Highly Migratory Species Report

John T. Koegler

(from Jersey Coast Anglers Association December 2003 Newsletter)


Sharks as a directed commercial fishery is only 25 years old. In that short time commercial fishermen have devastated the Large Coastal and Pelagic shark populations.  The result is the commercial shark fishermen are not expected to reach their allocated quota in non-ridgeback sharks.  NMFS claims that some shark species are abundant enough to support a commercial fishery. However, every few years NMFS adds another shark species to their do not land designation. They do this because so many sharks are threatened with extinction.  This does not bring the species back! The current landings plus the high dead bycatch numbers are far greater than a shark’s limited reproductive capacity. It has been proven all over the world that sharks can never support a directed commercial shark fishery. Their reproduction rate is too slow to support directed commercial fishing of any kind. NMFS knows this but continues to permit a directed commercial shark fishery to exist anyway. 

Ecosystem-wise, the lack of bigger sharks has allowed many species of rays and skates considered trash by the market to explode in population size. In New Jersey this huge explosion of rays and skates has directly reduced the populations of clams and crabs.  This is provable in the bays where commercial clammers cannot transfer their excess catch to their storage beds and wait for higher prices. If commercial clammers do not protect these saved clams, the skates and rays totally destroy them. Now to have any saved catch they must cover their clams with plastic tarps to keep the predators from eating their entire saved catch.

HMS fisheries management internationally under ICCAT is a failure. The member nations of the European community and their African neighbors refuse to observe

ICCAT’s rules. What remains is unilateral US conservation of ocean crossing fish.

This solves nothing since US landings are a tiny part of total Atlantic Ocean

reported landings.

So much for ICCAT rules for HMS fisheries internationally.

Enjoy thanksgiving, and give many thanks for seabass and NJ artificial reefs.

Bluefin Tuna

This could be the first year when the commercial bluefin tuna landings by New England-based boats will be less than the US ICCAT allocation. As of September 30, the General Category had landed 141.6 MT out of a quota of 684.4 MT. Angler landings are also expected to be less than their quota allocation.  This is despite NMFS allowing up to 3 giant bluefin tuna per trip instead of the one fish as in previous years. The total giant bluefin tuna in US waters appears to be much lower than in previous years. Continued international overfishing is likely the major problem. After 27 years of ICCAT management, the actions by most other member nations is how can they land and sell more bluefin tuna?  Nowhere outside US waters is the idea of conservation of this tuna important.

The critical issue is the European fishermen have consistently refused to observe ICCAT rules their representatives approved. They were able to do this because they claimed for many years that their fishery was healthy and did not need tough regulations. It turns out that US conservation has supplied most of their extra fish.

The current management plan states that there are two separate stocks of bluefin, one western and one eastern. This is based on the fact that there were only two known spawning sites, one in the Gulf of Mexico and one in the Mediterranean.  New scientific data from satellite tags now proves beyond all doubt that the bluefin tuna are a one-ocean crossing stock. This year’s ICCAT meeting is taking place as you read this. Bluefin tuna is the fish to be covered at this year’s meeting. After 27 years of deliberately avoiding regulations, it is doubtful that European nations will suddenly agree to verifiable tough quotas and regulations, especially if any new quotas will reduce their bluefin landings to less than MSY.


The New pelagic longline closed areas in the Florida straits had a dramatic positive impact on swordfish rebuilding. The total swordfish biomass has rebuilt so quickly that it has almost reached the planned biomass size. The full benefit will not occur until these small fish reach spawning size. This will take an additional three years.

US landing of commercially caught swordfish are way down. In fact, NMFS numbers for the June 1 to November semi-annual period as of October 31 indicate landings of only 491.3 MT out of a quota of 959.5 MT. This is 51% less than the quota with only one month to go! The problem is not the amount or size of fish available but the price at US docks. Imports from Asia, especially the Indian Ocean area,  have exploded. The result has been a price collapse from around $5.00 a pound down to $2.50 per pound. The cost of operating most US based longline boats is greater than $2.50 per pound most of the year. As a result, US longline fishermen will not come close to reaching their allocated ICCAT quota for swordfish this year.


Is Guerrilla Warfare Part of New England’s Ground Fish Management Plan?

The New England Fishery Management Council has written a 1,300 page document to manage “Ground Fish.” This is a plan for Cod and the other bottom fish. Most species are considered “Winter Fish” in New Jersey. This council’s original management plans for these species were designed to avoid quota-based regulation.  New England managers instead created a “days at sea” plan.  Their stated intent was to regulate fishing using fishing effort controls, not quotas.  However, the council set “days at sea” too high and landings reductions never meet the planned goals.

It was no surprise to anyone that New England’s Ground fish management plan was not in compliance with the 1996 Magnuson Sustainable Fisheries Act. Some actual species’ landings were four times higher than deemed safe by scientist members of the technical committee for several fish species in this plan.

As a result, in 2000 the Conservation Law Foundation with other conservation groups sued NMFS demanding Ground Fish compliance with the Magnuson Act.  In 2002, US District Judge Gladys Kessler agreed and ordered tough new landing restrictions for “Ground Fish.”  A howl of impending doom came from all New England fishermen, plus their State capitals and Federal Congressmen and Senators. All asked Judge Kessler to revise her mandated regulations because complying would, in their opinion, destroy NE commercial fishing. The final result is not much different from the plan before Judge Kessler ruled.  However, the NE Council was now under court order to rewrite their management plan and comply with the Magnuson Act. The result was the 1,300 page document.

Guerrilla Warfare best describes what the New England Fishery Management is proposing for New Jersey fishermen.  To shield their fishermen from tougher rules, the New England Council is EXPORTING their management failures to New Jersey. They are doing this so that even stricter rules will not be imposed on their own fishermen.  

They propose two things: first, a closed area in North Jersey from 3 to 35 miles off the beach and from about Spring Lake to Fire Island, NY. This area may be designated a Marine Protected Area where no fishing by anyone will be permitted.  Second, there will be additional limits on New Jersey commercial landings of winter flounder, cod and other fish species in the ground fish plan. By imposing this outrage on New Jersey, New England fishermen WILL NOT have to further reduce their fish landings.

History has clearly documented that when commercial fishermen have been reasonably regulated using scientific data, commercial fishermen have soon benefited after only a few years of catch restraint. The problem is that good fish managers find it difficult to learn the one word that will fix fishery problems. That word is “NO.”  Quota based fishery management works when a tough plan is written by the council, approved by NMFS and then enforced.  The fish management plans that work do so because the actions involving saying “NO” for a few years allow the fish numbers to rebuild.

New England’s ground fish management plan failed because their fishermen and their Council representatives did not want tough management. Now, after 10 years of their failed management, the New England council and fishermen want everyone else fishing in the Atlantic Ocean to share the pain of their planned failure!

The Magnuson Fishery Management Act is a very unique management system. It is often referred to as Jeffersonian style democracy. In such a system, those in the fishery would directly benefit by having a “stake in their own future.” The resulting council system allowed commercial fishermen to write the rules with the only major restriction being compliance with the Magnuson Act. This sounds great. However, history has taught everyone that if regulations are written by those who require the regulation, nothing ever turns out as expected.  Despite the system’s failures, the other Management councils have made steady progress in managing their fisheries. Only New England has been sued more than once and lost both times in court for their failure to comply with the Magnuson Act regulations in “Ground Fish.”

The Magnuson Act was passed in 1976 and created a Management zone from state waters at 3 miles to 200 Nautical Miles from shore. Eight councils were created to provide the staff, guidance and directions needed to properly manage fisheries. Despite failures, seven Management areas have made progress in managing their fisheries. New England Fishery Management Council rules have been the biggest failure.  The latest reauthorization of the Magnuson Act occurred in 1996. In this version Congress finally set a defined limit of 10 years as the time allowed to rebuild a fishery.  Only New England has clearly failed to meet this time limit and the other Magnuson Act guidelines. Their original management plan was written to avoid tough enforceable regulations. So its failure should not be a surprise to anyone.    

Although better than their previous fish management plans, any 1,300 page plan has too many loopholes written into the plan to function as mandated by the Magnuson Act and the courts.

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