Fisheries Management & Legislative Report

by Tom Fote
(from Jersey Coast Anglers Association February 2020 Newsletter)

Contents:

Where we are in 2020 Management

Both ASMFC and New Jersey Bureau of Marine Fisheries are still up in the air on what needs to be done on striped bass and bluefish. As I am writing this article, NJ Marine Fisheries Council and the Bureau of Marine Fisheries have begun the advisory process. They have submitted and will be submitting conservation equivalency on these species. I am not sure what those proposals will be but it is important for you to keep up to date on what is happening.

Feb 24th Scoping Hearing #3 - Summer Flounder, Scup, and Black Sea Bass Commercial / Recreational Allocation Amendment

The Mid-Atlantic Fisheries Management Council and ASMFC will do scoping hearings on the recreational and commercial allocation for these species. This is where history is important. With all the new MRIP numbers, the recreational community has found out that NMFS has been underestimating the size of the recreational fisheries catch numbers. The perfect example is summer flounder where they increased the commercial fishery by 49% based on the recreational catch being larger than originally estimated. Of course, this means that the original quota split was incorrect and it now needs to be adjusted. It is extremely interesting that it only took 4 months to increase the commercial quota by 49% while doing nothing for the recreational quota. The recreational community cannot wait 3 years as the Councils and NMFS drag their heels on reallocation. Scup is another prime example of how we were unfairly punished by reallocating our quota under the existing numbers to the commercial side. With the new numbers it is even more justified to demand a higher quota.

We will have another copy of the JCAA Newspaper available before the scoping hearing in February and I am asking JCAA Board members to write articles for the next edition. The one thing I can tell you is this is a call to arms. If we don’t get the proper split and start rehabilitating the recreational fishery, there will be no recreational fishery as we currently know it. The recreational fishery has been dying by a thousand cuts in the last 35 years. We need the national recreational fishing organizations to start putting added pressure on Congress and NMFS to fast track the readjustment of the quotas and make sure that the new numbers are used for decision-making. I am tired of hearing just wait until we rebuild the stocks and you will start seeing fish. The recreational and commercial communities have not seen the quotas increased with the rebuilding of the stocks. We have made the sacrifices necessary to rebuild the stocks but have not seen any benefit.

You need to get involved or there will be no recreational fishery for your children or grandchildren. Stop looking at your phone or computer and attend meetings to let your voice be heard. The future is yours.

MAFMC and ASMFC to Hold Scoping Hearings for Summer Flounder, Scup, and Black Sea Bass Commercial/Recreational Allocation Amendment
MAFMC News Release, 1/7/2020

For north NJ, meeting will be Monday, February 24, 6:00-8:00 PM - Belmar Municipal Court Room, 601 Main Street, Belmar, NJ 07719; Contact: Joe Cimino, 609-748-2020.

The Mid-Atlantic Fishery Management Council (Council) and the Atlantic States Marine Fisheries Commission (Commission) have scheduled a series of scoping hearings to gather public input on the range of issues and information to be considered in the Summer Flounder, Scup, and Black Sea Bass Commercial/Recreational Allocation Amendment. Hearings will be held February 13 – March 3. Written comments will be accepted through March 17, 2020. All comments provided at public hearings or in writing will be presented to the Council and Commission.

This amendment will consider potential modifications to the allocations of catch or landings between the commercial and recreational sectors for summer flounder, scup, and black sea bass. The commercial and recreational allocations for all three species were set in the mid-1990s based on historical proportions of landings (for summer flounder and black sea bass) or catch (for scup) from each sector. In July 2018, the Marine Recreational Information Program released revisions to its time series of catch (harvest and discards) estimates. These revisions resulted in much higher recreational catch estimates compared to previous estimates, affecting the entire time series of data going back to 1981. Some changes have also been made to commercial catch data since the allocations were established. The current commercial and recreational allocation percentages for all three species do not reflect the current understanding of the recent and historic proportions of catch and landings from the two sectors. This amendment will consider whether changes to these allocations are warranted.

Scoping is the first and best opportunity to raise concerns related to the scope of issues that will be considered. You are encouraged to submit comments on which options may or may not be useful or practical for meeting the goal of this action and any other relevant issues the Council and Commission should consider.

Learn More

The Scoping & Public Information Document contains background information on summer flounder, scup, and black sea bass management and on issues that may be addressed in the amendment, as well as a description of the amendment process and timeline. Additional information and updates on development of this amendment is available on the amendment action page.

Contacts

Scoping Hearings for Bluefish Allocation and Rebuilding Amendment
MAFMC News Release, 1/13/2020

NJ meeting will be Tuesday, February 18, 6:00-8:00 PM - Ocean County Administration Building – Room 119, 101 Hooper Avenue, Toms River, NJ 08753

The Mid-Atlantic Fishery Management Council will hold eleven supplemental scoping hearings to gather public input for the Bluefish Allocation and Rebuilding Amendment. The Council is developing this action in cooperation with the Atlantic States Marine Fisheries Commission in order to (1) update the goals and objectives of the Bluefish Fishery Management Plan (FMP); (2) perform a comprehensive review of the bluefish sector allocations, commercial allocations to the states, and transfer processes; and (3) initiate a bluefish rebuilding plan. Scoping hearings will be held between February 13 and March 4, 2020. Written comments will be accepted through March 17, 2020.

An initial round of scoping was conducted in the summer of 2018 to gauge public interest in the development of an amendment. Since then, recalibrated Marine Recreational Information Program (MRIP) estimates became available and were incorporated into the 2019 bluefish operational assessment. The assessment concluded that the stock was overfished but not experiencing overfishing. The Council and Commission subsequently recommended including the rebuilding plan into this ongoing amendment. Because the additional issue modifies the scope of the amendment, the Council is holding additional hearings to provide the public ample opportunities to comment on the expanded scope of the amendment.

Public comments during scoping will help the Council address issues of public concern in a thorough and appropriate manner. Some management questions for consideration in this amendment include:

Learn More

The Supplemental Scoping and Public Information Document contains background information on bluefish management and on issues that may be addressed in the amendment. This document, along with additional information and updates on development of this amendment, is available on the Council’s website at this link.

Contact

Please direct any questions about the amendment to Matt Seeley, (302) 526-5262, mseeley@mafmc.org.

Hearing Schedule

To see full schedule for all states click this link. There will also be an online webinar hearing at this link.

Please note that some hearings will be held immediately before or after scoping hearings for an ongoing Summer Flounder, Scup, and Black Sea Bass Commercial/Recreational Allocation Amendment. A schedule for those hearings is available at this link.

Written Comments

In addition to providing comments at any of the scheduled public hearings, you may submit written comments by 11:59 pm EDT on Tuesday, March 17, 2020. Written comments may be sent by any of the following methods:

  1. ONLINE: At this link
  2. EMAIL: mseeley@mafmc.org
  3. MAIL or FAX: Dr. Christopher Moore, Executive Director
    Mid-Atlantic Fishery Management Council 800 North State Street, Suite 201 Dover, DE 19901 Fax: 302.674.5399

Please include “Bluefish Scoping Comments” in the subject line if using email or fax, or on the outside of the envelope if submitting written comments. All comments, regardless of submission method, will be compiled into a single document for review and consideration by both the Council and Commission.

Looking at Fishing Management History through Archives of the JCAA Newspaper

For many years I have been asked to write a book about the history of fisheries management based on my experience. My wife, the ghost writer, has promised marital issues if I decide to write a book. Every year on vacation, I look for articles in the JCAA Newspaper archives that are as true today as they were when originally written. It is surprising how little has changed in 26 years, for which I have the JCAA archives. So, I have decided in lieu of a book, I am going to sort and classify the existing articles and share them with you. In beginning this process with 1994, I found FMLR for March. This is what we in the publishing business call a tease. As you read this article, you will think it was written in 2020. Since there is 26 years of articles to reread, this process will not be done quickly. If you don’t learn from history, we just keep repeating the errors. Below is the Fisheries Management Report from 1994.

Fisheries Management & Legislative Report
by Tom Fote (reprinted from March 1994)

Striped Bass

The Atlantic State Marine Fisheries Commission (ASMFC) is in the process of drawing up the commercial and recreational regulations that will control striped bass in the future, Amendment 5 to the Striped Bass Management Plan. There are supposed to be numerous public hearings in each state and ASMFC will also be conducting four public hearings as they are required to do by law.

The states and the ASMFC will also be accepting written comments for the public record. Here is how the public process will work. If you care about protecting the striped bass resource and the fair distribution of this resource, it is important to get involved now.

I see signs that make me feel the resource and the recreational community are going to take it on the chin yet again.

First, here is a little of my background so you will understand that to me the protection of the resource comes first! But, if we are going to divide the resource, both commercial and recreational communities must be treated equally. I have attended almost every Striped Bass Management Board Meeting, Striped Bass Technical Committee Meeting and Striped Bass Workshop that was held since 1988. I have read thousands of pages of research and text on striped bass and, on rare occasion, find time to catch one. I am not a preservationist, against the harvest of striped bass, even though I have only kept two striped bass in the last two years.

In fact, striped bass are one of my favorite fish to eat. So please understand that the position I am about to explain is formulated by my desire to see the recreational community be allowed to harvest its fair share of the available resource and not have the commercial community take advantage of our sacrifices in the name of conservation.

When the ASMFC opened the Striped Bass fishery in 1989 they allowed the commercial fishery to harvest at 20% of its historic levels based on the years 1972 and 1979. The recreational community was supposed to be allowed an 18 inch size limit in Chesapeake Bay and a 28 inch size everywhere else along the coast, year round. The two exceptions were Delaware Bay and Hudson River, which had different regulations. Naturally, the commercial community got its 20% of the historic catch and, in the case of Maryland, they are now fishing at 40% of their historic level. Unfortunately, the recreational community was never allowed to harvest what the plan called for because the ASMFC said it would exceed the statistical combine mortality rate of .25. It's ironic that the commercial community was not considered for reduction and actually was allowed to increase their catch even though they are part of the total mortality rate. The result of the relaxed restrictions on the commercial catch was the recreational catch was even more restricted, causing the refusal of lower size limits on the recreational side. What was even worse was that the proposed recreational size limits and seasons were not even close to 20% of the historic recreational catch.

Let us look at what the recreational fishery was doing in the ASMFC base years 1972 through 1979. All the states in the Chesapeake Bay were at 12 inch minimum size limits and unrestricted bag limits. Along the coast, all the states had no bag limits except New Jersey and most states were at 16 inches. What this means is when the fish were in heavy, some recreational fishermen were sometimes going home with 50 striped bass that had to be just 12 or 16 inches.

If we are going to pick a recreational management regime to use as a guide line, let's use the most conservative state's management regime. New Jersey had the most restricted historic catch because its regulations were a 10 fish bag limit with an 18 inch size limit. To achieve a 20% recreational allocation using the most conservative approach anglers should have been allowed 2 striped bass at 18 inches. But the ASMFC was not interested in treating both sides equally. Instead they wanted to make sure the commercial fishery was given all the fish they could possible get and, basically, give the recreational fishermen the bare minimum to keep them quiet. The ASMFC should not even be discussing increasing the commercial quota until the recreational community reaches parity at 2 fish at 18 inches year round.

Many of the people involved in the ASMFC say all the "sports" need is one fish. Of course, these people probably have never fished on a pier or jetty with people trying to supply their families with a high protein meal. They haven't fished on party or charter boats with people that had to save their money for the opportunity to try to catch fish to put away a couple of meals in the freezer. Furthermore, no one should be required to eat a larger fish than anyone else because we know that smaller fish have less contamination then the big ones. It makes more sense to allow recreational fishermen to harvest smaller fish because it has been proven that we consume more fish and run a greater health risk from contaminated fish. Consumers who purchase fish don't eat anywhere near as much fish per annum, yet a majority of the commercially sold fish are 18 inches. This is going to be even more important because another area besides the Hudson River has been found to contain high levels of P.C.B. in striped bass population.

What can you do to stop this inequality? First, you must get involved and keep informed. You must attend the public meetings and tell fisheries managers what you want. Next you should write to the people that represent you at the Commission. The state director and governor's appointee represent the governor of your state so write the governor's office of your state. The third representative is a legislator from your state so contact him personally. The governor and legislator need your vote and let them know it. Demand that before any further commercial increases are permitted, you want the recreational community to receive an equal base of 20% of its historic catch. If this can't be done then commercial interests should be reduced and any increase must be equal on both sides. If you don't do anything, don't come crying to me.

Fluke

For the last couple of months, the recreational community that relies heavily on the fluke fishery have been gnashing their collective teeth. The Councils and Commission, through their technical committees, told us we would probably exceed the recreational cap in 1993 and have to take a reduction in 1994. The recreational community was worried sick that it would see a reduction of the already small six fish bag limit, if the cap was exceeded. Many charter and party boat operations depend heavily on fluke and a reduction would be the death knell of their businesses. What they succeeded in doing was getting some people so scarred that they agreed to be short changed in their allocation for 1993.

The Monitoring Committee met on March 2nd and instead of being over our allowable 1993 cap of 8.38 million pounds, we actually caught approximately 6.2 million pounds. That means the recreational cap was under fished by 2.2 million pounds. The Monitoring Committee then tried to say that we were over our target number of fish, even though we were under our target weight. They conveniently forgot what this number really meant and that it had nothing to do the target catch weight. I didn't forget!

Last year, when the Monitoring Committee was setting up the bag limits, they stated that the average size fluke that recreational fishermen catch is 2-1/2 pounds. The Committee then set up a bag limit that corresponded to this weight so we would not exceed the cap. Plugging in some other figures, like catch rate and number of fishermen participating in the fishery, they decided on a six fish bag limit. The Fluke Advisory Committee told them they were wrong and that the average weight should be 1 1/2 pounds. The Monitoring Committee ignored their expertise and that's why we fell short of the cap in 1993. We could have had a much higher bag limit last year, especially if every state had been in compliance. There were five states out of compliance last year, so instead of receiving the 40% share of the catch the recreational sector was promised, it only received a 32% share of the catch. Short changed again!

I called a meeting on March 7, 1994 with the charter boat captains of the Cape May Party & Charter Boat Assn., the president and vice-president of Jersey Coast Anglers Assn., the president of the Thousand Fathom Club South, members of the United Boatman, and New Jersey's Sea Grant Recreational Specialist. Prior to this meeting I had made calls to key members of the recreational communities from Maine to Virginia explaining what had transpired last year and what some of the options were for 1994.

I explained that we were supposed to be at a cap of 8.38 million pounds last year and even with five states out of compliance (fishing over the caps poundage as prescribed in the plan) we fell short of the total recreational cap by 2.2 million pounds. If those states had been in compliance, we would have fallen short of the cap by an additional few hundred thousand pounds.

For 1994, the cap will be raised from 8.38 million to 10.67 million pounds. That means that we have an increase of 2.29 million pounds due, in addition to the 2.2 million shortfall under the 1993 regime. The actual total increase should be 4.5 million pounds. You must understand that for years I have fought against other fisheries quotas being maximized, saying that it is better to err on the side of conservation. I would support this philosophy with regard to the fluke plan, if the Councils and Commissions had not pasted three new amendments to the plan during the 1993 season and spent hundreds of thousands of dollars monitoring the commercial catch to make sure that the commercial side caught every last pound of their quota. This process actually resulted in some states going over their quota by as much as 400,000 pounds.

After looking at the way the quota and cap were treated and understanding the 60/40 split, in effect, turned out to be a 68/32 split, the representatives in attendance voted to support a 10 fish bag limit, recognizing that the chance of exceeding the recreational cap at that bag limit in 1994 was slim to none. If we are going to give the commercial community every opportunity to maximize their quota, we must give the same consideration to the recreational side.

After that meeting, I attended the joint meeting of the Mid-Atlantic States Marine Fisheries Council, Demersal Committee and ASMFC Summer Flounder, Scup and Sea bass meeting prepared to fight for an increase to a 10 fish bag limit with the support of JCAA., the United Boatman, Cape May Charter and Party Boat Assn., the Rhode Island Charter Boat Assn. and the Virginia Charter Boat Assn. In addition, I was representing all the Governor's appointees to the ASMFC, and on their behalf, made a motion for a 10 fish bag limit and a two week extension to the season. It was seconded by the State of New Jersey's representative. The support I was expecting from the various groups that had previously expressed their wish for a 10 fish limit did not materialize. The only two groups that maintained their backing of this position were the JCAA and the Rhode Island Charter Boat Assn. The United Boatman's representatives actually came out in support of an 8 fish bag limit!

It was difficult for me to comprehend that regardless of whether we were fishing at 8 or 10 fish, if the statistics show we have to reduce our catch in the future, it still makes no sense to give away two fish now.

Not surprisingly, since it was the recreational cap they were discussing, the commissioners and council members were not worried about recreationals being way under our allowable cap. When I asked if we should be more conservative on the commercial side of the equation, you could have heard a pin drop! Not a comment was made.

As usual, because the recreational community can't get its act together, it will take it on the chin, once again. Next year, if we are under by another 2 million pounds and the commercial community has, once again, maximized their quota, I'll be sitting here like I did with striped bass saying, "See, I told you so!"

Recreational fishermen have always done the right thing, feeling it better to conserve the resource and not maximize quotas or caps, and I have always agreed with that philosophy. The problem I see with this tact is that when you conserve on one side, the statisticians and fisheries managers basically utilize that savings for other purposes. A prime example would be what is happening with striped bass. The recreational side is well below the mortality rate along the coast and Maryland, realizing this, took advantage in their spring fishery by harvesting an additional 5,000 fish that were supposedly part of their allotted coastal quota, but they were being caught in the bay. Those groups with good intentions and that support ultra-conservative size and bag limits are being circumvented by fisheries managers who allocate their hard earned savings to other user groups. This problem is causing me a lot of anxiety and is forcing me to deal with both sides on a strictly equal basis, to ensure that both sides have the opportunity to utilize their quotas.

Weakfish

The Weakfish Board Meeting shows that politics still overrides what the scientists, congress and most of the fishermen, both recreational and commercial, are saying. The driving force for passing the "Atlantic Coast Fisheries Cooperative Management Act" was the sorry state the weakfish stocks are in at the present time. Fisherman and congress realized that they could not force the state responsible for the majority of the over fishing, North Carolina, to come into compliance with the plan.

Weakfish are a species that had a coastal range from Massachusetts to Georgia, but most of the fishermen in New England can't remember what a weakfish looks like, it been so long since they have had a viable fishery. The ASMFC Boards have mandated that other species regulations must have all the states in compliance in short order. The date that states have to be in compliance on fluke is May 1, bluefish is September 1 and sturgeon is September 21. Most of the existing plans will force compliance in the calendar year 1994. The Weakfish Board refused to make the hard decision and bring all the states into compliance with the Weakfish Plan, aimed at protecting the weakest fishery of them all, quickly. Instead they whimped out and will permit North Carolina and other states to be out compliance until sometime in 1995. This is a disgrace!

The congressional representatives that passed the "Atlantic Coastal Fisheries Cooperative Management Act" are probably unaware of the way the weakfish situation is being handled, so write your congressional representative today and tell them how unhappy you are with the way the bill is being used. Demand that all states be brought into compliance with the Weakfish Plan immediately, to protect the remaining stocks of this extremely depleted fishery.

Blackfish

I attended the hearing on the proposed size limits on blackfish. What I heard from the fishermen in attendance is that blackfish should be managed the same way that fluke are, to insure the historic catch ratio of 90% recreational and 10% commercial. This means if you are going to reduce the recreation catch by increasing the size limit then it is necessary to reduce the commercial catch to keep the historic ratio the same. This is how all management plans should be formulated I am disgusted with management regimes that reward the sector that destroys a fishery. The weakfish plan did not establish the plan along the lines of the historic catch ratio. It allowed the commercial sector to keep over harvesting the resource until the recreational catch had dropped to 10% of the fishery instead of the historic 50% of the total catch. It is common knowledge that as stocks become depressed by over fishing, the commercial side catches a greater and greater portion of the remaining fish. Then they told us to reduce our 10% by 25%. What should have happened was the catch should have been allocated at 50% for each user group and then each side would have reduced their 50% by 25%. That would have been fair, but who ever said fisheries management plans had to be fair. In the bluefin tuna fishery, managers totally ignored a 100 year old recreational dominance in that fishery and rewarded the 20 year old purse seine commercial fleet that destroyed the fishery. If we are not careful the same thing will happen with yellowfin tuna. We cannot allow management plans to get away with this any longer!

Bluefish

The Bluefish Board met and decided that states would have to be in compliance by September 1, 1994 in both their recreational and commercial sectors. The recreational bag limit will be easy to enforce but as the plan is written now the commercial quota is a joke. New Jersey and most other states will not be able to monitor their commercial bluefish quota like they did with fluke. They will only have the National Marine Fisheries Service data and this won't be available until six months after the end of the year. That means we will not be able to tell if a state over fished its commercial quota until six months after the fact. If the quota is exceeded there is no mechanism in the plan to make them take it off the following year's quota. The only side that can really be regulated is recreational sector. So what else is new. That is why the JCAA and other groups always said this was a bad plan. JCAA analyzes management plans in-depth to make sure they do what they are supposed to do and will not support plans that won't work. The truth of the matter is that the recreational community has been fishing at a 10 fish bag limit for 3 years. The commercial community has been over fishing its 20% quota for last two years and will continue to do so because of the way the plan was written. The discussion at the Board was maybe the plan should change to increase the percentage for the commercial side or do away with base lining the commercial catch, altogether. What's really scary is last year a developing purse seine fishery was shipping bluefish to Venezuela and hopes to grow the export market in 1994.

The original reason for the bluefish plan was the fear of a purse seine fishery developing around this species, which are tight schooling and highly susceptible to this type of gear. The only reason bluefish had not been targeted by purse seiners in the past was their low market price. Until now, the market price has been the only inhibiting factor preventing increased efforts to purse seine bluefish. With new processing boats coming into the picture, the cost of catching and processing bluefish is being reduced and as I write this report, I've received word that there are additional purse seine boats preparing to enter the bluefish fishery this coming year. I will be watching the developments regarding this fishery and hopefully the Mid-Atlantic Council and ASMFC will be doing the same. The only worthwhile provision of this plan is that if there is dramatic increase in commercial catch due to the introduction of this highly effective gear, these boats can, supposedly, be shut out of the fishery all together. Stay tuned for further developments.

Tom Fote is the Jersey Coast Anglers Legislative Chairman and the Governor's appointee from New Jersey to the Atlantic States Marine Fisheries Commission. Contact Tom at 908-270-9102 or FAX at 908-506-6409 or at: 22 Cruiser Court, Toms River, NJ 08753.
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