by John T. Koegler, Chairman
(from Jersey Coast Anglers Association January 2002 Newsletter)
ICCAT's eastern zone member nations REFUSED to accept, implement or observe ICCAT's
conservation rules for bluefin tuna. They also did not approve including other species such as sharks, sea turtles and seabirds in a management plan. Their total refusal to accept ICCAT science and lower harvest limits became blatant and must not be allowed to continue.
ICCAT yearly quotas for the eastern zone (European and African countries) started with the 1998 fishing year. So far, these countries have done everything possible to avoid the conservation rules they voted for and approved that would create a sustainable bluefin tuna fishery. The key ICCAT issue at this meeting was the allocation of bluefin tuna eastern zone quotas for the next four years. The European and African countries delayed until the very last session their proposed Bluefin tuna quotas for the next four years. ICCAT's scientific advice required that their sustainable quota were 25,000 Mt. or less bluefin tuna per year. Their proposed quota was 33,900 MT. reducing only 1,500 MT. over four years.
The US ICCAT Commissioner, Rolland Schmitten, in a strong move refused to approve this plan. Canada and Korea strongly supported the US position. Clearly, the proposed eastern zone quotas would have NO conservation benefits and greatly exceeded ICCAT's 25,000 Mt sustainable goal. Commissioner Schmitten must be commended for his strong stand. It was fully supported by other members of the US delegation. He said, "We took a tough stance to protect Atlantic bluefin tuna stocks because we could not accept a harvest level that is clearly inconsistent with scientific advice." It is now time for Eastern Atlantic fishing countries to adopt the required management steps required by ICCAT's scientific recommendations.
A major effort was made to accomplish this at the last session, which went 4 hours over the scheduled meeting time. Since ICCAT reports indicate the eastern zone countries have not observed their bluefin tuna quota or size rules, this is not a disaster. The US intends to get the eastern zone allocation quotas passed using a mail-in ballot.
The US quota for bluefin tuna will not change for 2002. The recent meeting was to write rules for the eastern zone only and does not affect the US 2002 quota.
The Bush administration has not appointed a US recreational ICCAT commissioner. Robert Hayes attended the meeting as interim recreational commissioner pending a final decision on his presidential appointment. Robert Hayes is a Washington lawyer who represents the CCA at the national level. He has been an ICCAT advisor for the last four years.
Many items discussed at the December council meeting will directly affect us. It is very clear this council is finally getting its act together. However, it is now critically important that anglers chose and support new recreational management guidelines to be used in the future. Current management uses pounds landed as the quota target and applies bag limits, discard percentages, size limits and/or season limits to arrive at the quota objective. As fish populations recover the current rules will regulate anglers out of most of their fisheries. In recovery, the average weight of fish will increase every year. The result will be anglers will keep fewer fish each year while at the same time the stocks are recovering. An example of the new approach needed was the measure proposed at the meeting that would have allowed anglers 64 inches of fluke per fishing trip in place of the current size and bag limits. It was rejected only because no landing estimates had ever been attempted on such a proposal.
One fish species, specifically scup (Porgies), illustrates the urgent need for an immediate change.
In just three years scup has rebounded in astronomical numbers. As a result, the scup plan required a 57% reduction in recreational 2002 landings. This great a reduction would have eliminated anglers from a directed fishery, especially party/charter boats. One choice that allowed a full and open season only allowed a 3 fish bag limit at 9 inches. The direct commercial or recreational fisheries did not cause the scup collapse. Rather massive scup discards in the winter offshore fishery were the cause of the scup sharp population decline. This clearly shows why this angler dilemma must be addressed immediately.
NMFS regional administrator, Patricia Kurkul, mentioned that the New England Council had proposed increasing the minimum legal mesh size for all gears to 3 inches on May 2003 as a default mesh size mandate. Using a default mandate allows the change to apply to all fisheries without amending each and every plan, which is a very long process. Currently the small mesh fisheries have the highest discard rate because they are allowed to use 1 7/8-inch mesh for loligo squid and 1 1/2 inches for Illex squid plus the small mesh used for whiting. It was estimated that this mesh size increase could reduce loligo landings by 25%. Discard reductions were not given.
A new multi-species permit buyout has been approved. It only covers multi-species permits (draggers only?) and does not require they stop fishing if they possess other permits, such as monkfish and squid, mackerel, butterfish. If these permit buyout vessels are not removed from the fishing fleet, then such buyouts have NO conservation value. What a total waste!
The Coast Guard reported new port security measures were created for entrance into US ports. They are boarding most vessels before entrance. It was stated these new measures would require a
full-time effort from their offshore cutters making them unavailable for fisheries management patrols. Vessels over 300 tons are now required to give 96-hour notice before they arrive in US waters. A full list of the crew and passengers must be supplied to the Coast Guard at the same time. A large number of illegals have been found and deported by the increased security. The Coast Guard is putting fully armed crews in the pilothouse, engine room and rudder room of selected vessels. Local and near shore boarding will continue as usual. Give much credit to these hardworking men and women who are making homeland security a reality. Trusting our domestic security will never be taken for granted again
Jack Dunnigan, the long-time executive director of the Atlantic States Marine Fisheries commission announced at the meeting that he is leaving this position in early 2002. His new job will be with NMFS as head of their Sustainable Fisheries Division. This division approves all fishery management plans. Thank you, Jack, for an exceptional job as ASFMC Executive Director.
The overriding goal of the Atlantic Coastal Cooperative Statistic Program (ACCSP) is to implement coastwise standards and protocols for the way in which all Atlantic coastal agencies collect, manage and disseminate fisheries statistics. It was stated at the meeting that this new division of ASMFC should begin to officially function during February 2002. At the meeting it was mentioned that the increased NJ numbers were due to additional intercepts at more ports. The 2000 Report of the Fisheries of the US shows a huge increase in NJ angler landings of 9,711,000 lbs. The number of fish landed also jumped from 5,627,000 to 11,139,000 or an increase of 5,512,000 fish from 1999! This is a huge increase! Is it entirely due to a change in the way NJ landing data are now recorded? Are our historical landing numbers also far too low?
Thanks everyone for your great assistance and support during the 2001 year.
Have a joyous Christmas and enjoy a happy and healthy New Year.
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