FISHERIES MANAGEMENT & LEGISLATIVE REPORT

by Tom Fote

(from Jersey Coast Anglers Association November1997Newsletter)

BLUEFIN TUNA LETTER TO ELECTED OFFICIALS

REPORT ON THE SEP 30 ASMFC STRIPED BASS BOARD MEETING

LETTERS THAT JCAA SIGN ON TO THIS MONTH

STATUS OF U.S. FISHERIES REMAINS BLEAK ON ANNIVERSARY OF NEW FISHERIES CONSERVATION LAW


BLUEFIN TUNA LETTER TO ELECTED OFFICIALS

October 16, 1997

Dear Elected Officials:

The National Marine Fisheries Service has done it again! I attended the ICCAT meeting in Toms River on October 1, 1997, representing Jersey Coast Anglers Association and the New Jersey Federation of Sportsmen’s Clubs as their Legislative Chair. These two organizations represent 150,000 concerned sportsmen in New Jersey. John Koegler read the JCAA position. I used my time to speak about our disillusionment with the entire hearing process and National Marine Fisheries Service (NMFS). As Legislative Chair I have always felt responsible to insure a good turn out at hearings. However, the process has left me believing that there is not reason for people to attend hearings or express their opinion when it comes to NMFS. After all, the NMFS has, by its actions, convinced most of us that they don’t listen and don’t care what we think. They haven’t a clue what the recreational fishery is all about in New Jersey New York Bight Area. They do not realize the economic havoc they have created in the recreational sector with their decisions about tunas and sharks. I was asked by NMFS to serve or find another representative for their new highly migratory species advisory committee. If past practice is any indication, serving on this committee would be another total waste of my time and energy. When well intentioned recreational anglers serve on NMFS committees, they simply come away frustrated and fed up with the process. So personally, I turned them down. I felt my time was better spent working with our elected officials at both the state and federal level. At least there, someone listens and understands the impact of each decision.

When President Clinton signed his Executive Order mandating closer ties for NMFS with the recreational community, we all hoped there would be a change. NMFS, however, has only put a new face on their actions, they haven’t changed the way they operate in the slightest. It doesn’t do us any good to have them make nice with us if they have no intention of listening to what we say. This was proven again on October 7th when NMFS reopened the bluefin tuna fishery in the angling category. Time and time again we have explained that the anglers in New Jersey and the New York Bight need the small fish in order to sustain a viable recreational industry. So what did NMFS do? They transferred the eleven metric tons allocated to the small fish category to the large school and small medium ABT. This was not what we asked for. In fact it was directly contrary to what we asked for. Eleven metric tons is not a lot of fish but does represent over ten percent of our allowance in the small school ABT. If they had left this allocation in the small school category, charter boat captains and private boat owners would have been able to schedule tuna trips this fall. Anglers would have bought bait and tackle and would have spent their money in hotels and restaurants. The fall fishery would have been extended and offered a much needed boost to New Jersey’s economy. The large school and small medium ABT fish allocated to us by NMFS are not available in our area and do not provide enough opportunity for a catch to motivate people to go fishing. All the money they would have spent if there had been a reasonable opportunity to catch fish is staying home. We have told NMFS this repeatedly but they have yet to act as though they hear a word we say.

Last year Congressmen Pallone and Saxton responded to NMFS total disregard for New Jersey anglers by trying to resolve issues surrounding the fall fishery. They wrote letters to NMFS requesting they reconsider their actions regarding the small fish category. NMFS responded to their request with an unbelievably complicated plan that allowed for only weekend fishing for a very brief period of time. By the time everyone was notified of this ridiculous plan, it was too late to take any advantage of the change. We certainly appreciated the interest of Congressmen Saxton and Pallone but NMFS response was substantially useless.

Its not as though we are asking them to take an action that would harm the resource. JCAA has always taken a very conservative position on bluefin tuna. But eleven metric tons out of a total fishery of over 1300 metric tons will make absolutely no difference in the long term recovery of the tuna stocks. In the meantime NMFS actions are killing the recreational fishing industry in the New York Bight. In addition they are insuring an ample supply of tuna for the Japanese market from the giant fishery while denying US citizens the right to catch and consume the tuna through recreational harvest. JCAA and the NJ Federation of Sportsmen’s Clubs are calling on our elected officials, both state and federal, to do whatever it takes, even if that means a lawsuit by the state, to guarantee New Jersey their fair and equitable share of the tuna catch. We have absolutely no faith in NMFS willingness to change their ways and treat us fairly so we have no option but to turn to our elected officials.

Sincerely,

Thomas P. Fote
Legislative Chairman
Jersey Coast Anglers Association
New Jersey Federation of Sportsmen’s Clubs

cc:
President Bill Clinton
Governor Christine Todd Whitman
NJ Congressional Delegation
New Jersey State Legislature
Secretary of Commerce William Daley
National Marine Fisheries Service


REPORT ON THE SEP 30 ASMFC STRIPED BASS BOARD MEETING

Striped Bass Board met on September 30 in Peabody MA. There were no new tables or charts produced for this meeting. This was very disappointing to the advisors and the board members. We had been led to believe that the revised tables would be available at this meeting. This left the advisors with few options beyond status quo. The Technical Committee will be meeting in the middle of October in Annapolis to review the VPA number and have the final charts and tables ready for the ASMFC Annual Meeting October 19-23. The Board did pass a motion which I have included below. This motion means that we will begin 1998 with the same commercial and recreational quotas that existed in 1997 except for states that were more restrictive that required by Amendment 5. These states will be allowed to adjust to the minimum requirements of Amendment 5. In early December the Stock Assessment Workshop for the National Marine Fisheries Service will finally get to look at the SSB model and the VPA. They will evaluate both models and comment on the assumptions made in these models. Some people would have preferred that an outside agency conduct this peer review. The Atlantic States Marine Fisheries Commission is taking advantage of the fact that the National Marine Fisheries Service already has a process in place. The SAW/SARC report is usually presented to the first federal fisheries management council meeting that has a vested interest in the species. Since New England Marine Fisheries Council would be the first one meeting in January that is usually the council where this would be presented. Since we need a board meeting in January or February, the ASMFC may be asking for a special presentation.

According to the motion that was passed at the Board meeting, if the models are accepted, then there will be an opportunity for the producing areas to come in with proposals to increase their fisheries in 1998. There was a lengthy discussion about whether the ASMFC would need to hold new public hearings and complete the original hearings on Addendum 2. Some state directors made the point that if only the producing areas would receive an increase in 1998, this would be covered under Addendum 1 to Amendment 5 and would not require new public hearings. I found this insulting.

When Addendum 1 went to public hearings, the overwhelming recommendations from the public was in opposition the option that the Board chose to implement. The excuse was given was that this was for only one year and an entire new addendum or amendment would be in place for 1998. Any change in the plan for the producing areas effects the Delaware Bay and Hudson River in addition to the Chesapeake Bay. States that fish in Delaware Bay and the Hudson River, with the exception of Delaware, have not been in agreement with the management plans proposed by those who fish in the Chesapeake Bay. Yet the ASMFC, which by and large produces plans that are endorsed by the Chesapeake Bay, would like to impose the very same plans on the other two producing areas. Delaware has been successful, with the support of the Chesapeake Bay states, in implementing the Chesapeake Bay’s management regime in Delaware Bay. This maximizes the catching of small fish. New Jersey, New York and Pennsylvania are not in agreement with this management philosophy. Unfortunately, the results of this is that Delaware is allowed to catch additional small fish while New Jersey, New York and Pennsylvania are not catching any. This is incredibly unfair to the anglers from New Jersey, New York and Pennsylvania and detrimental to the attempts to revitalize the stocks of the Delaware Bay. Again this rewards the states who are less concerned with conservation by allowing them to harvest fish that are not caught by anglers from states with more conservative plans. Plans for the Delaware Bay should be resolved by the Delaware River Commission, which has been in place much longer than the Atlantic States Marine Fisheries Commission. All the states involved should participate in developing a plan that will impact fairly and equitably on everyone. No one state should be allowed to reap the benefits of another states conservation. JCAA feels very strongly about this and will be petitioning our governor to sue the ASFMC for unfair allocation in our producing areas if some action is not taken to resolve this matter.

The motion below will be brought before the Striped Bass Board at the ASMFC meeting in Hershey, PA and then forwarded to the policy board. You need to request that your state have a public hearing if there is any attempt by the ASMFC to allow an increase in the producing areas for 1998. Write to the governor of your state with copies of your letter to the your congressional representatives, the Atlantic States Marine Fisheries Commission and your state director.

JCAA represents many fishermen who live in Pennsylvania but fish in New Jersey waters or on the Delaware River. After some requests by Pennsylvania organizations and clubs who attended the Joint Strategic Meeting, Pennsylvania was given its own Striped Bass Hearing. This is truly a first step in the right direction. However, Pennsylvania did not send a representative to vote at the Striped Bass Meeting. There was also no advisor present at the Striped Bass Advisor’s meeting. It doesn’t do any good to have a state hearing if no one shows up to represent you at the ASMFC meetings.

Motion Passed by Striped Bass Board on September 30,1997

Move that it is the intent of the Board to conduct the 1998 fishery at F int. The coastal 1997 recreational fishing requirements and commercial caps will be maintained for 1998. Producer states will start their seasons at 1997 cap levels; and after SAW/SARC results are final, may submit proposals to achieve F' int. 1998 coastal management parameters may be revised based on stock assessment advice to achieve F int., if necessary. States whose management parameters exceed the minimum requirements of Amend 5 may apply to revise them to meet the As standard. Motion substituted by unanimous consent. Motion approved 14-2-0.

Striped Bass 1998 Fishing Season to Remain at Status Quo for Now

(Reprint From ASMFC Press Release)

On September 30, 1997, She Atlantic States Marine Fisheries Commission's Striped Bass Management Board voted to maintain 1997 ocean fishing regulations for sport and commercial fisheries in 1998. Producer area (estuarine) fisheries will start their 1998 fisheries at 1997 capped levels, but may submit new proposals to achieve the target fishing mortality after a final stock assessment peer review is complete in January 1998. Likewise, ocean management parameters may be revised after the peer review if necessary to achieve the target F - 0.31.

In late August, the Board had approved a draft Addendum II to Amendment 5 to the Fishery Management Plan for Striped Bass, which listed several options for allocating a total allowable catch (TAC) for the next two years. At that time, states with major ocean fisheries were concerned with reducing the mortality on older striped bass caught in their recreational and commercial fisheries. Initial stock assessment results suggested that these fisheries were exhibiting fishing mortality rates that were slightly above the target rate of F=0.31 in 1996, and that harvest reductions were necessary in 1998 and 1999. The draft Addendum II contained several methods by which coastal states could allocate a TAC while simultaneously reducing harvest from 1996 levels, and public hearings on these options began in early September.

Halfway through the public hearing process, however, striped bass stock assessment specialists discovered that 1996 fishing mortality rates may have been overestimated, therefore, artificially inflating proposed harvest reductions in 1998. Faced with this new information, the Management Board decided to suspend the remaining public hearings until it could meet with the Advisory Panel and the Chair of the Technical Committee to assess the situation. The Advisory Panel met on September 29, followed by the Management Board on September 30, to hear reports on stock status and decide on the proper course of action under Addendum II.

Mark Gibson, Chair of the Striped Bass Technical Committee, reported that the Committee will meet on October 16 and 17 to scrutinize data for the virtual population analysis (VPA) before running the model through a final iteration. Gibson reported that preliminary reviews of the data showed that fishing mortality estimates from 1996 could fall near the target value of F = 0.33 identified for that year, but that the Committee felt premature in reporting any of these findings before their meeting in mid-October. He added, however, that the Technical Committee could endorse the concept of remaining at the status quo for 1998 regulations, since this posed no threat to the stock and would keep mortality rates well below the overfishing definition.

Therefore, with the support of the Advisory Panel, the Board decided to remain at the current target of F = 0.31 for 1998 and revise Addendum II from its original draft. Specifically, the states voted to maintain 1997 ocean fishing regulations for sport and commercial fisheries in 1998. Producer area (estuarine) fisheries will start their 1998 fisheries at 1997 capped levels, but may submit new proposals to achieve the target fishing mortality after a final stock assessment peer review is complete in January 1998. Likewise, ocean management parameters may be revised after the peer review if necessary to achieve the target F = 0.31. States whose regulations exceed the minimum requirements (e.g. 28-inch minimum size), may apply immediately to come down to the management plan standards. In addition, Virginia indicated an interest in reopening its spawning ground striped bass fisheries in 1998, which have been closed since 1990. If Virginia pursues this idea, the Technical Committee and Management Board would review the state's proposal at their upcoming meetings.

If states choose to submit proposals after the January report of the Commission's stock assessment models (i.e., VPA and spawning stock biomass) is conducted, public hearings will be re-initiated in any state that requests one. The Management Board and Advisory Panel stated that the public should be able to comment on these proposals, since they would deviate from the status quo and were not available in the first round of hearings.

The Management Board will reconvene on October 22 in Hershey, Pennsylvania to approve this new version of Addendum II. Public attendance and comment are invited, as always. For more information, please contact: John Field, Anadromous Species Coordinator, at (202) 289-6400, ext. 301.

NOTE TO PRESS: If you would like to receive the Commission's news releases via fax, please contact Claire Miller at (202) 289-6400 (phone) or (202) 289-6051 (fax) with your fax number.


LETTERS THAT JCAA SIGN ON TO THIS MONTH

American Oceans Campaign * Center for Marine Conservation * Coastal Waters Project

SWIM (Safer Waters in Massachusetts) * Sierra Club * Greenpeace a Fish Forever

Riverkeeper, Inc. * Gulf Restoration Network * Jersey Coast Anglers Association

New Jersey Federation of Sportsmen's Club * The Siwa-ban Foundation

Reid International * Natural Resource Defense Council * Environmental Defense Fund

Alaska Marine Conservation Council * Earthjustice Legal Defense Fund

Pacific Marine Conservation Council

September 19, 1997

Mr. Terry Garcia
Acting Assistant Secretary for Oceans and Atmosphere
U.S. Department of Commerce/NOAA
14th and Constitution Avenue, N. W.
Room 5804
Washington, DC 20230

SUBJECT: ENSURING GENUINE HABITAT PROTECTION AND RESTORATION THROUGH A STRONG EFH FINAL RULE

Dear Mr. Garcia:

On behalf of the undersigned organizations and our members, we are writing to restate our intention to ensure that the full scope and intent of the Congressional mandate to describe, identify, conserve, and enhance essential fish habitat (EFH) is satisfied in the EFH final rule. Congress took unprecedented steps to reverse precipitous declines among U. S. fish populations with passage of the Sustainable Fisheries Act (SFA) nearly one year ago. The EFH mandate was intended to give fishery managers a meaningful tool to rebuild fish stocks to healthy and sustainable levels.

In previously submitted group letters dated June 3, 1997 and July 3, 1997, we outlined several concerns with the EFH proposed rule (PR). Overall, the EFH PR does not satisfy Congressional intent to protect and restore essential fish habitat. Multiple layers of unauthorized qualifying language, lack of distinction between science and management roles, and misplacement of burden-of-proof in the PR effectively undermine the mandate to protect and restore habitat.

We are aware that some resource user groups have requested further weakening of the EFH final rule. Most of these efforts are being driven by unfounded fears and misinformation about the implications of EFH. We agree with Congress that parties whose actions adversely affect essential fish habitat are responsible for preventing and reversing those effects. The final rule for EFH must effectively implement this simple concept. As currently written, the proposed rule falls far short of this.

Our primary concerns are summarized below. To ensure that the rebuilding of fisheries prevails in the manner and to the extent that Congress intended, these concerns must be taken into account:

  1. The requirement that "substantial" adverse impact be demonstrated before Councils would be required to prevent, mitigate, or minimize adverse effects from fishing must be deleted. This is a higher standard than that established in law, with no support in either the letter of the law or in the legislative history. More important, because of this lack of support for creating a higher standard, it is not appropriate for NMFS to simply replace the term "substantial" with what the agency deems may be a more appropriate standard. The only option supported by law is to leave the standard as Congress created it: "minimize adverse effects."
    The inclusion of a cost/benefit analysis is unauthorized by the statute, will skew decisions against habitat protection (because of the difficulty of quantifying ecological and other benefits, as compared to costs) and will place a cumbersome, time-consuming requirement on the Councils. These provisions dramatically limit the potential efficacy of the vitally important EFH provision. These requirements must be deleted as they have no foundation in the SPA, nor in any clear reading of the legislative history of the Magnuson-Stevens Act, and will doom habitat protection measures to status quo.
  2. In spite of traditional definitions of habitat and clear language in the SPA defining essential fish habitat ("those waters and substrate necessary to fish for spawning, . . . "), NMFS misdefines EFH as those habitats necessary for particular levels of fishery production. We firmly believe that EFH implementation will only be successful if EFH is defined correctly so that description and identification exercises are truly informative, and productivity considerations are properly shifted to the management phase. We urge NMFS to consider the full ramifications of this incorrect definition on the EFH implementation process. Furthermore, as productivity-based information on fish habitats does not currently exist, the process of enacting EFH protection measures will be unnecessarily stunted unless EFH is defined correctly.
  3. The coordination and consultation sections should remain as strong and rigorous as possible within the constraints of legislative authority. The PR criteria that federal action agencies must meet to qualify for general concurrence are ambiguous. Action agencies could simply claim that their actions result in "minimal adverse effects" and get away with it because "minimal" is undefined in the PR Analyses of adverse effects should focus on the extent to which those effects prevent, or would prevent, restoration of that habitat to a the unmodified state' that would exist if other human-induced stressors were absent.

Both NMFS and the public should have the authority to initiate expanded consultation. The public should be notified of all consultation actions and decisions. Appropriate public review processes should be incorporated into the process.

Conclusion

Habitat-based management of our fish stocks was conspicuously lacking before the passage of the Sustainable Fisheries Act. It is now an essential part of our fisheries management toolbox because Congress has finally recognized the importance of habitat. We agree with Congress that our degraded fish stocks and marine ecosystems can only be restored if strong and meaningful rules are in place. We strongly urge you to considerably strengthen the proposed rule, and publish a final rule that will enable genuine habitat protection and restoration by restricting destructive fishing practices and other threats to marine habitats. Only then can we begin restoring U.S. fisheries to healthy, sustainable levels.

In addition to the requests outlined in our two previous letters, we request that you review and act affirmatively on the comments submitted by the organizations listed below. Thank you for considering our requests.


STATUS OF U.S. FISHERIES REMAINS BLEAK ON ANNIVERSARY OF NEW FISHERIES CONSERVATION LAW

The Marine Fish Conservation Network
Thursday, October 9, 1997
For Immediate Release Contact: Tanya Dobrzynski 202-544-3526

Washington, D.C. - The Marine Fish Conservation Network, noting the recent release of a National Marine Fisheries Service (NMFS) report on the status of U.S. fisheries, renewed its challenge to NMFS today to fulfill its new mandates from Congress to reverse calamitous declines among U.S. fish populations. The Network, a coalition of conservation, fishing, and scientific organizations from around the country, issued this message to NMFS two days before the first anniversary of the signing of the Magnuson-Stevens Fisheries Conservation and Management Act, a bill passed by Congress last year directing NMFS to eliminate overfishing, minimize bycatch, and protect marine fish habitat. "Unfortunately, after one whole year since this important new law was passed, the state of U.S. fisheries still looks grim," said Tanya Dobrzynski, Coordinator of the Marine Fish Conservation Network. She added, "NMFS released its report on the status of U.S. fisheries just last week. The results are disturbing. Of 727 total species of fish under NMFS' management authority, the status of only 38 percent is known. This figure is far lower in some regions. In the Caribbean region, for example, the status of only two percent of the fish species under NMFS' jurisdiction is known."

Equally disturbing, Dobrzynski pointed out, the report reveals that 1/3 of the total fish species in the U.S. for which status is known are classified as 'overfished.' And these overfished species include those for which there is great demand in U.S. and worldwide markets Atlantic sea scallops, red snapper, American lobster, and several types of salmon covering both coasts. The current NMFS report, however, does not even reveal the degree to which fish populations are overfished. Passage of the Magnuson-Stevens Act last year established tougher controls on overfishing. As the NMFS report indicates, the number of overfished stocks in next year's report will likely increase as the new definition for "overfished" fish stocks is incorporated into the development of revised fishery management plans.

In addition, the Network urges NMFS to rewrite key parts of their final guidelines on essential fish habitat protection, bycatch reduction, and overfishing elimination; these guidelines should instruct regional fishery management councils to adopt new pro-conservation measures in their fishery management plans. The Network is convinced that, absent a substantial redraft, the guidelines will fail to fulfill their stated goal. Dobrzynski explained, "The guidelines will serve as the model set of instructions that councils will use to bring their fishery management plans into compliance with the Magnuson-Stevens Act's new pro- conservation provisions. Thus far, NMFS' interpretations of the new law have fallen far short of the Congressional intent to end overfishing, reduce bycatch, and protect fish habitat. They are in fact riddled with loopholes, which if not changed, will fail to reverse the current decline in our nation's fisheries."

For copies of the Marine Fish Conservation Network's comments on NMFS' draft guidelines, please contact Tanya Dobrzynski at 202-544-3526.

The JCAA is a member of the Marine Fish Conservation Network which consists of 48 organizations as of October 1, 1997.

 

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