Highly Migratory Species Report

by John T. Koegler

(from Jersey Coast Anglers Association February 1998 Newsletter)

The unprecedented decline in ocean fish populations is devastating recreational fishermen and having a huge negative economic impact on the industry their spending supports. In 1996, a new USF&G report states New Jersey recreational fishermen spent $746,900,000 on their saltwater sportfishing. ( The total 1991 value of New Jersey commercial fish landings was $22,600,000. Recreational interest spent 33 times the total value of commercial fish landings) Recreational fishermen spend a large part of this money on their pursuit of pelagics, Pelagics can be either Highly Migratory Species (HMS) or Coastal Migratory Species (CMS), Ineffective government regulations, primarily on the commercial fishers, have failed to reverse the drop in species biomass. To compensate for the loss, recreational bag limits are lowered to absurd levels. One example is, one fish per boat in the Bluefin tuna fishery. At one fish per boat the recreational fishery collapses. The species most affected by current management plans are Swordfish, Marlins, Sharks and Bluefin tunas. Shortly all Pelagics will have management plans and all these plans will have negative impacts on recreational fishing.

An example of how these trends develop is the recent NMFS HMS Advisory Panel meetings held in Baltimore, January 11-13. There were two meetings, one for Billfish and another covered everything else as HMS. The commercial advocates and supporters made choices that resulted in continuation of the status quo for most Bluefin Tuna fisheries. This was a big disappointment for many conservation and recreational groups who supported and expected major changes in US regulations.

A new group surfaced composed of recreational anglers and commercial interests from North Carolina was evident at the EMS meeting. It appears that North Carolina’s so called recreationals sold out to commercial interests. It is now proposed that after just four years of participation, NC aside will receive it’s own set quota in the Bluefin Tuna fishery! As a result, major changes that might have been achieved, like a purse seiner quota reduction (251 MT for three owners is absurd), additional harpoon category restrictions plus elimination of the use of spotter planes in the General and Harpoon Categories were not approved.

The Bluefin tuna fishery is fully utilized by current permit holders. This Major NEW fishery in NC should have been strictly controlled by NMFS with a small quota from the beginning. 10 MT would have been fair to all US fishermen. However, 40 MT of Bluefin is now suggested by NMFS for this NEW North Carolina Bluefin tuna fishery. This is more than NC should ever get. Most Commercial interests, had no problem with any new allocation quota for NC, provided all allocation come out of the current angling quota.

An additional 19 MT. was proposed to be assigned NC for a NEW General Category fall set-aside fishery. This is for a state with absolutely NO HISTORY in the Bluefin fishery. Before 1991 there was no winter fishery nor spring fishery for any size Bluefin in NC.

This theft of angler Bluefin by NC will rape the small south recreational angler quota of 71 MT. If you expect to fish in the Mid-Atlantic states for Angler Bluefln Tuna in 1998 or in the future, you better find time to write NMFS ‘s Rebecca Lent plus your federal Congressman and Senators to let them know how you feel about these new allocations for North Carolina.

The Billfish meeting was different. Angler activists from southern states united to support draconian new US recreational regulations for Marlin. It was recommended at ICCAT's November meeting that a 25% cut in Marlin landing be imposed in 1999. Activists wanted to exceed ICCAT's recommendations by 100%! The recommendation for White Marlin may allow for only 100 of these fish to be landed recreationally yearly from all US waters. This is too few fish. A new larger minimum size will also be imposed of 66" lower jaw fork length. Few White Marlin this large ever find their way to NE Atlantic waters. This new size eliminates us from keeping White Marlin in New Jersey. Blue Marlin were increased from 86" to 96" which is too large for New Jersey Anglers also.

These plans will evolve and be reported out for public comment in 30 to 60 days. However, most changes are expected to follow AP recommendations. If you disagrees with what has occurred you have until January 28 to mail a letter or fax you comments to (1-301-713-0596) :

Dr. Rebecca Lent, NMFS-HMS FCM/4, 1315 EM-West Highway, Silver Spring MD. 20910

Recreational groups and industry supporters must be careful when asking for minor changes in Magnuson. Correcting minor defects may allow commercial interests to gut the Magnuson Act with last minute amendments that will be difficult to defeat. We must be very careful about what we ask for and support.

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