Fisheries Management
& Legislative Report

by Tom Fote
(from Jersey Coast Anglers Association January 2022 Newsletter)


Overview of Joint ASMFC and MAFMC December Meeting

It is good that I am an optimist because if I was a pessimist, I would have quit volunteering my time for fisheries management many years ago. For the record there where some recreational changes in the quotas splits that did give us an increase but I am tired of getting crumbs and being treated like second class citizens. I enclosed parts of the press release that contains the new quota splits for 2023 and the Summer Flounder motions You can go to ASMFC or MAFMC web pages to hear the debate and view all the press releases from this meeting. If you care about summer flounder, black seabass, and scup and want to hear the debate and the motions go to this link. For all MAFMC council news, click here. Please note the presentations and videos were not posted when I looked for them on the MAFMC web site but they should be available before Christmas. Do not take my word but listen for yourself. This is something to do during the holidays.

Specification Setting

There were many opportunities at this meeting for NMFS, the MAFMC and ASMFC to do the right thing when it comes to the recreational sector. There were opportunities during the recreational specification settings at the summer flounder, scup and black sea bass board and the bluefish board. The votes should have been for status quo for all these species. But the Commission and the Council members did not have the guts to stand up to NMFS. NMFS says the Council and Commission sets these standards, but NMFS continually threatens to shut down the EEZ or Federal waters if we don’t follow their recommendations.

Black sea bass and scup are the perfect examples. Because the plans are done by the Council with the approval of NMFS, these plans do not allow for common sense or any flexibility. Black sea bass and scup could have been fished harder for the last five years without injuring the status of the stock but NMFS will not allow it. Neither of these stocks are overfished and overfishing is not taking place. The existing stock assessment shows that these stocks are way above the targets. There is plenty of room to allow for harvest by the recreational sector. Instead of staying status quo, NMFS insisted on a reduction. That information will be in the Council report when it is available. The Commission and the Council members tried to come up with solutions that would not require reductions, but the almighty NMFS blocked every idea with their usual threats. These are joint plans so if the Council will not agree, the Commission has no other options. The Commission cannot pass a motion without agreement from the Council. In plans managed solely by the Commission, we take into account common sense and the economic implications of decisions that create harm unnecessarily. What also hurts the recreational community is that most of the Council members in the at large seats are commercial. These members are supposed to represent the entire fishing community in their state, not just one segment. But that never happens when the impact will be on the commercial community.

Some Council and Commission members showed backbone in the specification process for sea bass and scup but not enough to override those who succumbed to pressure from NMFS. The majority failed to properly represent their states by voting for further restrictions as NMFS wanted them to do rather than voting in favor of status quo for these healthy fisheries. I hate to say this, but some Council members are more worried about their reappointment and making NMFS happy than about the fishermen of their state. This doesn’t happen at the Commission. Perhaps it is that we are not paid for this work or that we are appointed by our Governors. Council members are recommended by their Governors but then appointed by NMFS. Over the years I have seen Council members take on NMFS and wind up serving only one term. This goes back as far as when Al Ristori served on the first Mid-Atlantic Council. When it was time for his reappointment, he got recommendations from three Governors. But because Al was not shy about speaking his mind about NMFS, he did not get reappointed. In future years when NJ recommended him for reappointment, he never received support from NMFS. NMFS wants their team players. Nothing has changed in the 40 years since that happened.

Reallocation Amendment

We need to discuss the vote on the Amendment for the reallocation for summer flounder, scup and black sea bass. Some of us have been waiting since these quotas were set in the 90’s for these quotas to properly reflect the injustices put in place when the original quotas were designed. Back in the 90’s the recreational community was not accustomed to regulations or restrictions on poundage catches. Some of the recreational representatives wondered why I was so upset about the way the quotas were shortchanging the recreational community. The only good numbers we have for the time period before NMFS began producing the numbers were from the Bureau of Sportfishing. When NMFS was formed, the Bureau of Commercial Fisheries (originally under the Department of Commerce) and the Bureau of Sportfishing (originally under the Department of Interior) were both absorbed by NMFS under the Department of Commerce. The Department of Commerce is concerned with the money and with trade. They were not concerned with subsistence fishermen, the quality of life of recreational fishing and other money driven issues. NMFS points out the value of recreational fishing as being equal to the value of commercial fishing but in action never treats recreational fishing with the same value.

I keep hearing that commercial fishing feeds the nation and people who can’t go fishing can just buy fish. The commercial fishing community uses this bully pulpit whenever it serves their interests. They never say anything about the 800,000 recreational anglers in New Jersey who bring their fish home to feed their families. The 800,000 anglers are about 10% of New Jersey’s population but when you consider their extended families who eat the fish they bring home, the percentage is much greater. We need to add the 500,000 more anglers who come to New Jersey from Pennsylvania, Ohio and others to fish. There is no discussion about subsistence fishermen. When I grew up fishing in Brooklyn we fished docks, piers and surf and when we had enough money, party boats from Sheepshead Bay. Those fish brought home fed our families and our neighbors. None of those fish were wasted. For many it was the only way to eat fresh fish. I remember when I had my first boat and would come home with plenty of bluefish, I would distribute to the senior citizens in my neighborhood who might not afford it otherwise. That is all gone. The one day this year I fished for bluefish on the beach, I caught three. They were all about 12 – 13 inches and that was just enough for our dinner. None were left to share.

Recreational fishing is more than just a hobby or recreation. It is jobs, jobs, jobs, and people’s quality of life. It is a big part of New Jersey and other states tourist industry It is the way millions of American public gets their fresh fish to eat - both rich and poor. Sheepshead Bay was once a mecca for party and charter boats with over 50 party boats working from those docks. The last time I looked at Sheepshead Bay there were only four party boats. The rest were for dinner, gambling or whale watching. Our party and charter boat fleet in New Jersey has declined dramatically in the last 20 years. Every year we watch more charter/party boats leave New Jersey and hear of more captains quitting because they can’t make a living. When I first moved to Toms River, there were over 20 tackle stores and 5 just between the bridge and Island Beach State Park. Now there are just 2 between the bridge and IBSP. This is a history lesson to inform us about why the quotas are so important.

I received a couple hundred emails from recreational anglers supporting the 57 recreational – 43 commercial split for summer flounder. This number was justified when looking at the data and considering the mistakes we made setting the recreational quota in the 90’s. I wish those people who emailed could have been on the webinar or come to the public hearing at night to make their comments in person. Knowing that the 57/43 split would never sail because of the makeup of the Council and NMFS and Greater Atlantic Regional Fisheries Office (GARFO) historic ignorance of the recreational needs, the 50/50 split would have been an acceptable compromise. We got the compromise on the table with enough support to pass and then a substitute motion was introduced for 55 commercial and 45 recreational. The GARFO Director Mike Pentony said he was abstaining from the conversation about the quota change and said nothing about 50/50 split but when it came to the substitute motion, he spoke in support of it. He basically killed the 50/50 because his comments swayed the Council and Commission members just as he had swayed them from the voting for status quo specifications, threatening to shut down the EEZ. Was I surprised? No. Going back to the eighties Dick Shaffer as the Northeast Regional Director (now GARFO) and every succeeding director, we have never been able to count on them to support recreational anglers. I have liked these directors personally and most of them fish recreationally. Two of them would not even meet with the recreational community. However, when push comes to shove, they are more afraid of the commercial community than the recreational community. As far as specifications, they are more afraid of getting sued by the deep pockets of the environmental groups and their lawyers than they are of the recreational community.

What do we need to do? If the recreational and commercial communities worked together to get the higher quota numbers that made sense, there would be enough for both communities. We could stop fighting over the small slice of the pie. If we worked together, we could get the ear of every Governor and Federal elected official. In New Jersey alone we have 800,000 anglers and a strong commercial fishery, a sizeable percentage of the voting population and that is true of other states. The example is the black sea bass and scup quotas that should be much higher based on the stock assessment. But NMFS through GARFO will not allow that to happen. Working together we could avoid the quotas that make no sense and just harm the fishing community without growing the resource. Until that day we will continue to fight over crumbs.

Changes to Commercial and Recreational Allocations of Summer Flounder, Scup, and Black Sea Bass
Joint MAFMC & ASFMC Press Release, December 16, 2021

Revised Quota Allocations Changes Expected to be Effective January 1, 2023

The Mid‐Atlantic Fishery Management Council (Council) and the Atlantic States Marine Fisheries Commission's Summer Flounder, Scup, and Black Sea Bass Board (Board) approved changes to the commercial and recreational allocations of summer flounder, scup, and black sea bass during a joint meeting this week in Annapolis, Maryland. These changes are intended to better reflect the current understanding of the historic proportions of catch and landings from the commercial and recreational sectors. The modified allocations are provided in the table below.

Current AllocationsRevised Allocations
Summer Flounder60% Commercial; 40% Recreational;
55% Commercial; 45% Recreational;
Scup78% Commercial; 22% Recreational;
65% Commercial; 35% Recreational;
Black Sea Bass49% Commercial; 51% Recreational;
45% Commercial; 55% Recreational;

Note: Landings-based allocations are based on each sector’s harvest only. Catch-based allocations are based on each sector’s harvest plus dead discards

The current 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. The Council and Board developed this amendment partly in response to recent changes in how recreational catch is estimated by the Marine Recreational Information Program (MRIP), which resulted in a revised time series of recreational data going back to the 1980s. This created a mismatch between the data that were used to set the allocations and the data currently used in management for setting catch limits. In addition, some changes have been made to commercial catch data since the allocations were established.

The amendment contained a range of allocation alternatives, with options that would maintain the current allocations and a variety of options to revise the allocations based on updated data using the same or modified “base years” (the time periods used to set the current allocations). The Council and Board ultimately voted to revise the allocations using the original base years updated with new data. This approach allows for consideration of fishery characteristics in years prior to influence by the commercial/recreational allocations, while also using the best scientific information available to understand the fisheries in those base years.

For all three species, these changes result in a shift in allocation from the commercial to the recreational sector. However, because the summer flounder and black sea bass fisheries will be transitioning from landings-based to catch-based allocations, the current and revised allocations for those species are not directly comparable.

The Council and Board also approved an option to allow future changes to commercial/recreational allocations, annual quota transfers, and other measures addressed in the amendment to be made through framework actions/addenda. The Council and Board considered but did not recommend an option to “phase in” the allocation changes over a period of time. A phase in period was deemed unnecessary given the relatively small magnitude of allocation changes. They also considered, but did not recommend, an option to allow transfers of annual quota between the commercial and recreational sectors at this time.

The Council will forward the amendment to the National Marine Fisheries Service for review and rulemaking. The Commission’s Business Session, which represents its 15 state members, will consider final approval of the amendment, based on the Board's recommendations, at its Winter 2022 Meeting in late January. These changes are expected to take effect on January 1, 2023.

Additional information about this amendment is available at this link.

ASMFC 2022 Winter Meeting - Preliminary Agenda
January 25-27, 2022
Tuesday, January 25 10 - 11:30 AM - American Lobster Management Board
  • Consider Draft Addendum XXVII for Public Comment: Increasing Protection of Spawning Stock in the Gulf of Maine/Georges Bank
  • Consider Fishery Management Plan Review American Lobster and Jonah Crab for 2020 Fishing Year
  • Consider Terms of Reference for Jonah Crab Benchmark Stock Assessment
11:30 AM - 1 PM - Lunch Break 1 - 2:30 PM - LTautog Management Board
  • Review and Discuss Hypothetical Scenarios for Risk and Uncertainty Decision Tool
  • Review Feedback from Law Enforcement Committee on Commercial Tagging Program
2:45 - 4:15 PM - Summer Flounder, Scup and Black Sea Bass Management Board
  • Consider 2022 Recreational Specifications (if necessary)
4:30 - 5 PM - Spiny Dogfish Management Board
  • Consider Postponed Motions from October 2021 Board Meeting to Adjust Commercial Trip Limit for Northern Region
  • Review and Populate Advisory Panel Membership
Wednesday, January 26 8 - 10 AM - Executive Committee
  • Discuss the Commission’s Role in Coordinating the Member States’ Efforts in Offshore Wind Energy Development
  • Discuss Appeals Process
10:15 - 11:45 AM - Horseshoe Crab Management Board
  • Consider Adaptive Resource Management (ARM) Revision and Peer Review Report
    • Consider Management Response to ARM Revision and Peer Review Report
11:45 AM - 12:45 PM - Lunch Break 12:45 - 1:15 PM - NOAA Presentation on Sea Turtle Bycatch in Trawl Fisheries 1:30 - 5 PM - Atlantic Striped Bass Management Board
  • Consider Draft Amendment 7 for Public Comment
  • Elect Vice-Chair
Thursday, January 8:30 AM – Noon - Atlantic Menhaden Management Board
  • Consider Approval of Draft Addendum I: Commercial Allocations, Incidental Catch, and Episodic Event Set Aside Program for Public Comment
  • Update on Menhaden Mortality Events in 2021
Noon - 1 PM - Lunch Break 1 - 3 PM - Interstate Fisheries Management Program Policy Board
  • Review Results of the 2022 Commissioner Survey
  • Consider Standards for De Miminis Programs
  • Consider Policy on Information Requests
  • Committee Reports
    • Law Enforcement
    • Habitat
    • Atlantic Coastal Fish Habitat Partnership
  • Update on East Coast Climate Change Scenario Planning
  • Review Noncompliance Findings (if necessary)
3 - 3:15 PM - Business Session
  • Consider Noncompliance Recommendations (if necessary)
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