Say No to the Transfer of our Bluefish Quota to the Commercial Industry

by John Toth
(from Jersey Coast Anglers Association October 2018 Newsletter)

It seems to me that we always have challenges to our rights as recreational anglers. We have onerous regulations imposed upon us like black sea bass that has a 230% biomass, yet we can only catch two of them from July1st to August 31st. Now, there is an effort by the Atlantic Marine Fisheries Commission (ASMFC) and the Mid-Atlantic Council (MAMFC) to transfer more of our recreational bluefish quota to the commercial industry. The ASMFC and the MAMFC held a June 28th meeting at the Ocean County Administration Building in Toms River to hear public comment on this proposal. I attended it and gave the following comments as president of the Salt Water Anglers of Bergen County, Vice President of the JCAA, Director of the New Jersey Outdoor Alliance and the NJ Federation of Sportsmen’s Clubs.

In addition to a prepared statement that I read, I also mentioned that it is my observation that bluefishing has been very inconsistent from previous years. In the past, they would arrive in all sizes and stay until fall. Now, and especially in the past two years, blue fishing has been very inconsistent and sometimes even non-existent. So, how can we transfer more of our bluefish quota when it is so spotty? Party boat captains and even some of the commercial fishermen agreed with me that bluefishing is not what it used to be. One angler commented that there used to be seven boats in Belmar fishing for bluefish with day and night trips. Now there is only one boat in Belmar fishing for blues and it does not do any night trips.

The ASMFC and the MAMFC are holding similar public hearings on this transfer with other states on the east coast. Most of the comments made at this meeting favored the status quo and that changes to any bluefish transfer cannot take place until a benchmark assessment of bluefish stocks are made so we know the status of their stocks. (Does it not make sense that a stock assessment should be made first before any transfer of a quota is even considered?)

In the spring of 2019, the ASMFC and the MAMFC will hold another meeting to present their preferred options on this transfer of bluefish stocks to the commercial sector. These options will reflect the information they have gathered from their hearings to receive public comment on this proposed transfer. My comments follow:

The Salt Water Anglers of Bergen County, the New Jersey Outdoor Alliance, the Jersey Coast Anglers Association and the Federation of Sportsmen’s Clubs have the following comments to offer on your Bluefish Management Plan (BMP) and its proposed Bluefish Allocation Amendment. We are totally against transferring an increased amount of our recreational quota of bluefish to the commercial sector.

  1. Why do this now? Does a benchmark stock assessment of bluefish support this increased transfer? What if this assessment indicates that recreational anglers have exceeded their bluefish quota? If that becomes the case, then our recreational quota could be significantly reduced resulting in a shortened season and even a closed season for recreational anglers to catch fish.
  2. Because of efforts to conserve this fishery, we have not overfished our bluefish quota. We want to rebuild the stocks of bluefish and not reduce it! What do we get for our efforts to stay within our quota – we have to transfer some of it to the commercial sector. This is not fair and it definitely supports our impression that commercial fishermen receive better treatment from your management than recreational anglers.
  3. Historically, the split for bluefish has been 83% for recreational anglers and 17% commercial. This has worked for many years and now we are contemplating changing it. What is going to be now? Will it get to 60% for recreational and 40 % commercial? What about the following years? An even split of 50/50 %? We have experienced confusing seasons for our fisheries and sea bass is a prime example. So, with changing allocations of the bluefish fishery between the two groups, we may end up with confusing fishing seasons for bluefish just like sea bass in the future.
  4. The recreational fishing industry is dying a slow death in New Jersey with many charter/party boats going out of business, including marinas. Closed seasons and restricted seasons for sea bass, blackfish, and fluke mean anglers are taking less fish home and sometimes nothing. Why should anglers pay to go on party/charter boats under these circumstances? We have heard this from captains and an overwhelming number of recreational anglers!

Now, we are hearing that we should transfer more of our bluefish quota to commercial anglers! How much more punishment should we receive? Bluefish helps us get through those periods when fishing gets tough for fluke and other species. But, that safety valve can be taken away with this new allocation. What’s next – you can catch only five or 3 bluefish instead of 15?

An article in the June 5th edition of the “Record” points out that there have been fewer party and charter boat trips since 2016. Recreational fishing remains an economic engine for New Jersey that supports 20,000 jobs and contributes $1.5 billion to New Jersey’s economy. The Bluefish Allocation in question will contribute to the slow death of New Jersey’s recreational community.

Thank you for this opportunity to express our comments on this Bluefish plan.

John Toth, President, Salt Water Anglers of Bergen County Vice President, Jersey Coast Anglers Association Director, New Jersey Outdoor Alliance
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