Fisheries Management
& Legislative Report

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

Contents:

ASMFC Annual Meeting Summaries

This was the strangest annual meeting I ever attended. New Jersey was scheduled to be the host but that has been postponed to 2021. There were many meetings but most were not as long as usual. Winter flounder and lobster were the usual disappointments, not because of our management but because of factors beyond our control. The southern New England stock of lobsters is at the lowest level I remember. Winter flounder in southern New England shows no signs of recovery. Overfishing is not the issue for either of those stocks but rather the environmental conditions. Climate change continues to grow as a major issue. It is not just that fish are migrating north or south but that they are abandoning the inshore waters for the cooler offshore areas. One day during lunch break I attended the MAFAC meeting to listen to a presentation on warming of the waters due to climate change. There were some interesting maps shared that show the unusual heat events in the ocean and one of the areas is the New York bight. This is probably one of the reasons the inshore fishermen are not seeing striped bass and bluefish during those heat events. Fish have a comfortable range for temperature and will vacate areas when they exceed their comfort zone. If the waters inshore are too warm when they are migrating south, they will avoid coming inshore along the beaches. I am going to cover a couple of the meetings and I have included the summaries for the meetings below.

Menhaden

The Menhaden Board finally used ecosystem management to cut the quota for menhaden harvest to take into account the needs of striped bass. Many of us have been pushing for this for many years not only for striped bass but many other species that depend on forage species for their overall health. Right now, the only model we have is for striped bass but in the future other fish species, birds and marine mammals will be included. We need to protect the entire ecosystem for the long-term health of the ocean. Some of the advocates were upset that we didn’t take the entire 18% but the system requires some compromise. We really need to begin taking the bulk of the reductions from the reduction boats. One company should not be able to control almost 83% of the harvest. This is a public resource, not a private one. That reduction quota does not belong to them but to the states that once had reduction plants in their states. This is a work in progress.

Striped Bass

I didn’t see many of your names signed in to listen to the five-hour striped bass meeting. There will be a follow up meeting on this in February. At that meeting we will approve a draft document to go to public hearings. We are now working on the questions we want to ask the public. The problem is wording the questions correctly and gathering comprehensive information. It would be important for you to listen to the recording of the meeting when it is posted. You don’t have to do this in one sitting; you have until February to finish. But this would be a good background for you before any public hearing. There were many proposals at this meeting but they are in the reading materials for this meeting. You cannot wait until February to begin developing a position with your clubs and fellow anglers. Where do we want to go on striped bass? How do we want to balance the many factors that impact on any decisions? What do we want to do about the high level of mortality with catch and release? We need to find a way to reduce the 52% of recreational mortality and the overall 48% mortality caused by catch and release. Are we managing fisheries just so people can catch and release or is there a place for anglers to take a fish home to eat or for those who want to fish tournaments and catch large fish? Do we want to increase the commercial fisheries? All of these issues will be part of the discussion in February. The good news is February is the beginning of the discussion and the board is committed to taking as long as it takes to make sound decisions.

Joint ASMFC & MAFMC

The two boards that met were dealing with Bluefish Allocation and Rebuilding Amendment and Recreational Management Reform Initiative. There should be a draft bluefish plan going out after the December Joint Meeting. This plan will deal with how we stop perceived overfishing and the commercial allocations. The Recreational Management Reform Initiative will be a longer process. The way we are managing recreational fisheries is not working and is destroying the industry and discouraging recreational anglers. In some species we are killing more by catch and release than by harvesting. Read the summaries below and it is important for you to stay alert to upcoming decisions.

George Howard former JCAA Sportsperson-of-the-Year Passes

The sportspersons of New Jersey lost one of our heroes on October 18th with the death of George Howard. My first official meeting with George Howard when he took over as Director of NJ Fish and Wildlife was arranged by Bruce Freeman. Bruce Freeman told George that I was trying to make striped bass a gamefish. George simply inquired if bluefish and summer flounder would be next. This was the beginning of a terrific working relationship. George supported striped bass as a gamefish and used his influence as director to make it happen. Among George’s accomplishments was the passage of the menhaden regulations in 1989 that moved the reduction boats further offshore.

George’s early retirement due to heart issues was a loss for Fish and Wildlife but a great gain to the sportspersons of New Jersey and the management of the resource. As a private citizen, George could take on any issue and support any decision without worrying about the political consequences. George was clear that all the sportspersons needed to work together, and he used his influence to make that happen. George took over as President of the NJ Federation of Sportsmen’s Clubs and pushed to bring organizations like JCAA, Trout Unlimited and Ducks Unlimited into the Federation. The eleven statewide organizations that joined the Federation increased its clout in Trenton and worked to everyone’s advantage. George attended more meetings as President of the Federation than he ever did as Director of Fish and Wildlife. He joined many coalitions and served on many boards. Most people do not think of George as a teacher but that’s what George was. He was a teacher and mentor to many of us. He made many of us look at issues in different ways. George always looked at the long game, willing to compromise now for a win later. He knew how systems worked and always had a plan in mind, even if was not immediately clear to us. As our mentor he always kept us in the loop and helped us build our own coalitions. He never looked down at anyone and was willing to listen to all ideas. He was aware of the diversity within the sports community and always took that into account.

On a personal level, I loved and respected George and will miss him. I will miss the annual call to this Marine on Memorial Day, as a member of the greatest generation who fought in the Pacific to thank him for his service. Read the obituary below to get a better idea.

Atlantic Striped Bass Management Board
Meeting Summary, October 22, 2020

The Atlantic Striped Bass Management Board met to consider approving state implementation plans for circle hook measures, which are required by Addendum VI; receive a Technical Committee (TC) report on release mortality in the recreational fishery; and review the first draft of the Public Information Document (PID) for Amendment 7.

The intent of the circle hook provision is to reduce release mortality when fishing with bait in recreational striped bass fisheries. All state proposals included final (or proposed) regulatory language and a definition for ‘circle hook’ comparable to that cited in Addendum VI. The Plan Review Team (PRT) noted a lot of variation in regulatory language among states, although all the regulations essentially say the same thing. The PRT reiterated concerns previously raised by the Law Enforcement Committee, stressing the importance of all jurisdictions agreeing on standardized regulatory language to improve compliance and enforcement, especially where states share common borders and fishing areas. Addendum VI also provides states flexibility to propose exemptions to mandatory circle hook requirements to address specific needs of the state fishery. Two states (Maine and Massachusetts) proposed exemptions, but the PRT was unable to make a definitive recommendation to the Board regarding exemptions due to limited guidance on what constitutes an acceptable level of flexibility. The Board discussed whether the proposed exemptions would lead to other ‘niche’ exemptions across state fisheries, further weakening enforceability and undermining the intent of the provision. In order to achieve the greatest level of conservation for the resource, the Board approved the state implementation plans, with the caveat that no exemptions to Addendum VI mandatory circle hook requirements will be permitted. Maine and Massachusetts will begin their rulemaking processes to remove exemptions to circle hook measures from state regulation.

The Board reviewed a TC report on release mortality in the recreational fishery, which constitutes a significant proportion of total fishing mortality on the stock. The report highlighted how recreational release mortality is calculated for stock assessments, the factors (data and modeling) limiting the accuracy of those estimates now and in the future, as well as potential management actions the Board could pursue to reduce release mortality in the fishery. Following review, the Board tasked the TC to explore the relative impact of different release mortality rate estimates on stock status, with the TC reporting back to the Board in February. The Board also reiterated the importance of hearing from the public on this issue as part of the adaptive management process within Amendment 7.

Lastly, the Board reviewed the first draft of the PID for Amendment 7. The PID is the first step in the amendment process; it is a broad scoping document intended to solicit stakeholder feedback on any issues concerning the management of the striped bass resource and fishery, and to inform development of the Draft Amendment. The PID highlights nine issues that have already been identified by the Board for consideration in Draft Amendment 7, including fishery goals and objectives, biological reference points, management triggers, stock rebuilding, regional management, conservation equivalency, recreational release mortality, recreational accountability, and the coastal commercial quota allocation. The Board offered a number of changes to the PID, including additions to the ‘statement of the problem’ and questions to the public to help focus stakeholder feedback. The Board will consider approving the PID for public comment in February 2021 at the Winter Meeting after these changes and additions have been addressed.

Finally, the Board appointed Bob Danielson, a recreational angler from New York, to the Striped Bass Advisory Panel. For more information, please contact Max Appelman mappelman@asmfc.org, Fishery Management Plan Coordinator, or Toni Kerns tkerns@asmfc.org, ISFMP Director, or at 703-842-0740.

ASMFC Atlantic Menhaden Board Approves TAC for 2020-2022
Press Release

The Atlantic Menhaden Management Board (Board) approved a total allowable catch (TAC) of 194,400 metric tons (mt) for the 2021 and 2022 fishing seasons, which represents a 10% reduction from the 2018-2020 TAC level. The 2021-2022 TAC was set based on the ecological reference points (ERPs) approved by the Board in August, and reaffirms the Board’s commitment to manage the fishery in a way that accounts for the species role as a forage fish.

“This TAC represents a measured and deliberate way for this Board to move into the realm of ecosystem-based management,” said Chair Spud Woodward of Georgia. “The TAC strikes a balance between stakeholder interests to maintain harvest on menhaden at recent levels, while also allowing the ERP models to do what they are intended to do.”

Based on projections, the TAC is estimated to have a 58.5% and 52.5% probability of exceeding the ERP fishing mortality (F) target in the first and second year, respectively. The TAC will be made available to the states based on the state-by-state allocation established by Amendment 3 (see accompanying table for 2021 and 2022 based on a TAC of 194,400 mt).

In determining which level to set the TAC, the Board also considered recent updates to the fecundity (FEC) reference points, and current stock condition. According to the latest assessment results, the 2017 estimate of fecundity, a measure of reproductive potential, was above both the ERP FEC target and threshold, indicating the stock was not overfished. A stock assessment update is scheduled for 2022 which will inform the TAC for 2023 and beyond.

For more information, please contact Max Appelman, Fishery Management Plan Coordinator, or Toni Kerns, ISFMP Director, respectively at mappelman@asmfc.org or tkerns@asmfc.org.

Joint ASMFC Bluefish Management Board & MAFMC
Meeting Summary, October 7 2020

Bluefish Allocation and Rebuilding Amendment

The Commission’s Bluefish Management Board (Board) met jointly with the Mid-Atlantic Fishery Management Council (Council) to finalize the range of alternatives for the Bluefish Allocation and Rebuilding Amendment. The Board and Council reviewed recommendations from the Plan Development Team/Fishery Management Action Team (PDT/FMAT) and approved a range of alternatives for inclusion in a draft public hearing document.

Consistent with PDT/FMAT recommendations, the Board and Council reduced the range of alternatives for further consideration in this amendment. The state commercial allocation alternatives were condensed to better represent recent state-by-state landings trends in the bluefish fishery. The Board and Council also voted to remove the alternatives related to regional commercial allocations from further consideration in this action. Board and Council members were concerned that this management approach would result in a loss of autonomy and flexibility necessary for state fishery managers to effectively manage to the needs of their state’s commercial fisheries. The Board and Council also removed the two rebuilding plan alternatives that were projected to rebuild the stock to its biomass target within 10 years. The Magnuson Stevens Act mandate to rebuild an overfished stock in as short a time as possible while taking into consideration biological and socioeconomic impacts was an important factor in this decision. Board and Council members reasoned that the three remaining rebuilding plan alternatives span a reasonable time period of 4 to 7 years. Lastly, the Board and Council refined the range of alternatives pertaining to the sector transfer process, whereby landings are transferred between the recreational and commercial sectors, and the de minimis provision, which would relieve a state from adopting certain fishery regulatory measures when its harvest has minimal contribution to the coastwide harvest of bluefish.

Approaches retained for further consideration include the fishery management plan goals and objectives, commercial/recreational sector allocations, commercial allocations to the states, the rebuilding plan, the recreational/commercial sector transfer process, sector specific management uncertainty, and the de minimis provision.

The Board and Council expect to approve the draft amendment for public comment at the joint February meeting. Additional information, including an updated list of issues addressed in this action, can be found at this link.

For more information, please contact Dustin Colson Leaning, ASMFC FMP Coordinator, at dleaning@asmfc.org.

Joint ASMFC Interstate Fisheries Management Program Policy Board & MAFMC
Meeting Summary, October 7 2020

Recreational Management Reform Initiative

The Commission’s Interstate Fisheries Management Program Policy Board (Board) and the Council reviewed progress on the Recreational Management Reform Initiative and discussed next steps. After reviewing nine topics that were either recommended by the Recreational Management Reform Initiative Steering Committee or by stakeholders through scoping for two separate ongoing amendments, the Board and Council agreed to initiate a joint framework/addendum and a joint amendment to address several recreational issues.

The framework/addendum will further develop and consider the following topics and management issues:

The amendment would consider options for managing for-hire recreational fisheries separately from other recreational fishing modes (referred to as sector separation) and would also consider options related to recreational catch accounting such as private angler reporting and enhanced vessel trip report requirements for for-hire vessels.

The Board and Council Board may consider an initial draft range of alternatives for the framework/addendum, as well as a draft scoping document for the amendment, in early 2021.

For more information, please contact Toni Kerns, ISFMP Director, at tkerns@asmfc.org.

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