Mid-Atlantic Bluefish Mismanagement On List of Eight Egregious ‘Horror Stories’

By the Marine Fish Conservation Network

(from Jersey Coast Anglers Association June 2003 Newsletter)

Group Criticizes Disregard of Voluntary  Conservation Efforts, Says Current Management System is Bad for Fish, Fishermen and Taxpayers

WASHINGTON, DC (May 21, 2003) – The decision by the Mid-Atlantic Fishery Management Council to turn voluntary bluefish conservation efforts on their head was one of eight federal fisheries mismanagement “horror stories” included in a report released today by the Marine Fish Conservation Network.


In the report, Horrors of the Deep: Chilling Tales of Denial, Conflict of Interest and Mismanagement of America’s Ocean Resources, the Mid-Atlantic Council is criticized for a telling decision it made that turned back the clock on bluefish recovery.


When recreational fishermen – hoping to help rebuild the devastated bluefish population more quickly – volunteered to release 70 percent of their catch, the Council was presented with a golden opportunity to create a management plan that would speed up bluefish recovery. Instead, the council chose to burnish commercial fishermen’s profits by transferring unused recreational quota to the commercial sector to be harvested. 


Ignoring its federal mandate and the conservation efforts of recreational fishermen, the Council has turned this one time transfer into a yearly occurrence.  Effectively, recreational fishermen are being punished for doing the right thing.  Basically, if a fish wasn’t caught and killed by the recreational fishermen, then they lost the opportunity to catch it in future years to the commercial industry.


“This was one of the most disturbing fisheries management decisions I have seen made,” said Thomas Fote, a lifelong recreational fisherman. “I have always understood the need to conserve fish so that future generations can enjoy the ocean the way I have.  The conservation efforts of ten’s of thousands of recreational fishermen were rejected by federal managers when they transferred our quota to the commercial sector, it makes me angry,” he said.


“And the worst part of it all is that it’s going to take longer for bluefish populations to recover.  Transferring unused quota to the commercial sector sends the wrong message to the fishing public.  That’s not what I call promoting good stewardship.”


“The council does not have the right to negate the efforts of thousands of individual  citizens, each of whom made a conscious choice to release fish to help rebuild the stock in lieu of taking them home for the table,” says Tim Hobbs, Fisheries Project Director of the National Coalition for Marine Conservation.  “Clearly, the council is not acting on behalf of either the public interest or the long term health of the resource.”


The report also criticizes the executive director of the Mid Atlantic Fishery Management Council for boasting to the media about his disregard for the federal laws he is charged with enforcing.


The report concludes that a complete overhaul of federal fisheries management is required, citing similar examples of mismanagement from around the country such as conflicts of interest, lax oversight, a clear bias toward exploitation over conservation, and a lack of knowledge about what constitutes a healthy ocean ecosystem. Echoing the expected recommendations of two major reports, one by the Pew Oceans Commission and another by the U.S. Commission on Ocean Policy, due this summer, the Marine Fish Conservation Network believes that future ocean resource management must include plans to:


Make regional fishery management councils more representative of the public interest.


Reform the law by placing conservation of ocean ecosystems before extraction.


Create a new Department of the Oceans to administer the law.


Develop regional planning mechanisms to help implement the law.


Insulate the determination of the health of ecosystems from commercial and political considerations.


“For years, our organization has called for tougher enforcement and the closing of loopholes in the law,” said Lee Crockett, executive director of Marine Fish Conservation Network. “However, based on the bluefish example, and many others like it around the country, we have become convinced that the system is broken, and only wholesale reform will fix it.”

For a copy of the report, visit www.conservefish.org .