NJ Federation of Sportsmens Clubs will be developing a specific agenda for the 208th Legislative Session with your input. We can keep you up to date on the issues and what is happening in the legislature. We need your long term support in letters and calls for all our issues and we need to be able to generate your immediate support when a bill comes up for a vote. I have decided to devote most of my time and energy to statewide issues and spend more time in Trenton but it will accomplish little if I dont have your help.
First, I need a legislative contact in each club, someone I can call regularly with updates and at the last minute if I need to generate phone calls and letters before an important vote. This should be someone who can organize club members and provide me with fax and email addresses by legislative district.
Second, JCAA and the NJ Federation of Sportsmen will be setting up a legislative agenda workshop for club presidents and legislative contacts. We will cover everything you need to know to make us more effective.
Third, every club must develop an ongoing relationship with their legislators. You must know what district you live in, who your legislators are and how to get in touch with them. You should invite your legislators to attend one of your club meetings to share your concerns. We will be glad to send a JCAA representative.
We can no longer afford to be reactive. This is our plan for being proactive. We need you help.
UPDATE ON THE ELVER BILL
While preparing for the Outdoor Show on Friday, January 9th, I received a call informing me that the Elver Bill was slated for a vote in the NJ Senate on Monday, January 12th, bypassing the usual hearing procedures that we had expected to take place. JCAA contacted Al Ristori, John Geiser, J.B. Kasper and Bob Brunisholz, the outdoor writers whose articles are reprinted in this newspaper and let them know what was taking place. Knowing how important this issue is, they were willing to make any changes in the Sunday columns necessary to get the information to the public. Having responsive and responsible outdoor writers is absolutely essential if information is to be distributed in a timely manner. Their quick response on this issue was vital to protecting the elvers and we should give them our thanks for their hard work. In addition, we distributed about 3,000 flyers at the Outdoor Show at the Raritan Center. On Sunday, we faxed copies of the newspaper articles and the letter printed below to every Senator. On Monday I joined Senator Bassano in Trenton. He made arrangements for both of us to speak with many Senators. Senator Bassano supported our call to defeat this bill since he believes that New Jersey should wait until the Atlantic States Marine Fisheries Commission completes its Eel Fisheries Management Plan before passing any legislation regarding this fishery. With his help we were able to keep this bill from being posted for a vote. Without passage of this legislation the elver fishery is closed.
This issue is not resolved. The elver bill has already been reintroduced as A675 and will be fast tracked through committee hearings as soon as the Assembly reconvenes. Right now, you must contact you representatives in the Assembly and the Senate and let them know that you do not want any legislation that will allow for an uncapped elver fishery. We cannot afford another last minute attempt to stop unfavorable legislation. We need to do the hard work now to prevent this from happening again. I have included the Assembly vote. If your representative to the Assembly voted yes on the Elver Bill, write, call and fax to let them know how displeased you are. If they dont hear from you, they automatically assume they can vote yes on the next bill. The Maine buyers and the people who were profiting from the elver fishery are already on the phone to fast track a bill to open the fishery as soon as possible. Many of the Assembly yes votes came from areas where there is no elver fishery and where we have clubs who could have considerable clout. If they voted yes, you have only yourself to blame. JCAA can keep you informed but club members must make the individual contacts.This bill will be going through the Assembly Agriculture and Natural Resources committee. Since Assemblyman John Gibson is chairman of the committee and the sponsor of A675 you can be sure he will schedule hearings as soon as possible. You must immediately write, call and fax the following. The Democratic members of this committee have not yet been appointed. Their names should be available at the next JCAA meeting. You and your club members should make particular efforts to contact any local representatives on this committee. Just to repeat myself, please check the included list of the previous Assembly vote on this issue. If you representative in the Assembly voted yes, he or she needs to hear from you right away. The supporters of this bill will be out in full force. They have money riding on this bill and will not hesitate to put as much pressure as possible for every yes vote.
Assembly Agriculture and Natural Resources
Chairman Assemblyman John C. Gibson , R 1st District
2087 South Shore Rd.
Seaville, NJ 08230
Phone (609)-624-1222 fax (609)-624-3234
Vice Chair Assemblywoman Connie Myers , R 23th
124 W. Washington Ave
Washington, NJ 07882
Phone (908)-835-1202 fax (908)-835-1205
Assemblyman Larry Chatzidakis , R 8th
3000 Midlantic Dr.
Suite 103, Mount Laurel, NJ 08054
Phone (609)-234-8080 fax (609)-234-3990
Assemblywoman Clare M. Farragher , R 12th
Broad Street Professional Plaza
Suite 4, 40 Broad St.
Freehold, NJ 07728
Phone (732)-462-9009 fax (732)-462-5467
Assemblyman E. Scott Garrett , R 24th
61 Spring St. 3rd Fl.,
Newton, NJ 07860
Phone (973)-579-7585 fax (973)-579-4902
|Connors, C (R-9)||X|
|Smith, J (R-13)||X|
|Smith, R. (D-17)||X|
|Smith, T (R-11)||X|
Dear Senator __________________,
There is a move afoot to prevent sportsmen and conservation groups from debating bills A3226 and S2346 (Elver Fishery Bill) before the Senate Environmental and Appropriations Committees.
The Jersey Coast Anglers Association (30,000 members) and NJ Federation of Sportsmen's Clubs (120,000 members) have been in touch with the Governor's office and the offices of every state senator concerning this serious threat to marine life on three separate occasions by mail or fax. Your office has been contacted by NJ Audubon, Jersey Shore Audubon and the American Littoral Society concerning their opposition to the bill. The Alliance For A Living Ocean and Recreational Fishing Alliance recently added their voices in opposition. Our concerns are well founded and deserve to be heard prior to a floor vote.
Please note that if these bills are not passed, elver stocks will still be protected. New DEP regulations (effective January 6, 1998) closed the elver fishery by instituting a six inch minimum size on the harvest of American eels, and permits only a small "experimental fishery" to supply "in-state" aquaculture projects. It provides time to review the issues surrounding this fishery and the complex biology of these animals instead of rushing to pass bills that do little more than guarantee their depletion.
The aforementioned groups were prepared to debate these bills before the appropriate committees to make senators aware of the damage they will inflict on a species we know very little about, the American eel. These animals represent a public resource of value to all citizens of this state, yet these bills will permit a small number of profit-minded individuals to continue a massive harvest of immature eels from internal state waters. This fishery has proven to be a disaster in other states and was banned after the damage was done, all to feed an aquaculture industry in Japan with an insatiable appetite. Similar fisheries promoted in Asia and Europe by the Japanese had just one result, eel stocks depleted to the point of collapse.
With strong opposition clearly evident, S2346 is being pushed onto the Senate floor for a vote on Monday, January 12, 1998 without review and debate by two key committees in an effort to circumvent public comment. It is unacceptable to prevent citizens from making their concerns known about A3226 and S2346, and to stifle their participation in the legislative process.
We know you understand that a vote for these bills is a vote for the continued depletion of New Jersey's marine life. These are not conservation bills, as they are being represented by their sponsors, but bills that will allow the overharvest of a species that reproduces only once in its lifetime! Stocks can be collapse in a few short years if not properly managed. You can not allow this to take place by voting for S2346.
Our representatives will work to keep you apprised of the problems with this fishery. We hope you will not support passage of this legislation and guarantee destruction of the resource by permitting overharvest for short-term commercial profit.
Legislative Chairman, JCAA - NJFSC
Proposed bill threatens eels by Al Ristori
Reprinted from Star Ledger January 11, 1998
The State Senate will be debating a bill tomorrow that could endanger the future of eel populations. Worst of all, this legislation is being rushed to the floor without having gone through committee review and the consequent opportunity for public comment.
The elver bill was introduced by South Jersey Assemblyman John Gibson, and passed by that body to create a framework for what has become a gold rush-type fishery fueled by outlandish prices from Japan for the tiny eels. By imposing significant license fees, the considerable enforcement cost to the Division of Fish, Game and Wildlife will be offset and some order introduced to that new "anything goes" fishery
What that bill, A3226 and its Senate companion S2346, doesn't do is provide any conservation of the species. While a few marginable participants may be eliminated, there is no reason to believe that those who have an even bigger stake in the fishery after paying license fees won't fish harder.
Incredibly, the elver fishery is about to be approved by the legislature even though there's no scientific evaluation of what its long-term effect will be on the eel resource. Sen. Lou Bassano (R-Union), our legislative commissioner to the Atlantic States Marine Fisheries Commission (ASMFC), may be the only senator who really understands this issue. However, you don't have to be a scientist to figure out that eliminating millions of baby fish migrating from the ocean into creeks will have some effect on future adult populations.
Just how great that effect will be is unknown at present, though a moment's thought given to the reason why the Japanese are paying ridiculous prices for elvers should provide a good idea of what's ahead. The fact of the matter is that Asian and European eel populations have already been devastated.
The ASMFC is working on a management plan for eels which should be ready next year. Most states already prohibit elver fisheries altogether, and Bassano notes that Virginia has restricted theirs to a couple of thousand pounds this year while awaiting the ASMFC plan.
Senate approval of S2346 will provide an economic windfall to a very small number of people (including many out-of-staters) while endangering future eel stocks, with the consequent loss of income to baymen who trap them for both live bait and food - and higher prices to sportsmen and consumers for whatever harvest will be permitted from a depleted resource. In addition, there is an undetermined loss of forage for other fish and birds which feed on elvers.
Bassano said it all during a conversation Friday by noting "When will we ever learn! " One species after another has been impacted by greedy overfishing for short-term economic benefits without concern for longterm risks. The Senate has a chance to reject that pattern for resource disaster tomorrow by tabling or voting down S2346, which would leave a 6-inch minimum length in place and eliminate elver fishing.
Join with the Jersey Coast Anglers Association (JCAA), N.J. Federation of Sportsmen's Clubs, N.J. Audubon, Jersey Shore Audubon, the American Littoral Society, The Alliance for a Living Ocean and the Recreational Fishing Alliance by calling your senator early tomorrow morning and requesting a negative vote on S2346. Also appropriate are calls to Senate President Donald DiFrancesco (908 322-5500) asking him to table the bill, and to Gov. Christie Whitman (609 292-6000) requesting a speedy veto if it is passed.
Measure would imperil juvenile eel population by John Geiser
Reprinted from the Asbury Park Press January 11, 1998
The state Senate will have an opportunity tomorrow to take a stand for the democratic process and protection of marine resources, or cave in to the pressure of opportunistic commercial fishermen.
Sportsmen close to the fisheries management scene were stunned Friday to learn that the Senate will be voting on a bill (S-3246) that would continue the potentially devastating elver (juvenile eel) fishery this year, without committee hearings 0n the measure.
George Howard executive director of the New Jersey Federation of Sportsmen's Clubs, said the bill is getting strong support from a few politically powerful individuals.
"There's big money in this elver fishery," he said. "And the bill is being pushed hard."
Recreational fishermen, environmentalists and some commercial fishermen are concerned that the lawmakers are not protecting the resource with a bill that would limit the number of licenses to 2,000 and increase license fees.
Fishermen came from as far away as Maine to net the tiny glass eels in New Jersey last spring, and the price soared to more than $400 a pound on the Hong Kong market. More than 3,000 licenses to harvest elvers were issued.
The conduct of some of those involved in the fishery was shocking. Fights, trespassing, threats, a shooting incident - it was reminiscent of the gold rush days.
Millions of eels have been removed from the state's creeks and streams to feed the Oriental market. Eel stocks have collapsed in China, Japan, Korea, Australia, New Zealand and Europe.
Eels spawn only once in the Sargasso Sea and then die. After hatching, the tiny American eels migrate to the estuaries and ultimately fresh waters of the United States, where they live for years before maturing and returning to the sea to spawn.
The state Assembly passed a companion bill (A-3226) Thursday, setting the stage for the crucial Senate vote tomorrow. If the Senate passes the measure, and Gov. Whitman signs it, New Jersey will be one of only four states still allowing the harvest of elvers.
Thomas Fote, legislative chairman of the Jersey Coast Anglers Association, testified in opposition to the Assembly bill Nov. 17 at an Assembly committee hearing. It was the last opportunity the public had to express its concern about the future of the eels.
"We must protect the eels for future generations," Fote said. "The intent of this bill is to allow certain individuals to harvest immature American eels. If this fishery collapses, how will it affect all the birds and fish that depend on the eel for food?"
Gary Caputi, one of New Jersey's representatives to the MidAtlantic Fishery Management Council, said he is particularly disturbed at the lawmakers' haste to pass a bill.
"There were supposed to be Senate committee hearings - environmental committee and appropriations," he said. "They're just bypassing them. The public is not even getting a chance to speak. -
"There are a lot of sportsmen and conservation groups -- the New Jersey Federation of Sportmens Clubs, Jersey Coast Anglers. Association, New Jersey Audubon, Jersey Shore Audubon, Alliance for a Living Ocean, Recreational Fishing Alliance, American Littoral Society -thousands of people are concerned about this," he said.
James Donofrio, executive director' of the Recreational Fishing Alliance, said he has been concerned about the elver fishery since it began several years ago, and asked the Atlantic States Marine Fisheries Commission last spring to impose a moratorium on the harvest of elvers. "This is a new fishery,", he said. "It's not a traditional fishery. It's a bunch of opportunists jumping in to make a quick buck. ."
"The eel is too important to the ecosystem and to the traditional New Jersey recreational and commercial sectors to risk its future," he said.
The Atlantic States Marine Fisheries Commission became aware of the value of the tiny eels a few years ago, and the need for a management plan was considered.
The wheels turn slowly, however, and most states had to act unilaterally to shut the harvest down. More and more harvesters focused on New Jersey.
The state reacted last year by banning the use of fyke nets and requiring that the eels be taken by hand-held dip nets. This did not slow participation.
Senate. shut out public participation on elver eel issue by J.B.Kasper
Reprinted from The Times January 11,1998
A couple of months ago, I gave readers a look at the elver eel situation and the problems it was causing in the tributary stream of the Delaware in South Jersey.
In the last several days, the whole situation has taken on an entirely different look, thanks to some wheeling and dealing in the state legislature. Bills A3226 and S3246, which are identical bills. if passed, will reopen the elver fishery and put this fragile fishery back in jeopardy, without allowing public input on the decision-making process.
In the last three years, the elver eel fishery has exploded into a big-money fishery. The tiny eels are selling for $250 to $400 a pound on the U.S. market and even higher on the Japanese market. This has led to an increase in license sales from a few hundred licenses per year to over 2,000 licenses in 1997.
Elver eel populations have been virtually wiped out in Asia, New Zealand, Australia, coastal Europe and other parts of the world. Commercial interest started to make serious inroads into the American fishery until most states along the east coast took measures to either shut down the fishery or curtail it in order to safeguard it.
The New Jersey Division of Fish and Game closed down the lucrative elver-eel fishery as of Jan. 7 to protect it from over fishing by commercial fishermen and also to allow them enough time to come up with a viable plan to manage the fishery. The New Jersey Marine Fisheries Council outline a series of proposals, mostly made up of fee increases and licenses regulations. District 1 Assemblyman John Gibson then took the proposal, modified it and proposed it in the form of the above bills. The bills then went through two committee hearings, where representatives of the Jersey Coast Anglers Association, the New Jersey Federation of Sportsmen's Clubs, New Jersey Audubon, Jersey Shore Audubon, Alliance for A Living Ocean and other conservation groups have opposed the bill from the start.
Even many of the commercial eel pot fisherman in Delaware Bay have voiced their opposition to the
bills because of the concern about how it will effect the over all eel population in the Delaware River Estuary. From that point, the bill has been put through several additional changes that led up to its present form. The bill was voted and passed by the Assembly on Thursday night and the bill has been posted for a Senate vote on tomorrow.
Under normal procedure, the bill would go from the two committees in the Assembly, then be voted on by the assembly, then be sent to the Senate Environmental Committee. After being passed there, it would then be sent to the Senate appropriations committee, and then be voted on by the full Senate. Once passed there, it would require the governor's signature to become law.
Assemblyman Gibson, instead of allowing the bill to go though the Environmental, Science and Technology Committee in the assembly, which is the usual procedure, took the bill and held the hearings on it in his Agriculture and Waste Management Committee. By doing this, he was able to use his influence as committee chairman to move the bill swiftly through the committee. This did not allow enough time for those who oppose the bill and those whom the bill directly effects to voice their opposition and have their concerns addressed.
The bill has been posted in the Senate for a vote tomorrow without going though the appropriate senate committees. Assemblyman Gibson did this through the intervention of the Senate president Donald DiFrancesco. This bill is being touted by Gibson as a conservation measure, however, most of the bill is dedicated to raising commercial license fees. Another thing that should be taken in consideration is the coast-wide elver management plan that is being put together by the Atlantic States Marine Fisheries Commission. No matter what the state decides, it still would have to comply with the commission's coastal plan and, no state plan should be adopted until the federal guide lines are set in the fall of '98.
Since I have been involved in the politics of fishing for a good many years, it sure looks like Assemblyman Gibson must have worked for Conrail at one time, since he sure did a good job of railroading this bill through the legislature. Elver eels take 14 years to mature to spawning age. This means there is no way of telling how much damage has already been done by the extensive netting that has already taken place. This bill sure looks like an attempt to open a closed season so a few people can make big bucks and does not have the best interest of the fishery or public in mind. In no way should this bill be allow to be voted on without giving the public time to voice their opinion.
If it passes in the legislature, it should be vetoed by the Governor. It's in the best interest of the fishery and the public to keep this fishery closed until enough is know about it this fishery and its effect on the overall river ecology. Elver eels are forage for all types of river inhabitants. Besides the stripers, largemouth and other fish in the river, kingfishers, osprey and other birds are just a few of the wildlife that feeds on them. Are we willing to risk damaging an important part of the food chain in the river's estuary so a handful of people can make big bucks?
If you are as disgusted with the power politics being played in Trenton, why not give Assemblyman Gibson a call at 609-624-1222 or Senate President DiFrancesco at 908-322-5500, fax them at 908-322-9347 or call Gov. Whitman at 609-292-6000 or fax her at 609-292-3454?
Increasing Silver Eel Licensesis a Raw Deal by Bob Brunishlolz
Reprinted from the Trentonian January 11,1998
Sportsmen and women, and conservation oriented may be getting the fast shuffle from legislators concerning measures allegedly designed to protect New Jerseys silver eel industry.
Elvers, or silver eels, grow to maturity in brackish streams and waterways along the Mid-Atlantic Coast, including New Jerseys myriad of rivers and creeks along the Shore. But within the last few years, these demure critters sold for as much as $350 a pound; sometimes, depending upon fluctuating market, for as $400-per pound. The price created what the press has labeled a "gold rush" mentality by those harvesting the eels, and if anglers and conservation-oriented groups fail to act by tomorrow, New Jerseys elver may become a memory.
The demand for elvers, or silver eels, was created by the Asian market in which immature eels are sold to an overseas market. Once in Japan or China, the live eels are grown to maturity. Asian markets, however, desire only small eels, six inches or less, because they can be reared on relatively cost-effective pellets, whereas mature eels require food, or bait , to keep them alive, thereby reducing profits.
But the market is so lucrative. officials of New Jerseys Division- of Fish, Game and Wildlifes Law Enforcement Bureau found itself dealing daily with trespassing complaints, fights among harvesters, and even, instances in which a life was threatened with firearms. The so called gold rush wasnt a pretty picture.
To reduce conflicts and protect elvers from overharvesting division officials last year did what seemed reasonable: They simply shut down the harvesting of elvers in New Jersey, as has New York, Delaware and Maryland. The so-called shut down, however, was a temporary move, designed to last until legislation could be approved which would regulate the industry.
Subsequently, Assemblyman John Gibson, (R-Sea Isle City) introduced Assembly Bill A-3226, which dramatically increased eel harvesting license fees to &750 for residents and nearly 10 times that amount for non-resident harvesters. The measures couterpart, Senate Bill S-2346, is expected to be approved in the Senate tomorrow.
Quick approval of both measures may seem, at first blush, a positive note in otherwise controversial, and often non-existent efforts to control the unusually lucrative harvest of elvers. But sportsmens groups and ocean conservation organizations, say the vote slated for tomorrow is a hasty move that doesnt go far enough, and shouldnt take place.
Tom Fote, legislative liaison officer for the 30,000-member Jersey Coast Anglers Association, and chairman of the legislative committee for the 120,000-member New Jersey Federation of Sportsmens Clubs, said the measure slated for a vote tomorrow must be halted because, as Fote said, "weve (sportsmen and conservationists) been hoodwinked."
"Gibsons bill calling for severe increases in elver license fees does little more than put a lot of money into division coffers, and accomplishes little in the name of conservation or saving silver eels from extinction," Fote said.
Fote contends that after the Assembly version of the bill was approved Thursday, legislators were supposed to allow time for public comment and debate by holding hearings of the Senate Environmental Committee and the Senate Appropriations Committee, thereby allowing a period for public comment.
Organizations opposing the quick vote slated for tomorrow include the American Littoral Society, New Jersey Audubon Society and Shore Audubon Society, Alliance for a Living Ocean, Recreational Fishing Alliance, Jersey Coast Anglers Association and the New Jersey Federation of Sportsmens Club.
In addition, Fote said if the Senate Bill is not approved tomorrow, elver stocks will not be left unprotected.
Fote said the groups opposing S-2346 were prepared to debate the measures to make legislators aware of the damage the legislation - if approved - will inflict on a species about which little is known.
"The elver represents a valuable public resource for our Shore-based eco-system and are a resource that belongs to all citizens o this state. Yet, these bills will permit a small number of profit-minded individuals to continue a massive harvest of immature eels from our state waters. This fishery has proved to be a disaster in surrounding Atlantic Coastal states, and each has subsequently banned elver harvests, but only after the damage was done," Fote said, noting time is of the essence.
"The Assembly Bill was approved only Thursday (Jan8) and concerned groups were surprised to learn that the Senate vote was schedules so quickly thereafter. We didnt have time to issue a release to the outdoor press. Subsequently, we are urging everyone concerned about our natural resources to call the Governors Office as well as their respective legislators, and politely ask them to postpone the Senate vote until such time as public hearings can be scheduled," Fote said.
Concerned sportsmen and women and conservationists may call the New Jersey Legislative Office Services to determine the name and telephone number of their state representatives at 800-792-8630. To telephone the Governors Office, call (609) 292-6000, or fax the Governor at (609) 292-3454.
Those concerned about the issue are urged to call tomorrow morning before the Senate votes on the measure.
JCAA POSITION PAPER ON SUMMER FLOUNDER OPTIONS
By Pat Donnelly
The following represents the position of the Jersey Coast Anglers Association, representing over 30,000 saltwater anglers throughout the state. JCAA has historically fought for the recreational angler, and will continue to battle for fair access to the marine resource.
It is the position of JCAA that the best way to move forward with the summer flounder fishery in 1998 is to go with a 15"size limit and an eight fish bag limit. This was the chosen option at the Mid-Atlantic Council meeting in December, and the motion was made and voted on at the JCAA Dec. general meeting. There was spirited discussion concerning different size/bag limits, and the possible seasonal closure, but there was overwhelming support for the 8 at 15".
Because there was support for this plan should not imply that there was support for the process. Until there is flexibility in the management plans, we will continue to have to choose from the lesser of several evils. There would be small difference between no bag limit, 10 fish bag limit or 8 fish bag limit at 15", but the fishery politicians cant justify their existence without putting their two cents in and being more restrictive on recreational side. Guarantee if this was the commercial bag limit it would not be 8 fish but only because they know they would be sued.
Vice President of Jersey Coast Angler Association
Preliminary Schedule For ASMFC Week February 3-5
The Atlantic States Marine Fisheries Commission will be meeting February 3-5 at the Comfort Inn BWI in Baltimore. The phone number for reservations is 410-789-9100. This is only a preliminary schedule, and you should anticipate that there may be changes. Call the ASMFC at 202-289-6400 for the final schedule and any questions
Tuesday, February 3, 1998
Wednesday, February 4. 1998
Thursday, February 5, 1998
MORE ON MASSACHUSETTS AUDUBON LAW SUIT:
This is a reprint of Conservation Column in #48 of Fisherman Magazine.
THE MASSACHUSETTS AUDUBON LAW SUIT:
BY PETE BARRETT
The Massachusetts Audubon Society (MAS) took exception with several points in Al Ristori's Conservation Watch column in issue #48 of The Fisherman and threatened a lawsuit against the magazine. We agreed to allow John Clarke, MAS Advocacy Director, to respond to our readers in order to clarify their position. However, Clarke's letter requires comment to be sure both sides of the disagreement are presented to readers.
Efforts to restore the Atlantic bluefin tuna population have been contentious since the first regulations issued in 1973. With each passing year, as various interest groups fight for their portion of the small quota pie, the actions and reactions of these groups increase in intensity. Through all this, the bluefin suffers through a painfully slow recovery, hindered by the constant bickering and lack of agreement on how to save these magnificent fish.
It is important to remember that the recreational catch of bluefin tuna is the ONLY traditional fishery and dates back to the late 1800s as described in Dr. Carroll Shepperd's documentation of the Beach Haven charter boat fleets in her dissertation Sailing Parties. In last week's issue of The Fisherman noted bluefin tuna scientist Bruce Freeman documented the extent of the bluefin recreational catch from the early 1900s through the 1970s. A viable harpoon catch of bluefin was marketed for tuna livers. Only in the 1960s, after the purse seiners longliners reduced the bluefin population by 90 percent, did a "war" begin between the recreational and commercial fishermen. The sale of bluefin to the Japanese markets is relatively new, beginning in the 1970s, peaking in the 1980s and now declining in the 1990s. By contrast, the recreational catch is over 100 years old.
Mr. Clarke and MAS are entitled to their opinion, but much of what is presented in their position is questioned or refuted by ICCAT documents, NMFS documents and by other organizations representing conservation and environmental folks, and recreational fishermen. Let's look at Mr. Clarke's letter to bring these disagreements to light.
INTRODUCTION. The essence of Al Ristori's column was to alert readers to a law suit instigated by MAS against the National Marine Fisheries Service (NMFS) against the way NMFS has managed the catch of bluefin tuna in the Angling Category. While MAS contends that their suit makes sense as a conservation measure, many organizations disagree with the MAS suit, including the National Audubon Society, the Recreational Fishing Alliance, the National Coalition for Marine Conservation, the United Boatmen of New York and New Jersey and the Jersey Coast Anglers Association (JCAA), because the suit only focuses on small bluefin, not bluefin of all sizes.
The only group that backs MAS, that we are aware of, is the East Coast Tuna Association, a lobbying organization representing the Purse Seine Category and some General and Harpoon Category fishermen. To our knowledge, MAS does not have the backing of conservation groups that participate at International Commission for the Conservation of Atlantic Tunas (ICCAT) such as the Ocean Wildlife Campaign and the Living Seas Campaign.
MAS accuses NMFS of negligence in managing the Angling Category and seeks to close this category until NMFS can perform better monitoring of the small fish catch. Since this could take several years, the MAS suit may eliminate the angling opportunities for the approximately 28,000 Angling Category fishermen from New England to Hatteras. The ECTA, and now MAS, has opposed the recreational catch of small fish since the 1970s, yet recreational fishermen from southern New England to Virginia (and now Hatteras as of 1994) arer in favor of the small, controlled catch of Angling Category fish and want to see the big spawning-size bluefin protected.
With quotas so small and the politics of bluefin management so contentious, any attempt to stop one Category from fishing will be met with strong opposition, thereby exacerbating the conflict between commercial and recreational groups.
UNCONTROLLED ANGLING CATEGORY? While MAS believes the Angling Category catch has been uncontrolled, ICCAT's 1996 Standing Committee for Research and Statistics (SCRS) report indicates that landings of bluefin tuna less than 15 pounds went into effect in 1975 and that the catch of these fish was "well below the level of 15% of the total bluefin catches" as required by ICCAT. A modified regulation went into effect in 1992 limiting the catch of fish less than 30 kg to no more than 8% by weight and the report further states that up to 1995 the catch had not exceed six percent, which is again well below the tolerance level.
It is important to know that the annual Angling Category landing of small fish ranges around 3,000 to 8,000 fish, the actual number effected by fishing conditions, weather and availability of fish in any given year. Prior to the destruction of the fishery by excessive commercial fishing, the recreational catch of fish ranged from 40,000 to 280,000 fish per year since the 1930s with no apparent adverse affect on the bluefin population, according to Bruce Freeman. Today's recreational catch is less than 10 percent of historic levels. Recreational fishermen and its supporting industry has taken the biggest burden in the rebuilding of the bluefin and has also been economically harmed the most from the slow rebuilding process which emphasizes landings of big spawning bluefin.
The data Clarke says is needed is being continually gathered by ICCAT and NMFS and MAS is well aware of the intense, frequent, continuing studies of the bluefin.
HOW COULD MAS BENEFIT FROM THE LAWSUIT? While MAS contends they will get no financial gain from the suit, the anti-small fish sentiment is so strong in New England, it is reasonable to expect that their membership may increase because of this popular local stance against the Angling Category.
Bill Henchy, attorney for MAS, admitted at a luncheon meeting at the spring 1997 ICCAT meeting that MAS membership may include some fishermen who are General Category fishermen. While Clarke insists that no donations have been made by commercial fishermen, Henchy's E-mail letter to JCAA makes a point of saying "no donations were made by commercials to the help pay for the lawsuit." The careful wording leaves open to speculation whether there are other donations made by commercial fishermen to MAS.
Any member of MAS who holds a General Category, Purse Seine or Harpoon Category permit, could benefit financially from the suit, including MAS attorney and General Category fisherman Bill Henchy. If the lawsuit succeeds in halting the Angling Category until NMFS improves its data collection, the Angling Category quota will be shifted to the General (and other) commercial categories. More quota for commercials means more pounds of fish to sell which equals more dollars. Henchy, therefore, has a direct conflict of interest as a General Category permit holder who will be able to sell more fish if the MA suit is successful.
IRONY OF THE CRITICISM. The fact that one commercial group agrees with this "conservation stand" is the real irony and speaks volumes. There has been no public support that we are aware of from any environmental organization.
NUMBERS OF FISH LANDED AND REAL-TIME MONITORING. Recreationals do catch more numbers of fish than the General Category, but the Angling Category small fish have a 90 to 99% natural mortality rate - that's why bluefin spawn with millions of eggs. Most of these small fish will not reach spawning size even if all fishing for them was completely halted. However, small-fish landings do not have to stop and are already strictly controlled. ICCAT's SCRS report of 1996 and 1997 clearly state that an Angling Category catch of no more than 8 percent is within ICCAT recommendations.
Further, at the 1996 fall ICCAT meeting in Spain, NMFS staff admitted to U.S. ICCAT commissioner Will Martin that the fastest recovery will occur if large spawners are protected. The 1997 SCRS report agrees and says, "One of the reasons to rebuild the spawning stock is to increase the likelihood of better recruitment in the future. If this occurs, rebuilding will be more rapid."
Real-time monitoring is not essential. Over a period of several years, any quota overages (not the same as the 8% tolerance ICCAT level) are paid back the following year by a reduction in quota for that category.
More importantly, not one single U.S. recreational fishery (striped bass, weakfish, fluke, porgies, etc) is monitored in real-time data collection, and to do so would require a huge change in national fisheries management policy and could possibly cause irreparable harm to the recreational fishing industry by requiring permits and mandatory call-ins for all recreationally-caught fish.
ARE LARGE MEDIUMS MATURE? According to NMFS, the average size of bluefin tuna reported in the General Category are decreasing every year, meaning more large mediums are being harvested instead of large giants. MAS' claim that most large medium bluefin do spawn is in direct contrast to ICCAT's SCRS reports (1996 and 1997) that say Western Atlantic bluefin spawn at age 8 and in excess of 300 pounds. NMFS' examinations of Hatteras bluefin catches have shown that fish in excess of 400 pounds were not sexually mature. The General Category currently lands large mediums (235 to 310 pounds) and giants (bluefin over 310 pounds). Average bluefin General Category weights have declined from 637 pounds in 1982 to 390 pounds in 1996. According to this data, many U.S. caught mediums and small giant bluefin are immature fish.
Two points are important here. The first is that these large mediums have an extremely low mortality rate (especially as compared to small school fish), so every fish harvested is a direct, immediate loss to the recovery of bluefin, whereas with school fish only five fish (or less) out of 100 are a direct loss to the fishery recovery because of the 95 percent natural mortality rate.
The second, is that it clearly shows the MAS position on spawners to be disputable. Carl Safina of National Audubon Society in a letter to Lee Wettig (former ICCAT commissioner) in 1992 said, "I am unaware of any data or statistical projections which substantiate the claim that bringing the catch of small fish under control will be enough to turn the bluefin tuna adult population trend upward. On the contrary, the 1991 ICCAT SCRS report states that if the current regulations are adhered to, the chances are 50/50 that by 1995 there will be more age 6-7 fish than at present but fewer sexually mature fish." The 1991 SCRS report emphasizes the importance of protecting the large spawners when it says, "The recovery of the stock will depend on the actual recruitment which is produced in the next several years. This recruitment will be strongly affected by environmental as well as the "spawning stock size" (my italics).
If the MAS suit is successful and the Angling category is closed while NMFS tries to develop better data collection, the bluefin recovery will be undermined. NMFS manages bluefin so all the U.S. quota is harvested. If the Angling Category is closed, even temporarily, that quota is transferred to other categories and the catch of large pre-spawning and spawning fish will increase. Since each pre-spawn age 5 to 8 fish has such a low mortality rate, the removal of every fish has a dramatic adverse impact on the Atlantic bluefin recovery.
ANGLING CATEGORY LANDINGS. ICCAT and NMFS scientists do not believe that "every" fish has to be counted - only ECTA and MAS are pushing this issue. No report or comment from ICCAT that I have ever read during my tenure as an ICCAT advisor has required every fish to be documented. With adequate statistical data collection methods, counting every fish is unnecessary - and no other ICCAT member nation's management regime counts every fish.
The primary reason why the U.S. counts every giant landed in the General, Purse and Harpoon Categories is because of complaints over the years that some fishermen were landing illegal fish to be sold on a black market, or were transferring fish to another boat so the first boat can keep fishing, or were landing fish but continuing to fish and then discarding the first fish if a second fish caught is larger, etc.
Recreational catches cannot be monitored by real-time reporting and efforts to accomplish this are not working. NMFS now requires recreational tuna fishermen to obtain mandatory $18 permits - and makes call-ins of catches mandatory. Besides the permits, NMFS also spends over $1.2 million on the Large Pelagic Survey (LPS) and other efforts to document the Angling Category landings. The LPS has been criticized for being inaccurate, but it is more accurate than the mandatory permits, and the LPS and Marine Recreational Fishing Survey (MRFS) system can be fine tuned to be more accurate without the need for mandatory permits. The American Sport Fishing Association, the Recreational Fishing Alliance and other interested groups met with NMFS to outline several plans to provide better data. Chris Cirri of Effective Marketing Development has met repeatedly with NMFS to suggest improvements to the LPS and MRFS surveys that would provide superb data collection without need for a permit.
QUOTAS EXCEEDED? - YES AND NO. An Angling Category quota has existed only since 1992, and the quota was exceeded in two years, under in two years. Prior to that, the Angling Category fished under daily bag and size limits within the ICCAT tolerance agreements. It is important to note that the overages in the Angling Category are below the ICCAT 8 percent tolerance level, and that any overages are "paid back" with a reduction in quota the following year.
It is also important to note that the two years of alleged overages occurred when NMFS began the permit program and used a larger "multiplier" to calculate the Angling Category landings. Because the number of permits increased, NMFS assumed the fleet size had increased when in fact it did not. There was no change in the number of boats fishing, only a change in the number of boats with a permit. Further, some of the data had high landings of fish that were disputed, such as the several weeks long 1995 hurricane season. How such big landings were made when no boats sailed is still a mystery. MAS' attorney Henchy has attended meetings in my presence where this data has been discussed by NMFS personnel so he knows of this data error, that the catches are overstated fand hence therefore no overage of quota.
BIG FISH VERSUS SMALL FISH. Saving small fish only works if the entire stock of fish is well represented with all year classes, especially the spawning size fish. With insufficient protection of large spawners, saving the small fish has virtually no significant biological value.
While NMFS scientists have written that protecting small fish would speed the recovery, the recovery timetable is still 20 to 30 years - hardly speedy. And, the present management of bluefin which controls the U.S. small fish catch to no more than the 8 percent ICCAT tolerance is the very reason for the successful, albeit slow recovery of bluefin since 1973 when the ICCAT regulations went into effect. Had the spawners also been protected as aggressively as the small fish, the recovery would have been more rapid.
MASS AUDUBON A CONSERVATION LEADER? No one disputes the fine record of MAS on many past issues, However, that does not mean that everyone has to agree with MAS on their lawsuit against NMFS.
National Audubon Society's Carl Safina wrote to MAS recently, expressing his belief that the MAS suit is NOT based on conservation, because by focusing on the small fish only, the MAS suit thereby assures the continuance of large fish landings.
BIOLOGY SHOULD TAKE PRECEDENT. If biology were given precedence, the SCRS recommendation to reduce the Western Atlantic bluefin catch to 500 metric tons would be the goal of every recreational and commercial group so as to assure a speedy recovery.
The Reauthorization Act is important for bluefin tuna fishermen, because by law NMFS must take into account the social and economic benefits of the recreational fishermen. Again, we must not lose sight of the fact that the recreational catch is the only significant traditional fishery for bluefin and traces its roots back over 100 years. Landing too many juveniles is bad management - but that is not what is happening. The U.S. is well under the ICCAT 8 percent tolerance, and the control of the small fish is the primary reason why there is any recovery at all.
A 20-year recovery will not occur without a catch reduction, as explained in the SCRS 1996 report which says, "in order for the spawning stock to recover to the MSY biomass of 1975 within 20 years, the catch must be reduced to less than 500 MT." Keep in mind that by 1975, the biomass base year, the bluefin fishery was already pounded into near oblivion by 18 years of commercial overfishing. We can only speculate how large the biomass must have been in 1958 before the purse seine catches began.
SUMMARY. If it does nothing else, the MAS lawsuit shows how divisive tuna management has become. NMFS oversees a small national quota and tries hard to split the quota so all parties get at least a small catch.
Despite its historic standing, recreational fishermen and the recreational fishing industry have been hurt terribly by the commercial overfishing of bluefin. They've lived with the meager catches that are presently allowed for more than 20 years and there is no hope of a faster recovery unless the landings of mid-size pre-spawn and large spawning bluefin are as controlled as is the Angling category landings.