Fisheries Management & Legislative Report

by Tom Fote
(from Jersey Coast Anglers Association Septempber 2019 Newsletter)

Contents:

New Recreational Numbers Causing Problems

In a previous edition I discussed the impact of the new recreational numbers that NMFS is using. We saw the recreational summer flounder catch numbers greatly increase to the point that the commercial fishery was given a 49% increase. At the same time the recreational sector, which had a 4-year average of 15% under what we could catch, saw no increase. The new numbers showed that summer flounder was not overfished and overfishing was not taking place.

When the new recreational numbers for striped bass came out and were included in the stock assessment, we went from striped bass not being overfished and with no overfishing occurring to striped bass being overfished and overfishing occurring. The same thing is now happening with bluefish. New numbers are telling us that bluefish could be overfished and overfishing may be occurring.

I would question if there is more bias in the data collected in recreational species. Was the conversion of the numbers handled correctly for recreational species? Historically, the same numbers can be interpreted in different ways leading to a huge change in how the stocks are perceived and regulated.

A lot of time and effort was put into making the recreational numbers more accurate. This has been done before and we have eventually found flaws in the overall interpretation of the data requiring more adjustments. I wonder if that is what is happening now on the predominately recreational species. I hope NMFS takes a serious look.

Traveling Man

October will be a busy month for me and many others. I will be attending three meetings; the Joint Meeting of ASMFC and MAFMC, Marine Fishery Advisory Council, and the Annual Meeting for ASMFC. I will miss the ASA Summit in Washington State since the date conflicts with another meeting. There will be some major decisions made at 2 of these meetings and recommendations will be made to the Secretary of Commerce. You can listen to the Joint Meeting and the ASMFC. Some of the materials for these meetings are already posted on the ASMFC and MAFMC webpages. I have included links to the agendas for both meetings. You can also listen after the meeting is concluded.

Striped Bass

I attended the three Striped Bass hearings in New Jersey. It was interesting to hear what people had to say. What I found upsetting was how self-protective anglers were for their own vested interests. There was a complete disregard for the data about hook and release mortality. Hook and release mortality on striped bass is the largest factor in recreational mortality. As an example, the catch and release anglers and charter boats wanted to end the opportunity to keep a striped bass during particular seasons. They realize this would have no impact on them since they release everything. They would continue to fish and release their catch, adding to the overall mortality. Some of the catch and release anglers wanted to ignore the fact that in 2018 we reduced the catch by more than 18%, the reduction called for in the addendum.

I had others say that the habitat issues are not causing the problem. How can they ignore climate change and loss of habitat? The point is, we are seeing reductions of inshore fisheries in New Jersey and elsewhere because of a variety of factors. Beach replenishment is another factor. Warmer waters in the bays and estuaries certainly contribute to the problem. Water quality issues in the Chesapeake and other bays are another factor. The lack of forage species that striped bass depend on is certainly an issue. And you all know that I find endocrine disruptors to be a contributing factor in the changing genetic make-up of the spawning stock. We are definitely feminizing fish.

My biggest concern is that anglers will expect another reduction to solve the problem when the problem is not the spawning stock biomass numbers but other contributing factors. The last time we implemented the rules we called for a 25% reduction. In 2018 we had that reduction plus another 18% reduction. We all know this has not solved the problem. Another 18% reduction will do nothing except penalize the recreational anglers who want to take a fish home to eat. Under this addendum we are not even acknowledging the impact of catch and release beyond the promotion of circle hooks.

I am hoping that all these issues are handled under the Amendment we have been discussing at the last 3 meetings. It is time for us to actually do something to solve the problem rather than just repeating past mistakes.

I presume there will be a reduction in the catch of striped bass in 2020 and an increase in hook & release mortality. What I will be recommending to New Jersey is that we conduct at least 2 public hearings to get input on how to best implement this reduction, trying to accommodate all interests. This will include party and charter boats, catch and release anglers, private boat anglers who want to take a fish home to eat, trophy anglers and surf fishermen. I realize how difficult this will be and everyone will need to compromise. Try to put yourself in the boots of another angler. The reason that government and politicians listen to anglers is because of the economic benefits to our state. We keep losing trips, boats, recreational anglers. Our strength lies in the fact there are 800,000 anglers n New Jersey. We need to find ways to keep all those anglers.

Joint ASMFC & MAFMC

I am just starting to look at the materials for the upcoming joint meeting. There are concerns about bluefish and other species. I will be reporting on these meetings in the next newspaper. It would help if a member of your club is able to listen in and report to you directly. It would also help if you review the materials, the power points and the audios that are posted after the meeting is completed. Here is link to the meeting schedule and additional information.

78th ASMFC Annual Meeting

Everyone is focused on striped bass at the Annual Meeting but there will be many other issues discussed as you can see from the agenda below.

We will need to deal with the fact that Virginia’s menhaden reduction fishery is ignoring the cap on the harvesting in Chesapeake Bay. The cap on the catch of menhaden in the Chesapeake was created to protect the forage species that striped bass depends on in the bay. I can’t believe Virginia is allowing this to happen.

The list below covers many board meetings and it is important for you to know what happens there. You really need to review the materials on the ASMFC webpage and follow up after the meeting with all the additional materials that will be posted. Preliminary agenda and more meeting information can be found at this link on ASMFC.org.

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