FISHERIES MANAGEMENT & LEGISLATIVE REPORT
by Tom Fote
(from Jersey Coast Anglers Association June 1999 Newsletter)
As uncharacteristic as it may be, I made an error in last month's newspaper. I wrote, Ocean County is pumping 54,000,000 gallons of treated water directly to the ocean per year. Previously, this water would have gone back into the groundwater and the aquifer. The truth is that Ocean County is pumping 54,000,000 gallons of treated water directly into the ocean per day. The actual figure is 19,710,000,000 per year. I'm sure I made this error because I simply could not comprehend that we could be pumping that much water out of the aquifer per day. This is just Ocean County. Imagine what the numbers must be for the more heavily populated Monmouth County or for Atlantic County with all of the casinos. This certainly makes it easier to understand why some of our streams have dropped by six to eight inches. In Cape May the new desalinization plant is pumping fresh water into the aquifer. Doesn't it make more sense to simply stop pumping it out in the first place? We will continue to keep an eye on this issue and share more information as it becomes available.
The National Marine Fisheries Service has published the final proposed rules for highly migratory species. We are outraged. The JCAA is taking a stand in opposition to the inequities in these rules and is coordinating the response from groups along the coast. On April 27, at a full membership meeting, the JCAA voted to ask Governor Christine Todd Whitman to initiate a suit against the NMFS. Representatives from JCAA the United Boatmen and the RFA met and began planning a campaign to oppose these rules.
The NMFS document is lengthy and has required several readings to really understand just how awful it is. I believe the entire document is flawed and must be replaced. At first people were upset only about the 3 fish bag limit on yellow fin. However, there are outrageous proposals on blue sharks, a 4 1/2 foot minimum size limit for mako sharks that applies only to the recreational sector, a cutback on the number of mako sharks for the recreational sector without an equivalent reduction for the commercial sector, and many others. We have included two articles by Al Ristori and John Geiser. In addition, Al Ristori and John Koegler have each looked at specific areas and done a more thorough analysis. Even they believe, however, that there is much more to learn about these regulations before we can say we really understand the entire document and all its problems.
It is my belief that only a coordinated effort has any chance for success. We need for every angler to contact the governor and the federal legislators for their states. The governors and legislators should notify NMFS that they are opposed to the implementation of these recommendations and will file a lawsuit if necessary under the Magnuson Stevens Fishery Conservation and Management Act - 16 USC 1851 S301(a)(8).
When JCAA started attacking this plan, some of the recreational community responded in a negative fashion. They seemed to fear that we would look like "fish hogs" by opposing the 3 fish bag limit on yellow fin. While I understand their reasoning, I feel they are na´ve and need to look beyond the bag limit and see the broader implication. Its not the three fish bag limit that terrifies us, its the precedent it sets for limiting recreational catches without any science. Once we accept the right of NMFS to make these ridiculous rules without any science, we've opened Pandora's box again. Ten years ago JCAA, at the request of our member clubs, proposed a two fish bag limit on mako and a six foot minimum size with the caveat that equal commercial restrictions be put in place. At the time, this seemed like a reasonable, conservation measure. And what did we get? First, a good education in what happens when you are na´ve enough to think that NMFS operates in a fair and equitable manner. Second, NMFS continues to propose mako regulations that impact on only the recreational sector. The current plan calls for the recreational catch to be reduced to one mako (a 50% reduction) and imposes a 4 1/2 foot minimum size limit on mako. It does nothing to restrict any commercial harvest. Get the picture.
This could be the end of recreational fishing as we know it. NMFS has confirmed my worst fears about their intent to eliminate recreational fishing in the highly migratory species. Call your governor and your federal legislators. This can't wait. Stay tuned for more information. Please make sure to read the following articles and the highly migratory articles later in this newspaper. Send these columns to you local newspapers and suggest your outdoor writers get on board. Please send me copies of all columns, articles and letters to the editor that support us. Fax to 732-506-6975 or email to firstname.lastname@example.org. If you want regular updates, please email me you name, address, information about club membership and your email address. Email is the quickest and cheapest way for us to keep everyone informed.
Although the National Marine Fisheries Service modified some of the worst rules it had proposed for its Highly Migratory Species plans, the basic commercial bias of what used to be the Bureau of Commercial Fisheries continued to shine through in the final rules.
That bias was most evident in the three-yellowfin-tuna-per-angler limit imposed "as a proactive measure to reduce the likelihood of overharvest." No such "proactive" measures are applied to commercial fisheries when they cant be scientifically justified.
That was just illustrated when NMFS turned down fisheries council requests to increase the commercial winter flounder minimum length and close the spiny dogfish season briefly in order to provide additional protection for those badly depleted species.
Anglers are justifiably concerned about the yellowfin bag limit because the agency has done everything possible to destroy the traditional charter and party boat fishery for school bluefin tuna that started early in the century, before the Bureau of Commercial Fisheries even dreamed about possibly funding a purse seine fishery that would devastate one of the most consistently abundant stocks in the western Atlantic.
Indeed, wiping out NY/NJ Bight charter and party boat school bluefin fisheries ranks as one of the agencys few successful efforts.
It wasnt many years ago that NMFS imposed a four-school bluefin-per-angler limit on recreational fishermen. Now the limit is one per boat and then only during the few weeks NMFS decides to open the season even though hardly are actually boated.
That enables NMFS to provide 250 metric tons of spawning bluefins worth millions to three owners who enjoy a purse seining monoploy even after they were responsible for the destruction of bluefin stocks.
Needless to say, it has become virtually impossible for charter and party boats to book trips for bluefins and now NMFS is poised to pull the plug on the yellowfin fishery at the last frontier 80 miles offshore.
The Recreational Fishing Alliance is leading a fight against the yellowfin limit, and the Jersey Coast Anglers Association voted Tuesday to request Gov. Christie Whitman to sue NMFS over the three yellowfin limit.
Rep. Frank Pallone (D-NJ) sent Whitman a letter with a similar request and also wrote to the Department of Commerce asking that the yellowfin limit be rescinded.
Rep. Frank Pallone Jr., D-N.J., heard the cries of dismay from anglers over the National Marine Fisheries Services rule last week placing a three-fish limit on yellowfin tuna, and he responded.
The congressman fired off a letter of protest to Terry Garcia, Department of Commerce assistant secretary and deputy administrator for NMFS, and in another letter he urged Gov. Whitman to have the state attorney general file a lawsuit against NMFS to revoke the three-fish limit.
"This limit is both unfair and unsupported with biological data," Pallone pointed out. "Yellowfin tuna is not overfished and therefore a restrictive bag limit is ecologically unjustified."
NMFS claims that the action was pro-active, and that it is possible that the fish might be affected by recreational fishing some day.
This is another example of the service trying the pro-active route. A similar restriction last year on what is left of the recreational porgy fishery was so ludicrous a proposal that it was abandoned.
Over 800 persons turned out at NMFS public hearings in March to protest the three-fish limit and other onerous rules proposed by NMFS. The bureaucrats dropped many of the proposals, but pushed ahead with their abstruse idea on yellowfins.
Pallone pointed out that the yellowfin stocks are near maximum sustainable yield internationally, andthe International Commission for Conservation of Atlantic Tunas has documented that some nations are harvesting vast numbers of juvenile fish.
U.S. anglers already have a 27-inch minimum size on yellowfin tuna, which other nations are ignoring, and even scientists admit that a three-fish limit for anglers will not affect the world stocks.
"In enacting this restrictive rule, NMFS has not given consideration to the effects on the coastal economy, the recreational fishing industry, the charter boat industry, tackle stores and marinas," Pallone said. "New Jersey would be hurt by this unacceptable rule."
Thomas Fote, legislative chairman of the Jersey Coast Anglers Association, said the organizations delegates agreed Tuesday night that legal action on the yellowfin limit is appropriate.
There is no place for "feel good" rules in fisheries management, Fote said. "The time to stop this is now, and we believe that the attorney general should step in.
"Were tired of regulations put in place for no biological reason. Can you imagine the government putting a regulation on the commercial fishery for no reason other than it feels like it?"
Fote said that the destruction of the recreational bluefin tuna fishery to create and expand a commercial overseas market for the fish is unconscionable.
James A. Donofrio, executive director of the Recreational Fishing Alliance, said the three-fish yellowfin limit again undermines the National Marine Fisheries Services credibility.
"The agency continues to cripple the recreational industry with blatant mismanagement," he pointed out.
"NMFS claims that a bag limit of three fish per person per day was set for the recreational anglers as a pro-active measure to reduce the likelihood of overharvest. This disingenuous statement ignores the obviousNMFS does not know the number of yellowfin being taken by the recreational industry.
"Without this knowledge, there is no biological justification for this arbitrary bag limit," he added. "What is particularly troubling is that NMFS is justifying these unnecessary restrictions on the recreational industry by claiming that the number of commercial longliners allowed to harvest Atlantic yellowfin tuna will be capped to current permit holders. So what?"
Donofrio said NMFS is not telling the public that, while the number of longline vessels has decreased from 1,200 to somewhat over 200, the number of hooks used to catch pelagic species, such as yellowfin and bigeye tuna, swordfish and some sharks has increased to 6.5 million more than when the fleet numbered 1,200 boats.
"This effort is being concentrated more on tuna as the swordfish resource continues to decline," Donofrio pointed out. "The RFA will not stand by and allow NMFS to take this public resource away from recreational anglers.
"Until credible science can show us that this stock is being fully fished, the RFA will wage a full-scale campaign against this regulation."
The National Marine Fisheries Service has announced that it has disapproved a New England Fishery Management Council management measure to increase the minimum size regulation on winter flounders from 12 to 13 inches.
The size increase for winter flounders was proposed to help achieve the Atlantic States Marine Fisheries Commissions more restrictive management objectives.
The service said that its analysis indicated that the stock was not overfished and that the mortality reduction was not necessary. Further, it was concluded that conservation measures are working and the stocks could be rebuilt to maximum sustainable yield in two to five years.
By the time this newspaper reaches you, we hope the NJ Senate will have voted in favor of the Menhaden Bill (S722/A1827). Now you need to start putting pressure on the NJ Assembly to get this bill moved. The key people are Assembly Speaker Jack Collins and Assemblyman John Gibson, chair of the Natural Resources and Agriculture Committee. You need to call, write or fax each of these assemblymen and let them know you want this bill (S722/A1827) posted as soon as possible. You should also remind them that this is an assembly election year and you are concerned about their actions. In addition, you need to contact you local assemblymen and women, asking for their help to get this bill posted and their vote for this important legislation.
The next striped bass board meeting will be held some time in June. I attended Metropolitan Outdoor Press Association dinner in New York City and had an opportunity to meet Governor Pataki. In our conversation, I let Governor Pataki know that I received the lifetime achievement award that night because of my work in NJ making striped bass a gamefish. I reminded him that we were watching NY to see if they could take similar action. The keynote speaker was NY Assemblyman Richard Brodsky, chairman of the Environmental Conservation Committee. You may remember that the striped bass gamefish bill was stuck in his committee a few years ago. We had a chance to talk about the possibility of similar legislation receiving a more favorable recommendation. Recent articles in the New York Times and other New York papers reporting on the possibility of opening the commercial netting of striped bass in the Hudson River, let us know that this issue remain important. We are also following the PCB level question with a very skeptical eye. We have serious concerns about the science used in this study and feel the public health is not well served is we take this report at face value. JCAA has always been skeptical when the people who would benefit the most from a positive report, pay for the report. These studies were paid for by General Electric. As you remember, they were held responsible for a major part of the origin PCB contamination. Let's keep an eye on this one.
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