Fisheries Management & Legislative Report

by Tom Fote

(from Jersey Coast Anglers Association January 2003 Newsletter)

There were some interesting discussions at the Atlantic States Marine Fisheries Commission meeting in Williamsburg.  The decisions by the Weakfish Board and the Tautog Board will have the greatest immediate impact on recreational fishing in New Jersey. 

Tautog Board Meeting

            Even though there were no major amendments or addendums passed at this meeting, the board reversed a previous policy and will allow the states to use catch curve analysis when dealing with tautog.  They allowed two states to use this analysis at the current board meeting and did not require them to take the mandatory 25% reduction.  We have been asking to use this type of analysis for a long time.  I have requested that the NJ Division of Fish and Wildlife look at the available data using catch curve analysis to determine if we can avoid the more stringent mandatory reduction for 2003.  Again, this analysis required much more data than was available 5 years ago.  This analysis does not guarantee us the more favorable quota but it is certainly appropriate and more state specific than the coast-wide VPA.  One of the states using this new analysis had considerably less data available than we have in New Jersey.

Weakfish Board

            New Jersey went to this meeting with a number of serious questions and concerns about Amendment Four.  Although all of our concerns were not addressed at this meeting, our major concern was thoroughly discussed.  We wanted all states to be treated fairly and equitably if any reductions were made in the recreational sector.  At this meeting we were given clearer reasons for the proposed reductions.  Under Amendment Three, both the recreational and commercial sectors were required to take a 31% reduction.  However, there was a mistake made in the original tables for the recreational sector and the actual reduction was only 18%.  The new tables were proposed to address this discrepancy.  This new information alleviated some of my concerns about the unfairness of the proposed new reductions for recreational anglers while no new reductions were proposed for the commercial sector.  New Jersey still expressed concerns that the management plan is not based on quota management but only commercial season closures.  Commercial fishing for many other species is being restricted or closed.  The commercial fleet will transfer their efforts to other species.  With no quotas on weakfish they are a prime target even with a shorter season.  The board did insert some language in Amendment Four dealing with the possibility of a large shift in commercial effort or a great shift in the commercial/recreational split. 

            The ASMFC did eliminate the North/South line and set up one table to be used coast-wide. This was an attempt to deal with concerns about treating every state in an equitable fashion.  The tables basically state that at 12 inches you can have 7 fish, at 13 inches you can have 8 fish, at 14 inches you can have 9 fish and at 15 - 16 inches you can have 10 fish.  Once you reach 15 inches you cannot exceed a 10 fish bag limit.  Twelve fish at 7 inches is actually less restrictive than the original table.  The original table allowed only 4 fish at 12 inches.  New Jersey will have a Weakfish Advisory meeting to discuss this table.  The suggestions of the Weakfish Advisory Board will be presented to the NJ Marine Fisheries Council for a final decision.  If you have strong feelings about any of these options, contact the NJ Marine Fisheries Council or the Division of Fish and Wildlife.  JCAA will be discussing the options at our December 18th meeting. 

            I want to thank Susan Shipman, chair of the ASMFC, Vince O'Shea, executive director of ASMFC and Gordon Colvin, chairman of the Weakfish Board, for holding a conference call prior to the board meeting to make themselves aware of the concerns of New Jersey and Delaware.  This allowed the technical committee to address some of our concerns before the meeting.  I would also like to thank my fellow commissioners on the Weakfish Management board for their efforts in resolving these issues as best they could. 

            All three of New Jersey's commissioners took strong stands on the original Amendment Four.  The NJ Division of Fish and Wildlife supplied a thorough and compelling position paper supporting our stand.  Most importantly, we had the full support of Governor James McGreevey.  In public statements made at the JCAA dinner prior to the ASMFC meeting, Governor McGreevey was clear that the commissioners had his support and that he would take any necessary action to insure that New Jersey's recreational anglers were not discriminated against.   This is the first time in many years at the ASMFC that we have had that level of support from our governor. This coordinated effort had a tremendous impact on the discussion and the resulting decision made at the Weakfish Management board.  We should not forget all the anglers who wrote letters and attended public hearings.  Your vocal support made it easier for Governor McGreevey to speak for all of us.   Here is the ASMFC release.


ASMFC Approves Amendment 4 to the Fishery Management Plan for Weakfish November 20, 2002

Williamsburg, VA – The Atlantic States Marine Fisheries Commission today approved Amendment 4 to the Interstate Fishery Management Plan (FMP) for Weakfish.  Amendment 4 aims to ensure a healthy spawning stock biomass, restore the age structure of the population, and expand the geographic range of weakfish.  To achieve these goals, Amendment 4 includes a new overfishing definition with fishing mortality targets and thresholds, as well as a spawning stock biomass threshold.

“I am very pleased with the final document that we approved today and I am confident that Amendment 4 will continue to build upon the stock recovery benefits that have been achieved under Amendment 3, “ stated Weakfish Board Chair, Gordon Colvin of New York.  “The Amendment is the result of the collective efforts and input of the Management Board, Technical Committee and Advisory Panel, all of whom have worked hard to develop a plan that continues to rebuild the weakfish stock while allowing for high quality commercial and recreational fisheries.  The Weakfish Advisory Panel, led by Chair Clarence W. Lee, deserves particular recognition.  They provided invaluable assistance to the Management Board in the development of Amendment 4, with the Board adopting many of the Advisory Panel’s recommendations for inclusion in the plan.”

Amendment 4 includes minimum size/bag limit options for the states to manage their recreational fisheries.  States may choose from a range of minimum sizes and corresponding bag limits from the following options: 12” minimum size/7 fish bag limit, 13” minimum size/8 fish bag limit, 14” minimum size/9 fish bag limit, 15” and higher minimum size/10 fish bag limit.  States will be determining which combination is the most appropriate for their fishermen over the next couple of months.

Amendment 4 maintains the majority of commercial fishery management measures that have been successful under Amendment 3, including closed areas and seasons, and mesh size regulations.  The primary changes to the commercial management program under Amendment 4 address bycatch issues.  Specifically, the bycatch allowance during closed seasons was increased to 300 pounds with additional language indicating that this allowance is permitted provided that there is at least an equal poundage of other species on board the vessel.  Additionally, Amendment 4 encourages states to provide incentives for the use of escape panels in commercial pound nets.

Amendment 4 also makes strides to ensure that the necessary information is being collected for future weakfish stock assessments.  States that land at least 2.5 percent of the coastwide weakfish landings will be required to collect age and length information of their weakfish commercial and recreational landings.

Copies of the Amendment will be available by the end of the year and can be obtained by contacting the Commission at (202) 289-6400 or via the Commission’s website at www.asmfc.org.  For more information, please contact Carrie Selberg, Weakfish Fishery Management Plan Coordinator, at (202) 289-6400, ext. 332 or cselberg@asmfc.org.


Striped Bass Management Board

            There was a Striped Bass Management board meeting but we dealt with state compliance issues and not with Amendment Six.  We are scheduled to deal with Amendment Six on December 19th   We will get that information to you as quickly as possible through the press or by email.  If you wish to receive emails from me, send an email to tfote@jcaa.org.  Please include your name, address and phone number when you send me an email. Here is the striped bass release from ASMFC.



November 19, 2002


Meeting Summary

The Atlantic Striped Bass Management Board reviewed public comment on Draft Amendment 6 to the Striped Bass Management Plan.  The Board discussed the next steps toward approving Amendment 6. The Atlantic Striped Bass Advisory Panel and Management Board will meet on December 18th and 19th at the Sheraton Hotel in Warwick, Rhode Island to begin discussions and decisions.  The Stock Assessment Subcommittee, Tagging Committee and Technical Committee provided an update on the results of the most recent VPA and tagging analysis of striped bass.  Based on the current available information, the Atlantic striped bass stock is not being overfished and overfishing is not occurring. 

Subsequently, the Management Board reviewed three state proposals (Massachusetts, North Carolina and Virginia) for changes to their striped bass management program in the 2003 fishery.  After reviewing both Technical Committee and Advisory Panel input, the Management Board tabled Massachusetts’ proposal until the Commission’s February 2003 meeting week.  The Management Board approved North Carolina’s request to increase the harvest in the Albemarle Sound by 100,000 pounds and Virginia’s request to increase their coastal commercial quota to 70% of the 1972-1979 historical landings, as allowed under Amendment 5.  Finally, the Management Board approved the Plan Review Team’s Compliance Report for 2001. For more information, please contact Robert Beal, ISFMP Director, at 202-289-6400 or rbeal@asmfc.org.



Articles From the Past That are True Today

By Tom Fote

At the last JCAA meeting the clubs unanimously voted against the transfer of recreational quota to the commercial quota for bluefin tuna.  We voted to send a letter to Dr Bill Hogarth, Assistant Director of the National Marine Fisheries Service, expressing our total opposition to the change.  While I was preparing to write the letter, I researched previous articles I had done.  What I found is that nothing has changed.  The article that I wrote two years ago is still relevant today.  That is not unusual since the mindset at NMFS has not changed.  The players and the bosses change but the same lousy policies are being applied.  Below you will find two articles, one from January 2002 and the other one from November 2001. 


January 2002

What do bluefish and bluefin tuna have in common?  We could make a list.  But the most startling comparison has nothing to do with the fact that they are fish.  The most important similarity is in how they have been managed.  The management process for both are a model for how commercial interests can corrupt management plans.  In November's newspaper I included information about the bluefish FMP (The Bluefish FMP: A Truly Grim Fairy Tale).  Check out this article on our web page.  In summary, however, the article states that JCAA will not support the transfer of recreational quota to the commercial fishery.  The same thing is happening to bluefin tuna. 

In recent years unused recreational quota for bluefin tuna has been transferred to the commercial fishery.  The rules and restrictions placed on the recreational harvest do not allow us to harvest our quota.   Every time we ask for more relaxed regulations, we are told we would exceed our quota.  Yet there is no evidence that would happen.  Just the opposite continues to be true, we don't catch our quota and the leftover is transferred to the commercial quota.  The commercial fishermen don't seem to have any difficulty catching every additional pound they are allowed. 

If recreational anglers choose not to use every pound of fish in the bluefin tuna quota to preserve fish, they are certainly not rewarded for their efforts when their quota is transferred to the commercial side.  I am still waiting to hear from any national organizations, with the exception of ASA, to work with JCAA in stopping the transfer of the bluefish quota.  We are now reaching out to all national organizations to stop the transfer of the unused recreational bluefin tuna quota to the commercial sector.  Remember, as a recreational community, we have been penalized by being given only a small part of the overall quota in bluefin tuna and, even then, some of that quota ends up in the commercial sector.  If you are a member of a national organization, do whatever you can to get them on board on this issue.



November 2001

The JCAA decided last year that it will no longer support the transfer of unused recreational quota to the commercial fishery as has been done for the past 5 years in the Bluefish Fishery Management Plan (Bluefish FMP).  Feeling so strongly about the massive transfer that was approved at the joint summer meeting of the Atlantic States Marine Fisheries Commission (ASMFC) and the Mid-Atlantic Marine Fishery Council (MAMFC), we sent our representative to the American Sportfishing Association annual meeting to win its support in formally opposing this transfer and the practice in the future. After our presentation, the ASA representatives voted unanimously to support the JCAA request. We are now calling for all state, regional and national recreational fishing groups to join us in this campaign.  We are also seeking the support of the environmental groups.  They have been extremely quiet on this issue.  We wonder if they are concerned about offending the commercial interests rather than worrying about the stocks.  Let us protect the bluefish stocks and rebuild them.

            When Al Ristori was one of the original appointees to the MAMFC, there was concern voiced about the commercial purse seining of bluefish and pressure mounted to develop an FMP to address the problem. There was never any question that the bluefish fishery was dominated by recreational participation and that in most years the harvest was over 90% recreationally caught. It was obvious that bluefish was extremely important economically to the recreational sector. Striped bass was the glory fish in those years, but bluefish represented a far greater economic benefit to the recreational fishing industry.

            From the time purse seining was recognized as a problem it took the Council years to develop a management plan and the final plan was diverted from the original intent, which was to protect the recreational fishery. In fact, nowhere in the current plan is there language that refers to protecting the fishery from an expanding purse seine fishery and protecting recreational fishing interests.

            What got me involved with the ASMFC in 1988 was a meeting on the development of the Bluefish FMP and when I heard what was being proposed I got mad as hell. The discussion revolved around raising the quota allocation from 7% to 20% to allow for an expansion in the commercial fishery when controlling commercial expansion was the purpose of the plan in the first place. At the same time, they were talking about putting bag limits in place to reduce the recreational harvest. When the plan was published I voted against it calling it the worst management plan I had ever seen. That became obvious over time with all the amendments made to it.  It has been anything but a plan to prevent commercial expansion and protect a recreational fishery.

            The current iteration of the plan calls for an 87% recreational – 13% commercial split of the Total Allowable Landings (TAL). Since implementation these harvest ratios have never been met with the commercial side exceeding its allotment every year. Presently, the commercial user group has been harvesting almost 50% of the TAL and it seems to get worse with each passing year.

            How did fishery managers ever implement this fairy tale of an FMP in the first place? Simply, every time the plan called for the commercial side to sustain a cut in landing poundage they found a creative way to maintain it at approximately 12 million pounds. The first way they got around a reduction was the implementation of a “three year running average” to determine commercial landings. This meant that nothing could be done until the plan was in place for three years. When it became obvious that even using three year averaging the commercial landings would have to be reduced, the managers came up with a new method. They didn’t try to hide what they were doing anymore - they simply worked up a scheme to transfer landings from the recreational sector whenever it was determined that recreational landings would not meet their allowable landings for the year.

            The unholy transfer started out as a couple of million pounds from the recreational side of the ledger to the commercial to help the poor commercial fishermen maintain their harvest level. In 2001, the commercial transfer has become so large that it almost doubles their total allowable landings.  This transfer of allocation, which is actually a transfer of released fish by recreational anglers concerned with conservation, goes to the commercial sector so they can be sure the bluefish end up dead in a net and on their way to market. That means the conservation benefit recreational fishermen have brought to the fishery is completely negated by the transfer. Since the season will be longer, there may be a larger bycatch of striped bass.

            To add insult to injury, when some recreational representatives requested an increase in the recreational bag limit from ten to fifteen fish so subsistence fishermen could bring home more to feed their families, the state directors, regional administrator from the National Marine Fisheries Service and commercial fishermen all opposed the move as being detrimental to conservation of the resource! They made this argument in the face of NMFS own data that showed the impact of such a move on the total harvest by recreational fishermen would be inconsequential. We finally had to go over their heads to our Congressmen and the head of NMFS to get this simple request passed at both the Council and the Commission.

            Today, the transfer is no longer just a method used to justify a commercial bycatch fishery.  It is now removing such a large portion of the stocks that it is affecting the rebuilding by removing large numbers of juvenile bluefish, which the commercial sector targets in this fishery. It is having a negative impact on the rebuilding of the stocks, which has lagged well behind the original NMFS projections. When was the last time you saw a significant blitz of bluefish along the beach or could count on a summer of consistent fishing for bluefish on the inshore lumps and in the Mudhole? Not for many, many years.

            For all of these reasons and more, the JCAA and the American Sportfishing Association are calling on Bill Howgarth the new head of NMFS to block any future transfer of quota from the recreational to the commercial side of the ledger.





Dr. William Hogarth

Assistant Director of the National Marine Fisheries Service

1315 East-West Highway

Silver Spring, Md. 20910


Dear Dr Hogarth,


The recreational angling community is opposed to the latest transfer of 60 MT of unused recreational quota to the commercial quota.  We could better understand if this were a one-time transfer or if the unused quota was not allowed to be carried over.  Neither is true.  In recent years unused recreational quota for bluefin tuna has been transferred to the commercial fishery all the time.  The rules and restrictions placed on the recreational harvest do not allow us to harvest our quota.  Every time we ask for more relaxed regulations, we are told we would exceed our quota and yet there is no evidence that this would happen.  Just the opposite continues to be true: we don't catch our quota and the remainder is transferred to the commercial quota.  The commercial fishermen don't seem to have any difficulty catching every additional pound that they are allowed. 


If recreational anglers choose not to use every pound of fish in the bluefin tuna quota to preserve fish, they are certainly not rewarded for their efforts when their quota is transferred to the commercial side.  NMFS suggests that an ethical angler is in favor of catch and release.  You do not suggest that we release for the commercial fishery.  If we are willing to forego taking tuna home for dinner in promoting a growing stock, it makes no sense to allow the commercial interests to harvest that additional fish. 


Remember, as the recreational community, we have been penalized by having been given only a small part of the overall quota in bluefin tuna and, even then, some of that quota ends up in the commercial sector.  The same thing happens with bluefish.  If your hope is to get support from the recreational community then you are certainly going about it in the wrong way. 



Thomas P. Fote

Legislative Chairman JCAA

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