Fisheries Management
& Legislative Report

by Tom Fote
(from Jersey Coast Anglers Association March 2021 Newsletter)

Contents:

Quota Tranfser

While listening to the public hearing on quota transfer, I remembered many other hearings with the same conversation. Unlike some people, I do not have a selective memory. I have a great memory of history.

Truthfully, some of the new folks were not involved when decisions were made, and they don’t know the history. The recreational community was naïve when many of these quotas were set up and was not paying attention. In the 90’s the recreational community never expected to have bag limits like we do now.

Both communities expected to receive the rewards that would come with rebuilding the stocks. We did not expect to worry about what the quotas would be. We know that didn’t happen. NMFS never allowed us to reap the benefits of the rebuilding. All the recreational community sees is constant reductions every year due to the new regulations.

As I have pointed out numerous times, when we set the original size and bag limits on summer flounder the average size of recreationally caught summer flounder was 1.1 pound. Because of regulations we have pushed the size of kept fish to an average weight of over 3.3 pounds. If we currently had the same quota that we did in the 90’s, we would be harvesting less than 1/3 of the number of fish we were harvesting then. In order to catch 1/3 of the summer flounder to take home now, we have to cull through a huge number of fish causing more catch and release mortality.

The other thing that has not been discussed recently is the fact that summer flounder, like some of the other species, had base years set up on years when the commercial community did the greatest damage through over harvesting. One of the reasons we started putting regulations on summer flounder was that the NMFS pushed the commercial community from harvesting yellowtail flounder. To compound the issue, the commercial fishermen had found the winter spawning grounds for summer flounder in the canyons. With the bigger New England boats fishing in these waters, the stocks were decimated in the 80’s. What did the National Marine Fisheries Commission and the Councils do? They rewarded the commercial fishermen with the biggest quota based on the years they decimated the stocks. The recreational community was given a smaller quota because of the years chosen.

The history is there, and this is not just with summer flounder. The same story holds true for many other species. I was the young whipper snapper at that time and was told by the senior recreational advocates at that this is exactly what happened. The numbers are the proof. Instead of writing new articles, the articles from the January 2020 newspaper are below. Please read these articles and get involved to save the future of recreational fishing.

FMLR: Reprinted from January 2020 Newspaper

For a number of reasons, I did not make the Joint ASMFC/MAFMC meeting in Annapolis. I did listen to most of the webinar. It was really frustrating.

Scup: As I pointed out at the August Joint Meeting, I never saw such a crazy proposal with a total disregard for the impact on the recreational sector. Years ago when the scup quota was set up, we were recreational fishing between 26 – 30% of the scup fishery. The majority of the scup fishery was commercial bycatch. That bycatch was in several different commercial fisheries and was destroying the scup fishery. The bycatch was larger than both the directed commercial and recreational fisheries combined. To placate the commercial side and give them incentive to reduce bycatch, the Council through the NMFS proposed reducing the recreational quota by 18%. As usual, I was upset by this proposal. But back in 1996, people told me there would never be any regulations on scup, black sea bass and other recreational fisheries. I said they were wrong and regrettably I was proven right. Here we are in 2019. We are now looking at the fourth or fifth reiteration of surveys to gather recreational information. We keep tweaking the models and trying to get better response rates. In 2007, Dr. John Borman, in his Congressional testimony, pointed out that in order to get good recreational statistics we had to increase the funding from 11 million to 50 million dollars. We are still only spending 11 million dollars a year and think of what 11 million dollars bought 40 years ago compared to now. Though I went to college during the dinosaur days of punch cards, the adage holds true, garbage in garbage out. Here is the proposal. Presently we are at a 50 fish bag limit. Because of the MRIP numbers, we are now fishing above our 18% quota. To stay within the quota, the reduction necessary would have been 58%. In the heat of the discussion at the August meeting, I said we should never have been at 18%, the commercial sector is not harvesting 20% of their quota every year and the bycatch is still high, probably more than the recreational catch. But the most important thing is that we are two times over the threshold, way above the target. The scup stocks are one of the healthiest and NMFS doesn’t see any immediate problem. I stated if they are going to destroy the recreational scup fishery, I will regrettably recommend New Jersey takes this issue to the Secretary of Commerce. Our rationale would be that this change in quota would not impact the stocks at all but have a huge economic impact from Massachusetts to Virginia on the recreational scup fishery. After the MAFMC members were balking at voting on this, NMFS said they had to vote. So they voted to take the 58% reduction with the idea that they would come up with a correction. The correction is to ignore all their charts and graphs and punt. They didn’t admit they were wrong but decided to leave the scup fishery at status quo. NMFS and ASMFC didn’t want to look like fools if this issue went to the Secretary of Commerce.

Black Sea Bass: Again, another species where the catch has been overly restricted by the precautionary measures of the SSC and NMFS. The SSC and NMFS don’t trust their own data. When the science says the quota could be much higher, NMFS says they don’t trust the data. But when the data reduces the recreational catch, NMFS treats that data like the gold standard. There was a great deal of flack about the proposed changes for the recreational sector. There was a huge outcry from the recreational sector to increase the quota for both the recreational and commercial sectors since there is an abundance of black sea bass and an expansion of their range. NMFS thought they were magnanimous in suggesting staying at status quo. No one believes that this was an appropriate solution. I believe we will still go over the quota because of the abundance of black sea bass available. Actual catch in the recreational sector reflects availability, not quota.

Summer Flounder: To refresh your memory, when the new MRIP numbers came out on summer flounder, NMFS told us they were underestimating the size of the stocks for many years. Because of the retrospective analysis, we have been taking larger numbers of summer flounder than has been estimated. In August of 2018, NMFS increased the commercial quota by 49% to reflect the larger biomass. What did they do to the recreational sector? They kept regulations in place that would cause us to underfish our quota. They didn’t trust their own numbers, so they rewarded us with status quo. For the last four years we have been underfishing our quota and 2019 was no different. We are under quota by 24%. I was appalled when one of the staffers treated the underfishing as a non-issue. We all know if the commercial sector underfished by 24%, that would be a huge issue. Why are we treated differently? The commercial fishery spends money to get economic data on the value of the catch and uses that data to convince NMFS to rule in their favor. According to their own Magnusson Stevens Act, NMFS must do an economic study to show the impact of regulatory changes on the recreational sector. Because we never won a lawsuit on the recreational data, NMFS feels secure in just ignoring this requirement. Why??? Because NMFS does not manage fisheries using common sense or to protect anglers. They pretend to protect the fish. What they are really doing is managing to avoid lawsuits that might be filed by NGOs. In the 80’s and 90’s they learned how much money the lawsuits would cost them and they manage to avoid this at all costs. Since the recreational and commercial sector’s NGOs don’t have deep pockets as other NGOs, they also don’t have the same ability to sue as they do.

Bluefish: I was never so disappointed with Council and Commission members as I was when they failed to point out that NMFS has been transferring quota to the commercial sector from the unused recreational quota for years. Tens of millions of pounds of bluefish have been caught by commercial fishermen since the late 90’s using the “so called” unharvested recreational quota. With the new MRIP numbers, it becomes apparent that NMFS should never have been transferring quota for all these years. NMFS, not the fishermen, have gotten us into this situation. But they will not suffer any economic impact. They will not lose any salary for the mistakes they have made. But they will certainly punish the recreational and commercial fishermen for NMFS mistakes. As always, we take it on the chin for their bad data and, once again, the commercial and recreational fishermen are the bad guys because we were overfishing. Understand, fishermen don’t create the regulations. That is the job of NMFS. When they don’t do their job correctly, the fishing industry suffers. In the last few years, NMFS has succeeded in putting many businesses that serve the recreational and commercial communities out of business. Once again, there was absolutely no reference to the economic impact of these new regulations and Magnusson Stevens was totally ignored. For the recreational community, there will be reduction to a 3-fish bag limit, down from 15. For the for-hire sector, the decrease will be from 15 to 5. For the commercial fishery, the reduction will be 18%. No one from NMFS admitted this was their fault and, as always, blamed us for over fishing.

With the party and charter boats and the private boats, there has always been a discussion about whether there should be separate regulations. Years ago, the recreational industry, considering the pros and cons, decided separate regulations would not work. If you do sector separation regulations correctly, they are based on quotas; one for the private and surf and one for the for-hire sector. This would get us fighting among ourselves as we see in the Gulf of Mexico. It would also stifle the growth of the party and charter boat industry. When you set up quotas, you set them up based on historical catch. Often when the availability is low on a species, party and charter boats will fish for something else so their customers need to catch fish. This skews the historical data. When the stocks become abundant and other party and charter boats want to fish on that species, they are confined to the low percentage. If you are not in a separate sector, no one cares if the party and charter boats catch more fish since we are all recreational anglers. That is why we did not create separate sectors with these new regulations. We did not want to play one sector of the community against another. NMFS wouldn’t mind since that would move the heat from them.

Since NMFS followed no rules in creating the new regulations, all the above discussion is moot. Sector separation was never part of the amendment or addendum on bluefish. It has never been used as a tool for bluefish. There is no precedent. And the results followed none of the normal rules. The public had no idea that this would be proposed and so the public was not represented at these decisions. There was no transparency. As always, no questions were accepted through the webinar. The one for-hire sector participant in the audience was always for sector separation without understanding the consequences for the recreational sector at large. There is no way to effectively monitor this and no penalties were built in. This was a travesty of fisheries management and I cannot believe not one of the Commissioners or Council members raised these objections.

The most depressing part is many recreational anglers from Maine to Florida began their fishing for snappers. I am teaching my young great nephews and nieces to fish by catching snappers off my dock. I also teach them we should eat what we catch and at a limit of 3 snappers, do we stop fishing or fish and release. All those piers in Seaside will need to limit the young anglers as they learn to fish. What NMFS has accomplished is to reduce the growth of the recreational sector. The recreational fishery coastwide was down by 24% in 2019. There are plenty of fish but we can’t keep them. The decrease in participation continues to get worse year by year. If you can’t catch a fish to keep, many anglers don’t bother to go fishing. They also don’t bother to teach their children or grandchildren how to fish. The next generation doesn’t learn to be stewards of the resource. We are watching the demise of recreational fishing and the industries that depend on fishing.

Atlantic Striped Bass Board Approves Draft Amendment 7 PID for Public Comment & Hearing Dates
ASMFC Release, February 5, 2021

The Commission’s Atlantic Striped Bass Management Board approved for public comment the Public Information Document (PID) for Draft Amendment 7 to the Interstate Fishery Management Plan (FMP) for Atlantic Striped Bass. As the first step in the amendment process, the PID seeks input from stakeholders and those interested in striped bass about changes observed in the fishery/resource and potential management measures.

The last time a new plan amendment to the Atlantic Striped Bass FMP was adopted was in 2003 (Amendment 6). Since then, the status and understanding of the striped bass stock and fishery has changed considerably which raises concern that the current management program no longer reflects current fishery needs and priorities. The results of the 2018 Benchmark Stock Assessment in particular led the Board to discuss a number of prominent issues facing striped bass management. Consequently, the Board initiated the development of Amendment 7 in August 2020.

The purpose of the PID is to solicit stakeholder input on prioritizing the importance of each topic for continued development and potential inclusion in the Draft Amendment. The PID considers the following management topics: (1) fishery goals and objectives; (2) biological reference points; (3) management triggers; (4) stock rebuilding targets and schedule; (5) regional management; (6) management program equivalency (conservation equivalency); (7) recreational release mortality; (8) recreational accountability; (9) coastal commercial quota allocation; and (10) other issues raised in public comments.

Stakeholders are encouraged to provide input on the PID either by attending state public hearings or providing written comment. It is anticipated that states from Maine through North Carolina will be conducting public hearings, likely in a virtual format, in March and April 2021. A subsequent press release will provide the details of those hearings. The Atlantic Striped Bass Management Board will meet at the Commission’s 2021 Spring Meeting in May to consider public comment and provide direction to staff for items to be included in Draft Amendment 7.

The PID is available at this link or via the Commission’s website, www.asmfc.org, under Public Input. Public comment will be accepted until 5 PM (EST) on April 9, 2021 and should be forwarded to Emilie Franke, Fishery Management Plan Coordinator, 1050 N. Highland St, Suite 200A-N, Arlington, VA 22201; 703.842.0741 (FAX) or at comments@asmfc.org (Subject line: Striped Bass PID). For more information, please contact Emilie Franke, Fishery Management Plan Coordinator, at efranke@asmfc.org or 703.842.0740.

Proposed Hearing Schedule for Amendment 7 PID. All hearings will be from 6:00-8:00pm.

Monday, March 8New Hampshire
Tuesday, March 9Maine
Wednesday, March 10Virginia
Monday, March 15PRFC
Tuesday, March 16Delaware
Wednesday, March 17Rhode Island
Thursday, March 18Massachusetts
Monday, March 22Maryland
Tuesday, March 23New York
Wednesday, March 24Connecticut
Thursday, March 25New Jersey
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