Fisheries Management & Legislative Report

by Tom Fote
(from Jersey Coast Anglers Association July 2018 Newsletter)



As you can see in the press release below, there are two public hearings in New Jersey about bluefish. Last month’s newspaper had the press release from the Commission meeting. In the January 2018 JCAA Newspaper, I wrote an article on this topic. I have reprinted that article below. JCAA will be voting on a position on the scoping document at the June 26th meeting. We will be sending out a JCAA email blast before the hearing on the 27th. It is really important for you to attend and make your feelings known.

Public Hearings in Ocean City June 27 and Toms River June 28

Bluefish amendment to review and possibly revise the allocation between commercial and recreational fisheries, fishery management plan goals and objectives, commercial allocations among states, and commercial quota transfer process.

The Mid-Atlantic Fishery Management Council (MAFMC) and Atlantic States Marine Fisheries Commission are initiating development of an amendment to the Bluefish Fishery Management Plan (FMP). You are encouraged to submit comments regarding the range of potential issues to be addressed in the amendment. Issues currently under consideration include potential revision of the allocation between the recreational and commercial sectors (currently 83% / 17%).

In addition, transfers from the recreational to commercial sector have occurred in every year since 2001, inclusive, and management questions under consideration include: Are the existing transfer processes appropriate for managing the bluefish fishery?

For complete details, please see the information available at this link or at this link. Here is link to Bluefish Allocation Amendment Scoping and Public Information Document.

Two public hearings are scheduled in NJ:

June 27, 2018 6:00 - 8:00 pm Ocean City Library, Room N111 1735 Simpson Avenue Ocean City, NJ 08226 June 28, 2018 6:00 - 8:00 pm Ocean County Administration Building, Room 119 101 Hooper Avenue Toms River, NJ 08753

In addition, you may submit written comments by 11:59 pm on July 30, 2018. (the Public Information Document concerning all details is available here).

Written comments may be sent by any of the following methods:

  1. Online at this link
  2. E-mail to the following address:
  3. Mail or fax to:
    Chris Moore, Ph.D., Executive Director Mid-Atlantic Fishery Management Council North State Street, Suite 201 Dover, DE 19901 FAX: 302.674.5399

NOTE: Please include "Bluefish Allocation Amendment Scoping Comments" in the Subject line if using e-mail or fax, or on the outside of the envelope if submitting written comments.

(reprinted from January 2018)

There is an old expression, “Don’t poke the bear.” I could not believe that the Council and the Commission were discussing the reallocation of bluefish to go to scoping meetings under an addendum to the plan. This proposed change to the bluefish management plan would reward the recreational community for their conservation by catch and release and their allowance for the transfer of the unused recreational quota to the commercial community by reallocating the recreational quota to the commercial fishermen. I could not believe that anyone would suggest this.

Many years ago, when the recreational fishing community realized that the bluefish management plan was having a negative effect on the commercial fishermen, the recreational community allowed some of the unused recreational quota to be moved to the commercial quota. What started as a small figure has become a constant yearly transfer of 4 – 5 million pounds to the commercial fishing community. In the past few years, the recreational anglers were nearing the allowable quota and this had an impact on the allowable commercial catch. This transfer of unused quota has never been reciprocated even when that could have happened. The commercial fishing community decided to propose an addendum that would give them a larger quota at the expense of the recreational quota, whether or not recreational anglers were meeting that quota themselves. As other recreational fisheries such as black sea bass, tautog or summer flounder have shorter seasons, the recreational community and industry has turned more and more to bluefish. When the recreational community was forced to put a 10-fish bag limit on bluefish, the party and charter boat community lost many customers from out of state. They came from the Amish communities in Pennsylvania and Ohio and other church groups looking to have fish fries stopped coming. They counted on big bag limits to make the trip worthwhile. People asked me why individuals needed such large catches. We discovered bluefish was smoked, pickled, frozen or used in fish fries. This supplemented a diet and made the price of a charter or party boat worthwhile. We could have had bigger bag limits with the unused quota. My suggestion to do this at a joint meeting of the Mid-Atlantic Council and ASFMC resulted in a lengthy argument about allowing larger quotas. The motion failed because NMFS was against it. Mike Nussman and I talked to the head of NMFS and in the mid-90’s we were allowed to increase the bag limit to 15 fish.

The historical split was 83 recreational and 17 commercial dating back to the 50’s. When Al Ristori first went on the Council in 1977, he started a bluefish management plan because he knew how crucial this was to the recreational community. There was a fear that this would become a purse seine fishery and much of the catch would be sent overseas. It is interesting that this is the first time in a long time that the New York and New Jersey delegations were in 100% agreement. The representative from Florida flew to Annapolis for just the 90-minute segment of this meeting to talk about bluefish. His comment was, “Mark this date, December 14, 2017. Florida 100% agrees with the points made by Tom Fote.” The recreational representatives at the meeting all agreed this was not the time to do a scoping document on bluefish. We are waiting for the revised recreational numbers and we have no idea what they will be. We have postponed the benchmark stock assessment for summer flounder because we don’t know how much those numbers will change. Knowing how crazy the recreational statistics numbers can be, we might have NMFS saying that we have been overfishing bluefish for the last 10 years. A scoping meeting should not be scheduled until we get this data. Postponing the scoping meeting was also agreed to by many of the long-time Commission and Council members who have a sense of the history. I also pointed out that there are many people in the recreational community who have always been upset that their conservation effort has always rewarded the commercial community. Many of the new state and commercial Council members have no sense of the history and no understanding of how upset the recreational community would be and voted yes. The new directors saw this as a way to transfer quota from one state to another to use the entire quota. Again, “Don’t poke the bear.”

What should we do? We should be writing and calling the Mid-Atlantic Council and ASMFC members and Congress and explaining the outrageous move by the Council and the Commission. We need to stop this process now, not wait for it to go any further. A yes vote would be a major reallocation to the commercial community based on the historical fishery of the last 10 years. This could allow the commercial quota to go from 17% to over 40%.

Modern Fish Act of 2017

I have great news. Both Senator Menendez and Senator Booker have signed as co-sponsors of the Modern Fish Act of 2017. All recreational anglers should thank them. Now it is time to begin working with the House of Representatives. Every seat in the House of Representatives will be voted on in November. JCAA will be writing a letter asking all of our current Congressmen and the candidates for those seats to promise to co-sponsor this legislation. We will be putting out further releases on this in the JCAA Newspaper. Go to the archives on our webpage and read more about the Modern Fish Act.

Striped Bass

Al Ristori wrote in his new blog about comments I made in the JCAA Newspaper in 2002. When you read the article, check out what is in bold. I predicted what would be happening with striped bass in 2018. Sure enough, there have been a number of 50-pound striped bass caught. So far, I have not been able to catch one of those 50 pounders this year but some people have. But there is still hope. I am looking forward to fishing for the 50-pound fish again from the 2011 (fourth largest young of the year) and the 2015 (eighth largest young of the year) in 2036 and 2040. Walker or wheel chair, I will still be ready to go, God willing.

In the rest of this article, some things have changed but much has not. We are still fighting about menhaden and other forage species.

Looking at 2002 JCAA Newspapers

While trying to find the article Al Ristori referenced from 2002 in his new blog, I came across other interesting articles that I could easily have written for this month’s newspaper. Rather than rewriting, I am including these articles from 2002. It is amazing how relevant they are today. People ask me how they can learn about what was happening in fisheries management in the past. If you want to know what was happening from 1995 to today from the JCAA perspective, go to our webpage and begin reading in the archives. You will learn much of the history. You will also realize how far we’ve come and how much we still need to accomplish. There is no easy resource for the history of fisheries management, but our webpage is a great starting place.

There is also an article from 2002 talking about working with PIRG to protect NJ waterways. It was the only time that an NGO wrote us into the grant to help with a joint project. It would be nice if that happens again.

Fisheries Management is Not Working
by Tome Fote, (reprinted from February 2002)

In the 30 years I have been involved in fisheries management, I have never felt this disillusioned about the system. I have always promoted conservation because I felt it was the responsible thing to do. I felt we could live with quotas and reductions if the long-term impact was positive. I have always felt that the parties who were most responsible for any problems should suffer the consequences of their actions by have the most stringent quotas. It is ludicrous to reward those who cause the problem. This was the JCAA philosophy and it had my complete support. In fact, this position has always had overwhelming support throughout the recreational community. As a representative of the JCAA position, I worked throughout the 80’s and into the 90’s to make us a productive part of the system. In the 90’s I served in various positions as a member of the Atlantic States Marine Fisheries Commission and felt being part of the system was the most positive approach we could take. Due to commercial overfishing of many species, we spent most of the 80’s and 90’s rebuilding stocks and as recreational anglers was did more than our fair share. We were not responsible for the overfishing but we were largely responsible for the conservation that resulted in rebuilding the stocks. The commercial and recreational industries all suffered a serious economic downturn during this rebuilding period.

That rebuilding period was successful for some species and we are at a point where we should be reaping the benefits that we are due. Instead, just the opposite is happening. I am thoroughly disenchanted with fisheries management as it exists today. The best word to describe the existing is chaos. We rebuild a stock and then penalize the recreational community for our success. The people who have enough money to file lawsuits have so intimidated the fisheries managers that a lawsuit is hardly necessary. You know the history of the commercial lawsuits and the environmental lawsuits. You know that we are the ones who are penalized every time they sue, or even threaten to sue. This is ridiculous. The fisheries managers are so handcuffed by the federal government that they are not allowed to manage. If you need an example of the hypocrisy of the system, you need only look at the management plans put in place by the National Marine Fisheries Service for summer flounder, scup and seabass. And if you need evidence of the ineptness at the Atlantic States Marine Fisheries Commission you need only look at the plan for tautog. Some days it’s hard to tell who is the most out of touch with the needs of the recreational community. What disgusts me the most is the management plans currently in place unfairly attack the poor and subsistence anglers who had no hand at all in collapsing any stock. Yet they are the most negatively impacted because of higher size limits, which effectively eliminate them from the fishery. This is not my resignation speech, it’s my war chant. We really need to attack the system as it exists rather than continuing to fight on hopeless battle after another. It is time to insist that state governors join with the recreational community and sue the system to protect a vital part of every coastal state’s economy. It is also time to hold our legislators at the state and federal level responsible. We must demand action and we must be unwavering in our unified approach to this problem. Perhaps it is time to resurrect my old refrain, “Fish don’t vote but anglers do.”

A New Direction in Fisheries Management: A Two-Year Review (February 1999)
by Tome Fote, (reprinted from March 2002)

Here is an editorial I wrote for the JCAA Newspaper in February of 1999. I thought you might find what I said then very interesting reading after the article above. You should visit our web page and look in our archives for the December 1996 article “Time For a New Direction in Fisheries Management.” I could also have reprinted my comments about swordfish that I made in 1988. They are still basically the same. Remember, that is when they were proposing to cut the entire east coast recreational catch of swordfish to 125 fish. I said that was ridiculous since we did not cause the problem and have almost no impact on the resource. Now they want to limit us to one swordfish per boat. Nothing changes for the better when it comes to fisheries management.

In the DECEMBER 1996 JCAA Newspaper, I wrote an article entitled “Time For a New Direction in Fisheries Management.” This article is available at the JCAA website. The main idea of this article is that historically we were all subsistence or recreational fishermen. It is only in modern times, when some anglers could catch more than they would consume, that we began to have a commercial fishery. Yet recreational anglers and subsistence fishermen are often treated like the new guys in town, not the historical users. I suggested as a model for discussion the New Zealand Plan, a plan that puts recreational use first and then distributes any additional catch allowed under a comprehensive fisheries management plan to the commercial side. A comprehensive management plan protects the resource, allows for a healthy and renewable stock and preserves the recreational and subsistence fishery.

Was anyone paying attention? After looking at the newest round of decisions on the management plans for highly migratory species, billfish, bluefish and summer flounder, I have to believe the answer is no. And if we were to give an award to the agency that pays the least attention to the needs of the recreational angler, the unanimous winner would be the National Marine Fisheries Service. They have systematically manipulated the quotas in favor of the commercial interests by selectively choosing the years from which they take their data. While they claim to be scientific, they are choosing the base years when the commercial interests have the highest landings and ignoring the historical nature of the recreational fishery. What this does is continue to reward commercial interests for overfishing a species to collapse. And who can blame them, NMFS is always there to bail them out by restricting the recreational catch. In case there are any undecided votes, let’s look at their recent decisions. As Al Ristori points out in his article, NMFS took a recreational fishery (sharks), decided it was underutilized, and promoted a commercial fishery for fins. Once this fishery collapsed, due to the pressure of the commercial catch, NMFS “solved” the problem by placing the most restrictions on the recreational angler.

This is typical NMFS behavior. For example, under the new shark management proposal recreational anglers are eliminated from the harvest. We, of course, can catch and release while commercial interests are allowed to harvest and sell their catch. Additionally, NMFS for years threatened a restrictive bag limit on bluefish claiming overfishing by recreational anglers. Finally they have recognized that the bluefish stocks, while down, are not endangered. In fact, they have admitted that we have fished under quota for the last three years and should have a larger quota. When an increase in bag limit was requested by a recreational group, NMFS turned them down. They were able, however, to transfer the unused recreational quota to the commercial sector to maintain a higher commercial quota. Although the quota is on the books as an 80/20 split, in reality it is closer to a 50/50 harvest. As another example, when the summer flounder fishery collapsed because of overharvesting by the commercial sector, they were rewarded with a 60/40 split. Historically, the quota should be 70/30 with the recreational anglers allowed the 70% catch.

Unless we get to work, we will enter the new millennium with NMFS firmly in charge and continuing to create havoc for recreational anglers. It doesn’t take any genius to predict what will happen in the next five years if we don’t get our act together. We will have only hook and release for sharks. We will have a 3 fish bag limit at 20 inches for summer flounder. We will still be fighting about whether we can take home a safe striped bass to eat. And we will be at a 2 yellowfin limit per boat and 2 dolphin per man. NMFS will have succeeded in cutting recreational participation by 50% and destroying the entire industry. If this seems far-fetched, just remember that in 1990 we had a 13 inch no bag limit on fluke, no bag limit on bluefish, four small bluefins per man, and no recreational limit on sharks.

Right now, you must get involved and support the organizations that represent your interests. You must let your elected representatives know that your vote is based on their actions to preserve recreational fishing and the resource. You must put pressure on state and federal agencies and insist that they listen to the recreational sector. Attend meetings when you can, respond to our requests for letters, emails and faxes, and support the existing organizations with your time and money. What is recreational fishing worth to you? Think of all the money you spend on tackle, boats, etc. Take the time to list every expense associated with recreational fishing. Then write a check for 2% of the total. Send that check to JCAA. We cannot represent you without an increase in our budget.

Missing: Big & Old Striped Bass
by Tome Fote, (reprinted from April 2002)

It seems at every meeting and in some articles I hear the same complaint, "Where are the older striped bass?" We are now discussing more restrictions on striped bass because the perception is that there are few large striped bass available. Were there more 50 pound striped bass in the early 70's? Most of us would say yes. But I think we need to review what has happened in the past 30 years in striped bass management to see why there are not a lot of bass over 20 years old now.

In the late 70's we recognized that the striped bass stocks were not as robust as in previous years and there was fear of a stock collapse. In 1982 we saw a healthy year class. In order to protect this class new regulations were implemented in 1984. These regulations were designed to protect the 1982-year class until it spawned at least once. Beginning in 1984 we raised the size limit routinely to protect those fish as they matured. All the striped bass harvested after 1984 were fish that had spawned before 1981. Remember, the young of the year index for years before 1981 were the ones that were very low. But because of management decisions those were the fish that we were harvesting. Some states put moratoriums in for a period of time while other states remained open. For example, Massachusetts sent about 100,000 pounds of striped bass to market each year until 1991 when the fishery was reopened. In 1989 we had a good young of the year index. That was the reason the fishery was opened in 1991. We allowed for the harvest of 18 inch fish in the bay and 28 inch fish along the coast. States with the largest amount of coastal harvest decided not to go to 28 inches and remained at the higher size limit thereby limiting the catch to older fish. This means that a majority of the coastal stocks harvested prior to 1995 were older fish. I estimate most of these fish were pre1981. Right now in Massachusetts the largest coastal commercial catch is still targeting older fish, 34 inch or larger.

Let's take a look at the years when we had good spawning in the Chesapeake Bay. The years in question are 1982, 1989 and 1993. The oldest fish from the good years in 2001 are currently 20 years old. The class of '89 is 12 years old and the class of '93 is 8 years old. The classes before 1981, which were small class years, have been fished heavily every year. That is why I am not surprised that we are finding few fish over 20 years old. Since we reopened the fishery in 1991, our main source of striped bass for consumption along the coast has been the 1982 class. It is no wonder we are not seeing a lot of fish from that class year anymore.

What further complicates the whole issue is what has happened in Virginia since 1997. At a recent ASMFC Striped Bass Board Meeting, we learned that Virginia was circumventing the process. Their quota is divided into two parts. The first, which is on pre-migratory fish, is part of the Chesapeake Bay total quota. A model that is designed to show how many pre-migratory Virginia, Maryland and Potomac River can harvest in any given year determines this quota. It is based on the mortality of these fish in Chesapeake Bay. The other quota is for the ocean. This quota has been at 95,000 pounds. This quota is on migratory fish, older fish and bigger fish. Virginia changed their tagging system for reporting commercial fish and allowed for the transfer of these tags. They did not discriminate between coastal stocks and the Chesapeake Bay. This has resulted in a commercial catch that has greatly overfished their quota in the ocean. Instead of 95,000 pounds, they may have caught up to 890,000 pounds along the coast. This catch is primarily 20 - 30 pound fish that are wintering over and are mixed stocks. That is larger than any commercial catch in any other state along the coast. One of the Virginia representatives was amazed that we were upset over the catch of approximately 50,000 fish over 20 pounds and from mixed stocks. This affects the coastal stocks. It also allows for a larger quota for the Chesapeake Bay harvest since the switch to a larger coast catch has an impact on the mortality figures in the bay. We have always had concerns about the models for the Chesapeake Bay. Now we need to be concerned not only about the models but also about the integrity of the information the models are based on.

I cannot imagine how many large striped bass were killed in the spiny dog fishery. This fishery used the right size mesh and were located where the big bass were. If you are wondering what has happened to the big fish, these are some of the reasons. It is not surprising that we find fewer big fish. Given these circumstances, it is surprising there are any big fish at all left from before 1981.

We will not see any 25-year old from the 1982-year class until 2007. We will not see any 25-year old fish from the 1989-year class until 2014. And I am really looking forward to catching and releasing those 25-year old fish from the 1993 class year in 2018. God willing!

Management decisions can help produce larger, older year classes. But that takes time. When you are looking at the decisions we need to make, please consider all of this information. Rhetoric and emotion are not always productive when these kinds of decisions need to be made.

The Defend New Jersey’s Waterways Campaign
(reprinted from March 2002)
by Tome Fote, (reprinted from March 2002)

Coming soon is an offer that no club should refuse. What do fish and the people of New Jersey have in common?

They both need good clean water. The fish need clean water to live and the people need it to drink. New Jersey’s waterways are too polluted. New Jersey’s watersheds are the most unhealthy and most threatened watersheds in the nation. The JCAA has combined with New Jersey PIRG on a campaign to improve the water quality in the state.

What can your club do about it? Learning about how serious the water pollution problem is in New Jersey is the first step. Learning where the sources of water pollution are coming from is key to understanding the topic. Consider that the people of New Jersey generate 1.1 billion gallons of treated sewage each day. Then consider the amount of run-off from rain (when we have it) which goes into our waterways. The amount of pollutants is tremendous and it comes from many sources. Learn what you as an individual can do and what your club can do by getting involved in something as simple as writing a club letter.

A short 20 – 30 minute presentation on the issue and what your club can do about it has been prepared. Frank Richetti, Phil Celmer and Tom Siciliano have volunteered to travel around the state to give this presentation to your club. Just call or email the JCAA office if your club is interested and let us know what date you would like one of the volunteers to be there.

The ultimate goals are to clean up the state’s most polluted waterways and ensure healthy water levels and an adequate water supply. Sign up now!

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