Fisheries Service Source of Frustration

Published in the Asbury Park Press
by John Geiser 2/15/03

(from Jersey Coast Anglers Association March 2003 Newsletter)

The wheeling and dealing that the National Marine Fisheries Service's highly migratory species division engages in is enough to persuade offshore anglers to swap the sportfisherman for a sailboat.

Whether it is sharks, swordfish, tuna or billfish management, the service keeps the recreational sector off balance and frequently disappointed.

Thomas P. Fote, legislative chairman of the Jersey Coast Anglers Association, said the highly migratory division's maneuvers are a source of unending frustration.

"I'm so disgusted about what's going on," he said. "I used to think that the management of striped bass was bad, but this is twice as bad."

John Koegler is chairman of the large pelagic committee of the JCAA and a member of the service's advisory team. In that capacity he watches the bouncing ball at NMFS's Silver Spring, Md., headquarters. He is not happy with what he sees.

He reported to the JCAA recently that NMFS has come up with a new twist to its cavalier treatment of anglers.

After years of ever-tighter restrictions on the recreational bluefin tuna fishery, anglers were so hobbled for the last two years that they could not fill the meager quota assigned to them.

In the past, this unused quota was banked, and the accumulation was used to liberalize restrictions the following year or in subsequent years.

New England fishermen's frenzied quest for tuna to feed the lucrative Japanese market led them to pressure NMFS for more quota from any and all sources last year. NMFS felt the New England congressional heat, and caved in.

Last year they eliminated the reserve quota rollover for the recreational fishery and gave the unused tonnage to the general category. This, actually, was the second year recreational quota was transferred to the general category.

Koegler explained that the difference in 2001 was that the 60 metric tons transferred from the angling quota to the general category was not used by the general category.

Instead, the latter category wound up with 107 metric tons of unused quota, which was carried over into 2002. Nothing came back to the angling category.

The giant bluefin tuna fishery heated up in October off Massachusetts and the general category overshot its quota even with the addition of the 60 tons from the angling category.

NMFS responded by gathering all of the remaining unused quota it could find and transferring it to the general category on Nov. 25. This included 10 metric tons from the longline north sector, 15 metric tons from the angling category, 15 metric tons from the harpoon category, 65 metric tons from the reserve and 10 metric tons obtained by closing down the New York Bight season.

Meanwhile, North Carolina had asked NMFS for a special winter sub quota of the general category quota; so it could participate in the harvest of fish to be sent to Japan. Sixty metric tons was duly assigned to North Carolina.

Koegler pointed out that this resulted in a total of 130 metric tons being added to the general category in the October transfer and 115 metric tons in the November transfer for a total of 245 metric tons.

"The issue is that NMFS took angler quota in 2001," he said. "When it was not landed in 2001, it was not returned. As a result the rules for anglers were not loosened in 2002 and anglers could not catch their assigned quotas under NMFS's strict recreational rules.

"Now the angler quota reserve has been totally eliminated by assigning it to the general category. It is this reallocation of other people's assigned quotas which has permitted a North Carolina winter general category fishery to open," Koelger concluded.

NMFS further decided to tighten the regulations on broadbill swordfish, limiting recreational boats to one fish with the explanation that it was being done to avoid overexploitation of the stocks despite the fact that the recreational sector takes only a tiny fraction of the commercial harvest.

Additionally, it expanded the commercial quota of large coastal sharks to 1,714 metric tons from 1,285 metric tons in 1997 despite evidence that the western Atlantic population of large sharks has declined precipitously. It also waved the commercial minimum size of 4 1/2 feet.

As a conservation gesture, it kept the minimum size on sharks caught by anglers at 4 1/2 feet, and required the recreational sector to buy a permit to fish for sharks this year.


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