by Tom Fote

(from Jersey Coast Anglers Association March 1998 Newsletter)

REPORT ON ASMFC Week February 3-5





On Jan 22, the Tautog Committee of the New Jersey Marine Fisheries Council met to discuss upcoming regulations. Studies done by the New Jersey Division of Marine Fisheries have shown a fishing mortality of 0.54 for our state. The natural mortality for tautog is 0.15. The ASMFC Tautog Management Plan mandates a fishing mortality of 0.24 by April 1, 1998 as part of an interim target. To achieve this goal, New Jersey must enact a 49% reduction in landings.

In the commercial industry, this can be easily handled by a reduction in the quota. The current quota is 120,943 pounds, and the reduction will result in a quota of 61,680 pounds. This is based on a limited entry program, and no new vessels would be permitted in the fishery.

The recreational industry does not use a quota for management purposes. The prescribed 49% reduction must come from bag limits, seasonal closures, or a combination of both. Although the upcoming 14" size limit has reduced the catch, this plan does not allow size limits as a management tool. The idea is that an increase in size limit only delays the mortality, and does nothing to prevent the over exploitation when the fish grows to a larger size. This is a hot topic in fisheries management, but is included as a given in this plan.

At a New Jersey Marine Fisheries Council Tautog Meeting, two proposals were discussed. One was for a closed season from June first to October first. The second was for a three fish bag limit for the whole season. Pat Donnelly, chairman of the JCAA Tautog Committee, found neither of these proposals acceptable. He felt that a moratorium from June 1 to October 1 would virtually eliminate an historical user group, scuba divers. The tautog season for divers in wet suits is primarily the summer months. A closure would almost certainly ruin a long standing fishery. At the JCAA meeting on January 27th he proposed that JCAA opt for a 1 fish bag limit for the season June 1 to October 1, with an appropriate bag limit (10-12) during the open season. JCAA voted to support Pat Donnelly’s proposal.

This proposal was presented to the Atlantic States Marine Fisheries Commission Tautog Board and was accepted. The Division of Fish and Game will be taking JCAA’s proposal and any additional proposals to public hearing soon. Write to the Division of Fish and Game in support of this proposal or attend the scheduled public hearing. JCAA has agreed that though this is a difficult proposal to accept it is the best solution available under the existing management regime. It is the fairest for all user groups.


On Tuesday, February 10, I testified before the Assembly Agriculture and Natural Resources Committee on Bills A675/S457. These bills would reopen the elver fishery without regard to the impact on the eel resource and the total ecosystem. When I attended the Atlantic States Marine Fisheries Commission meeting the previous week we discussed Essential Fish Habitat and many Fisheries Management Plans. We talked about the lack of forage species and how that affects Striped Bass, Bluefish and many other species. We discussed how the lack of body fat might be affecting these species ability to ward off disease and effect reproduction. None of this information was important to the members of the Assembly Agriculture and Natural Resources committee. The committee members ignored the potential impact and voted this bill out of committee despite testimony from JCAA, the New Jersey Federation of Sportsmen’s Clubs, Recreational Fishing Alliance (placed into the record by T. Fote) and New Jersey Audubon.

In previous Assembly sessions, A675 would have gone to the Environmental Committee. This committee had a good appreciation of the whole picture, particularly the debate between private and public resources. Most importantly they tended to look at legislation based on the impact on the entire ecosystem. Speaker Jack Collins has rearranged the committees so that all fish and game bills go to the Agriculture and Natural Resources Committee. It is important that we understand the mindset of the current members of the Assembly Agriculture and Natural Resources Committee. In the past they dealt with legislation that impacted a private, renewable resource (farms). They have no experience and seem to have little interest in learning about the impact of legislation on an entire ecosystem. They tend to look at recreational fisheries issues as purely recreational and do not appear to understand the far reaching economic impact of any changes in recreational fishing. They need to do their homework but so far have shown no interest in our information or opinions. The four groups that spoke in opposition to this bill (A675) represented over 170,000 interested citizens. We were completely ignored. There were no questions from the committee that suggested a real interest in the ecosystem or the economic impact of recreational fishing. In addition, they completely ignored the impact of this legislation on the long term, traditional commercial eel fishery. They were intent on passing this bill and supporting the short term economic gain for a few. The vote in favor of A675 was unanimous across party lines. It appears that this is special interest fisheries politics at its most blatant. Since all the legislation of interest to us will need to pass through this committee, we are in serious trouble in the Assembly. We need to let them know right now how concerned we are with their vote on this legislation. We had supplied them with numerous articles and letters regarding the impact of this legislation and expected a more thorough hearing regarding these issues. The testimony from Fish and Wildlife was only available that morning so I read parts of it into the record and supplied them with complete copies. Hopefully, they will read this information and rethink their support for this legislation before the vote in the full Assembly. There will be many newspaper articles following this vote and we will make sure they are made available to all our Assembly representatives. I have listed the addresses of the members of this committee below. If you are concerned about how marine issues will be handled during this two year Assembly session, you must contact these people immediately. Tell them you are disappointed by their vote on A675 and let them know that you expect this committee to be more supportive of recreational anglers, environmentalists and the marine environment in future committee hearings. Some members are new to this committee and one is a new legislator. Now is the time to tell them how you feel. JCAA will be following this committee closely and posting all the votes on our website and in the newspaper.

We are going to need letters to the Governor, Senate and Assembly to stop this bill. Unless we act immediately and with a strong, united voice, the Assembly will pass A675 very soon. Letters to the Assembly must be written immediately. Even if we are unsuccessful in the Assembly, we still have an opportunity to stop this legislation (A675 and S457) in the Senate. The Senate Environmental Committee will hear this bill but we cannot assume that they will vote right way for a closed elver fishery. Right now you need to write to members of the Senate Environmental Committee whose names and addresses are listed below. In addition, you need to write to your Senator and express your opposition. If you live in the district for one of the members of the Environmental Committee, your letter, fax and phone call are crucial. The commercial elver fishermen will be calling regularly. They already have a paid lobbyist and will be out in full force.

Enclosed is a copy of a verbatim transcript of the US Fish & Wildlife Service Law Enforcement Testimony scanned into the computer and put into a more legible format. This was given to the Assembly Agriculture and Natural Resources Committee. This testimony indicates that the elver fishery affects the whole east coast and not just New Jersey. This testimony convinced JCAA and the New Jersey Federation of Sportsmens Clubs that this is a crucial issue. There are about 30 pages of graphs and charts that are part of this testimony that we will be putting up some up on our web page.

Assembly Agriculture and Natural Resources Committee

Chairman Assemblyman John C. Gibson , R 1st District
2087 South Shore Rd.
Seaville, NJ 08230
Phone (609)-624-1222 fax (609)-624-3234

Vice Chair Assemblywoman Connie Myers , R 23th District
124 W. Washington Ave
Washington, NJ 07882
Phone (908)-835-1202 fax (908)-835-1205

Assemblyman Larry Chatzidakis , R 8th
3000 Midlantic Dr.
Suite 103, Mount Laurel, NJ 08054
Phone (609)-234-8080 fax (609)-234-3990

Assemblywoman Clare M. Farragher , R 12th
Broad Street Professional Plaza
Suite 4, 40 Broad St.
Freehold, NJ 07728
Phone (732)-462-9009 fax (732)-462-5467

Assemblyman E. Scott Garrett , R 24th
61 Spring St. 3rd Fl.,
Newton, NJ 07860
Phone (973)-579-7585 fax (973)-579-4902

Assemblywoman Barbara Buono, D 18th
1967 Rt. 27,
Suite 20, Edison,
NJ 08817
Phone (732)-287-5609 fax (732)-287-5640

Assemblyman Herbert C. Conaway, D 12th
8008 Route 130 North,
Delran NJ 08075

Senate Environment Group 1

Henry P McNamara
. - Chair R
Legislative District 40
P.O. Box 68, Wyckoff, NJ 07481
PHONE NUMBER: (201) 848-9600
FAX NUMBER: (201) 848-0378

Diane Allen, - Vice-Chair R
Legislative District 7
2313 Burlington-Mt. Holly Rd.,
Burlington, NJ 08016
PHONE NUMBER: (609) 239-2800
FAX NUMBER (609) 239-2673

John H Adler,. D
Legislative District 6
231 Route 70 East, Cherry Hill, NJ 08034-2421
PHONE NUMBER: (609) 428-3343
FAX NUMBER (609) 428-1358

Andrew R Ciesla R
Legislative District 10
852 Hwy. 70, Brick, NJ 08724
PHONE NUMBER: (732) 840-9028
FAX (732) 8409447

Joseph F Vitale D
Legislative District 19
87 Main Street, Woodbridge, NJ 07095
PHONE NUMBER: (732) 855-7441
FAX NUMBER (732) 855-7558



Ramada Plaza Old Town Hotel Alexandria, Virginia


The American Eel Management Board Meeting of the Atlantic States Marine Fisheries Commission Spring Meeting convened in the Washington Ballroom of the Ramada Plaza Old Town Hotel, Alexandria, Virginia, Wednesday morning, May 21, 1997, and was called to order at 8:10 o'clock a.m. by Mr. John Field.

Mr. O'Hara, would you like to come up to the table.

MR. ADAM O'HARA: I'm Adam O'Hara. I'm the senior resident agent, or actually the special agent in charge for the Fish and Wildlife Service in the Northeast. I manage the Law Enforcement Program for the Mid-Atlantic and New England. For years, I've always been considered a biologist that's slipped to the dark side, you know, graduated from the school in the scientific career of enforcement.

My expertise, and I have to preface my remarks with this, are in import/export. I have worked for the Service primarily on a lot of international issues. It has been my goal in determining the special investigative -- the targets of the special investigative unit for years and running the undercover operations. So my expertise is in import/export and commercialization.

What I want to address today -- and I'm going to show you some very interesting statistics -- is that the current situation with the elver take, based on the intelligence that we're pulling in and the cases that we're making, can only be characterized as a gold rush mentality. In 20 years that I've been involved in law enforcement, I have seen it take place in certain areas of Western Africa dealing with certain cetacean birds, where we were the major importer, where we were the market. This is the only time I have seen where we are in fact the exporter.

And frequently you'll have people stand in front of you and say, . "This is one of the largest cases that are developing," or "This in a major impact on the resource." You always have to take those with a grain of salt, because people are always blowing their horn on certain investigations.

But I think when you take a look at the elver take and what's happening right now, it is truly a gold rush mentality. In the 20 years I've been in the business -- and I've worked considerably overseas looking at undeveloped countries or Third World countries, where their resources were being exploited -- this matches some of those significant takes.

And I think the comment that was made previously -- we aren't looking at professional fishermen, people who make a career on properly harvesting and utilizing the resources of this country. We're looking at truly a gold rush mentality.

So, some of the information I would like to show you -- the slide basically shows you the current situation dealing with minimum sizes. Blue, six inches; yellow, four inches; red, there was no size limit on the take of the American Eel.

I think of any of the slides I'm going to show you, this will kind of put it in perspective.

American Eel landings and live exports. 'The line with the square shows the reported take, and the take that is indicated by Commerce. The blocks on the far right show the actual exportation. In 1993, we nearly exported three times what was reported as the take. And what I'm trying to show you here is that a lot of the data that, as biologists, you're making your decisions on, that's being reported could possibly be way under the numbers.

I'm pulling this data from (1) the Commerce reports to you of what the live take is. But I'm showing the exports -- when wildlife is exported from this country, they're required to file what's called a 3177. They're also required to file a shipping export declaration, okay, in order to pay their duty to show the cost of the product leaving the country.

Even with these numbers, any export during this period that was valued at less than $2500 is not shown here. Also, exportations that aren't declared aren't shown here. So this, the figure showing the exports in '93, 1 have to say, is also significantly unreported, but compared to what you're getting as being the take, I think we've got considerable discrepancy in the data.

Also, when I pull the data showing the exports, I filtered American eels coming out of Canada, for example, that are being exported out of Boston, or being exported out of New York. I filtered that data out of here, so you do not -- I'm not showing you an excess because stuff is coming down from Canada to be exported from the United States.

This basically shows you poundage, or the distribution of landings reported by NMFS for '95 in pounds, ranging from the states -- the handout you have will be a little clearer, but it also shows the months in which they're taken. Based on the intelligence that I'm picking up -- like now, when you see that swell in April, May, June, it is our belief that that is the elver population. That is the live exports of elvers.

Now, when we pull our data, unfortunately, the way it's entered, when it shows the live eel export, we can't tell if it's a glass eel or if it's a large eel. What I have done in the Northeast is I've placed a priority on trying to determine this information. Our inspectors at the ports right now are under orders, when shipments come through that appear to be shipped as elvers are shipped, we're taking a very close look at them, we're doing inspections going out of the country to try and get an idea where they're leaving, who's doing the exportation, how they're being exported and where they're going.

This graph shows, from domestic sources, the number of live eel exports. Ninety-five was the peak; '96 started to drop off. You can make your determination on this, but I think an you start to look at data, you're going to see that even though I think there is a larger push toward taking eels, that our exports are dropping. The prices go up.

The value of live eels, and again significant, 1993 the value declared was a little over four million. In '95 it was well over ten. And this is declared, remember, so this is well underreported, because when you make a declaration, you're also dealing with taxes, you're dealing with values. So declarations going out of the country are always assumed to be undervalued, the same as when you got an importation. You've got an import, lot's say, of cetacean birds that are valued at $200 apiece. Once they hit the market, they hit the market at nine to twelve hundred dollars apiece. It's part of commerce. It's part of business.

The average of live eel exports going to the Asian market and going to the European market. This is important. I will show you later that our early elver exportation was to Europe, but the reason for that was that the Asian market is buying the elvers. It's not an issue that the European market is buying the elvers. The Asian market, they're buying the elvers.

What's happening, or what happened at this point in time was that the European market could not produce the number of elvers needed by the Asian aquaculture industry. They were being paid higher prices for European eels than they were for American eels. So European importers were bringing in American eels, Mixing them with what European eels they acquired, and then they were exporting them out of Europe to Asia as all Europeans eels.

Similar to the caviar industry we're shipping our paddlefish overseas. Our paddlefish go overseas; it turns around and comes back marked as Beluga caviar.

The percentages, Asia/Europe, what has happened, the Asians have wised up to the idea that the Europeans were selling them American eels, and because of having them go to Europe, turn around and go back to Asia, their losses were getting higher because the animals were stressed out. They were in transit longer. So the Asians have come here and said, "Okay. if we're going to buy American eels out of Europe anyhow, we're going to buy them direct." And that's why you're seeing the shift from movement into Asia, or movement from Europe into Asia.

This is based on the number of eel shipments, live eels. Again, because of the way that that is captured, I cannot truly separate which are elvers and which are adult eels. But the swell, March, April, May, June, from what we're seeing, those are the elver shipments. The way elvers are shipped, which we're probably all aware of, they're shipped in boxes of about 40 pounds. They're put in plastic bags. The bags are supersaturated with oxygen. The bags are sealed, packed in Styrofoam, packed in a box, and they're air-freighted. And they can be air-freighted from anywhere.

We could right now go to this hotel lobby package 15 pounds of elvers and air-freight them to Hong Kong, and they would be there within two hours of the actual flight time. That's how easily this stuff is moved. That's why it is so difficult for us to find how it's leaving and where it's going. Very difficult.

This shows the export change. Everything was moving to Europe, and currently trying to capture information through contacts I have, I'm determining how it was moving from Europe to Asia, but in fact I think what we have to look at is how the movement was taking place. This was in '93. When we move to '96, we start to sea the shift. Less moving to Europe, more going directly to Asia.

I will some comments based on my expertise and how I perceive this taking place, and then I'll open it to questions. As I said earlier, I have never seen this type of gold rush mentality for a native resource. The only thing that even comes close are the North American mussel that is currently again being utilized in the cultured pearl industry in the Asian markets. That, I think, will eventually be a significant problem.

Those are the two resources I see currently being abused here. The elver population and the North American mussel.

Exports and takes currently on the elvers are not being reported. You have no reporting system. The only system we have to capture any of that data is looking at export declarations. Fishermen are not reporting the take. Dealers and buyers are not reporting the purchase. It's a cash industry. To give you an idea, we have run surveillances on a car sitting in a park lot with 50 people lined up with elvers selling them on a cash basis at $300 a pound. That is not an exaggerated figure. That's probably the minimum figure that they're going at. A pound of elvers about the size of a softball.

The State of Maine has an excellent film which a lot of you probably have seen, showing a fisherman dipping elvers for less than seven minutes. When he was apprehended, he had a little over three and a half pounds on him. In that amount of time, he had a thousand dollars worth. It is not difficult to move those.

Comments were always made about the black bear industry and the gall bladders. They said a gall is worth so much. That's just like saying a certain antique toy is worth so much if you can find a buyer. A buyer is not difficult to find in the elver industry. That's why it has become such a gold rush mentality, because you don't have to be an expert, you don't have to be a fisherman. You and I could go out right now and dip elvers, and by the and of the day find someone who would buy them at $300 a pound, without having any expertise at all.

And that's where the problem really exists that it doesn't take a professional to take them, and you certainly don't have to look for a buyer. We have identified the same buyers moving from the Carolinas into Maine. They set up in parking lots, they set up at fish stores, they'll set up in front of the fish market, and the word in out that they’re buying. There are signs up. There are ads in newspapers where to meet them.

The problem that we have, and I'm speaking from an enforcement standpoint, is if we go back to the first slide. Unfortunately for us, our enforcement problems are that we have three states where we have an elver take. And what happens with us is, for example, we have a major buyer who sets up on a bridge between Delaware and New Jersey. We have documented elvers coming from Virginia. We've done surveillance’s where illegal takes in Virginia are being carted up through, across the bridge and sold to the buyer in New Jersey during the New Jersey season.

When that season closes, that buyer then moves on up the coast and will be somewhere on the Connecticut border near Rhode Island and Massachusetts. We're documenting illegal takes in Massachusetts, illegal takes in Now Hampshire, and those elvers are moving across that state line to where that same buyer is located making the sales. There's no report on the take, there's no report on the purchase, there's no documentation whatsoever. And as the elvers move on up, that same buyer will end up committing an error. Violence is already taking place in certain areas just because of the competition.

The state law enforcement chiefs that I work with routinely are truly stretched because the way the elver fishery exists, it's a very unique situation. You don't need much equipment. It's not taken in what is traditionally a fishing ground. It can be done at a culvert. It can be done any place where freshwater hits the salt water where they congregate. Very difficult to work. It also takes place in an area where you have a marine patrol and an inland patrol, and it's that no man's land between the two. The inland operations have inland responsibilities. The marine operations have marine responsibilities. The elver take is taking place in an area where they cross over, but it's primarily because they're headed to take care of their primary responsibilities.

It's a very difficult enforcement action from the state's standpoint. That's why we're working closely with the states, we’re working with the National Marine Fisheries. We're trying to get everybody up to snuff as to what's happening, who's taking it, where they're moving. We have joint operations going currently with, I think, all of the states on the Atlantic right now. We're working very closely with them on it. It's a very difficult enforcement situation.

But I will tell you, it is the most unique effort I’ve seen at exporting our resources since I've been in business. And I've worked in East Africa. I've worked in West Africa, and I've worked in South America. And it truly is amazing. From an enforcement standpoint, I would tell you it's exciting, because it's a difficult thing to address. From a natural resource standpoint, I'm very disturbed, because I never expected to see this take place here.

With that, I'm open to questions.

CHAIRMAN ALDEN: Thank you very much. Questions? Bruce.

MR. BRUCE L. FREEMAN: Thank you. This issue of glass eels has been going on for a number of years, and it seems six or eight years ago, it was a major concern. Are you familiar with what occurred at that time, and if you are, is there an increase in magnitude or is it simply that we're becoming aware, more aware of the problem?

MR. O'HARA: No, sir. There's been an increase in magnitude. I think six or eight years ago, prices went up. Certain people got involved in the industry. And I think there are people that have done well at that point in time on watching the harvest and how the harvest was taking place. I think they were commercial fisherman who were looking at a sustainable yield. I'll be very honest with you. I think in the last three years, we have gone outside of that realm, and we're playing catch-up. We’re no longer dealing with people who look at this as a career. There are a considerable number of opportunists out there that have no concept as to how they're harvesting, why they're harvesting, other than the fact that it's worth $300 a pound. And the fines, if I'm caught, could be made up in a half-hour's work.

An example being, we have watched individuals where five fisherman would get together, go draw straws. One would go down to a place that's being surveilled, but it's an excellent place to take elvers. He will get himself arrested. Because of the way officers are spread out, he will be taken back to a car or taken to his home, or wherever and processed. While he is being processed, the other four will go to that exact same spot, work for a half-hour, 45 minutes, take a significant amount of elvers and move on out. They carry the money for the fines in their pocket. The biggest concern is how much time you're taking of me moving from here to there to there.

MR. Freeman: Let me ask you another question relative to trying to get a feel for what exactly is going on. And the information you present, you've indicated a number of times they're very conservative at the best. Do you feel, if in fact, all the dealers were licensed and required to be licensed to purchase, would that have any impact on trying to get a better understanding of the magnitude of this problem?

MR. O'HARA: In all honesty, I think at this point in time no. Because of the way they move -probably the dealers who are making the purchases have a dealer's license somewhere. But the way that they move to make the purchases, whether they had a license or required to report, it wouldn't change what's happening right now.

MR. FREEHMAN: It would seem, just thinking very quickly, that indeed if these dealers were licensed and had a responsibility and in fact some of these organisms were taken illegally, once they're crossing state lines and even international lines, would make the penalty a federal offense.

MR. O'HARA: It's currently a federal offense without a permit. I think the problem with permitting is -- and this is my opinion. I think it's beyond that. I think the cost ratio is such that they're willing to take any penalty, any financial penalty other than jail time, and continue in the activity. If, for example, the state limited their take permits to, let's say, 200, and they sold those 200 take permits, that would not reduce the amount of take at all, because those people who are out there right now that didn't get a permit would be out there right alongside of the permit holders and take their chances at getting caught.


DR. JAMES GEIGER: Thank you, Madam Chairman. A quick question, Adam. If you had to make one recommendation to the Management Board, again, to make your life and those of the state law enforcement chiefs easier, what would you recommend to the Board that we could do?

MR. O'HARA: My feelings are that until the biology is there, I firmly believe that statistics that are coming in are so underreporting the take, and the biology is lacking, which we all admit we don't have the studies to show population, to show what a sustainable yield would be, until that information is in, my suggestion would be that there be a minimum size. Let the glass eels move on to a darker color phase. It will do two things, in my opinion. One is, it will reduce the $300-a-pound issue, and it'll take people who are not commercial fisherman, who are not there for sustainable yields making a livelihood, take them out of the equation. Because once they start to feed naturally, everything we're picking up is that the Asian market does not want them, or will pay a lot less for them, because of the fact they have a hard time then getting them on commercial fields. And I think that would give us an opportunity at that point time, I think, to look at the biology and decide what we would want for management.

MR. ROY WILLIAMS: Mr. O'Hara, is this mainly a Mid-Atlantic and New England problem?

MR. O'HARA: In all honesty, I think it runs wherever the glass eel runs. I think it's just that we are so far behind that we are just trying to get caught up as to what's happening. The reason I'm addressing it from the Mid-Atlantic to New England is because that's my area of responsibility, and that's where I can focus. But I'm also working with state directors out of my area. I'm working with agents under another supervisor out of my area. And it's starting to show up just farther down the coast. As people got educated, as people get involved in the issue, it's showing up the whole way down the coast. And the same buyers are showing up down through that area.

MR. CUPKA: I certainly have to agree with Mr. O'Hara. I know last year we had legislation went into effect that required mandatory reporting, and we just are not getting any reports. This is in South Carolina. And I guess one of the things that worries me the most is just the cost of this thing. We can look on it as far as drug dealers. It's just another cost of doing business, because the penalty is no deterrent to them.

MR. O'HARA: No. And we've working very closely with the Carolinas now. We’ve expanded our market, our investigation into the Carolinas. We're working very closely with the state and with our people down there. And that is truly the fact that the penalties that are being assessed are just looked at as a cost of doing business. What we're hoping to do, our long-range plan, is I would hope that next spring I can come in and address you again and give you some investigative information as opposed to what -- well, I talked around what we're doing and where we are. But we are developing major cases right now on the legal take throughout New England, throughout the MidAtlantic, on the legal exportation and on falsification of documents. And it's rampant, and we're working on that now. Hopefully, by this time next year, I'll be able to show you some good hard statistics dealing with the illegal activity. Unfortunately, I can't do that at this point.

MR. CUPKA: Do you have any information that goes back before '93 on exports? I mean, could you show that the three years --

MR. O'HARA: No I went back to '93 because that was easier for us to capture. Some of the other stuff was a little harder to do, and I'm like everybody else: I tried to focus on something that was quick, and then to pull that -- when I'm starting the hand searches, I'm going to have to bring in people to do some of that on some of the data.

CHAIRMAN ALDEN: I'm going to give this discussion five more minutes.

MR. GEORGE D. LAPOINTE: Adam, you recommended, I think, based on Jamie's question, a six-inch minimum size limit up and down the coast, but then you also said that laws and fines aren't a deterrent. My question is, if that's the case, what would the six-inch minimum size limit do?

MR. O'HARA: The six-inch limit will take the gold rush mentality, I think, out of the system.

MR. LAPOINTE: But if they're such lawbreakers, then if it's akin to drug dealing and the fines and penalties are a cost of doing business, would this not just be another cost of doing business?

MR. O'HARA: No. What'll happen is the $300 a pound will probably drop off significantly. It'll

take those people who haven't made a living on elver fishing out of the program. You'll go back to the honest fisherman who have made a living on elver fishing. I think in some states it's been traditional for a considerable number of years. You have got elver fishermen in some of the states that have probably been involved in it for 10, 15 years. I think it'll put them back in the mainstream. It'll take the others out. It'll drop the price, and then the fines that are assessed will be far more significant when you can't make the kind of profit that you're making right now. Plus the area of take will be different. It won't be concentrations where they are right now where they can take them so easily. Once they start to feed, you got dispersal into certain areas, and it's more difficult to take. It becomes more of a legitimate fishery.


MR. WILLIAM P. JENSEN: How are those cases that you're making being prosecuted? Are they being prosecuted under the state law of minimum size, or are you involved in the Lacey Act?

MR. O'HARA: I'm involved in the Lacey Act.

MR. JENSEN: Under what? Interstate trade?

MR. O"HARA; Interstate, international transportation of eels taken illegally.

MR. JENSEN: And so you have what? Four states where it's legal and the rest of the states it's illegal with varying size limits?

MR. O’HARA: That's correct.

CHAIRMAN ALDEN: Any other Board members? You, Roy.

MR. MILLER: One clarification of your data that you showed us. Your two graphs on the value of live eel exports. The one showed $10,688,000 in 1995, and then the one after that shows, if I'm reading it correctly, for Asia, for instance, 40 to $42 million. I'm wondering which is closer to the actual figure. That's just $10 million. This one shows 40 million.

MR O'HARA: This is Department of Commerce data, and the other data in probably taken from -they're probably taken from either declared value - you've got a difference between what Commerce declares their value at and what they declare their value on Customs declarations, and that will show the difference. An I said, when things are exported or imported, they're always undervalued on the declaration; therefore, they have loss of a duty to pay. So you probably will see -- you'll see those differences in cost because they're declared values. And it makes it very difficult then to really look at a market and say we’ve got a $40 million market, we've got a $10 million market, because we haven't true figures out of the system.

CHAIRMAN ALDEN: Quick question. USDC is Customs?

MR. O*HARA: Yes.


MR. COATES: Adam, you characterize the situation as a gold rush mentality. Would you also characterize it an a crisis in terms of dealing with this resource?

MR. O'HARA: From my experience, I would say it is.

MR. COATES: Thank you.


MR. GORDON C. COLVIN: Do you know what the size limits are in the Canadian provinces?

MR. O’HARA: I have that data, but I don't have it with me.

MR. COLVIN: Do they have them?

MR. O'HARA: Yes, there are limits there.

MR. FIELD: Gordon, Brian Jessop is currently serving as a Canadian representative to the Technical Committee, and the committee convened in March in Norfolk. He indicated to me that at least the Maritime Provinces have instituted a limited entry to their elver fishery, where they have divided provinces into ten zones and allocated ten individual experimental elver permits to ten harvesters. Each harvester is responsible for self-policing and harvesting in his or her particular zone, and they believe that they're going to get very accurate landings and effort information from these folks, because they realize that since they're holding an experimental permit in Canada, this can be yanked at any time for any reason without warning. They've told them that, you know, there's a chance they'll be closed out if they don't participate fully. So they claim they're getting a very good hand on their elver fishery, and they do comanage it with an adult eel fishery.

MR. COLVIN: That's just the Maritimes, John?

MR. FIELD: As far as I know, yes.

MR. COLVIN: So we don't know about the other --

MR. FIELD: No, we don't, although we do have someone also on the Technical Committee from the Lower Great Lakes Resource office who can fill us in on that.

CHAIRMAN ALDEN: Any more Board comments, and then I'll go to the audience where I have one hand. TOM.

MR. FOTE: Yes. Just one question. Have we got a one-stock area or a two-stock area they want to try to got out to Europe. Do they all spawn in one area, all come out of the same area, the European and North American eels?

HR. O'HARA: That's my understanding, that they all spawn in the same area. It depends on the currents, isn't that correct?

MR. FIELD: Tom, there are two species that are easily differentiated by DNA analysis, but they do spawn in Sargasso Sea coincidentally.

MR. FOTE: Okay. But the European is a different species?


MR. FOTE: Because I'm just looking at the landings, and I'm looking at the drop in pounds in the regular market, and it started to crash a long time ago. And I'm wondering if the European has any effect on that crash? I mean, because we've seen a drop in eels catches in the last five or six years, and the European market's been going on for a lot longer than that. So I'm just wondering if it affects a one-stock or two-stock area. We need a cap for eels.

CHAIRMAN ALDEN: Thank you, Adam, very much.

Let bill die

Assemblyman John Gibson, R-Cape May, is still trying valiantly to save the baby-eel season. He means well. But we hope he fails.

Surely you remember the Great Glass Eel Rush of last year. Thousands of people - many from out of state -jammed southern New Jersey's saltwater creeks, using dip nets to scoop up thousands and thousands of the tiny, translucent baby eels. Thanks to a thriving Oriental market, the baby eels brought as much as $350 a pound - and it takes 2,500 to 3,000 glass eels to make a-pound.

Needless to say, that's a lot of baby eels that won't grow up to be adult eels.

Gibson failed to get his bill approved in the final days of the last legislative session. He plans to push a revised version in the first days of the new session. Without Gibson's bill, there will, in effect, be no babyeel season this year. Department of Environmental Protection regulations now prohibit the taking of eels under 6 inches long; the glass eels everyone wants are smaller than that.

Gibson, understandably looking out for the interests of the southern New Jersey folks who want a piece of the eel bonanza, takes the absence of a baby-eel season this year as a tragedy. It isn't.

The Atlantic States Marine Fisheries Commission is studying the eel issue and plans to have a management plan in place within a year At the very least, both sides in this dispute should wait to see what that plan is before going ahead with another annual slaughter of glass eels.

Gibson's original bill would have increased license fees, imposed a fee on dealers and dedicated some of the money to research and enforcement efforts. But it included no minimum size limits and is clearly designed to protect fishermen s economic interests more than this natural resource, which could very well be seriously threatened by the booming market for eels.

About those economic interests: We don't dismiss them lightly. Commercial fishing has long been part. of southern New Jersey tradition. But this lucrative glass eel fishery is a relatively new phenomenon and very likely a temporary phenomenon (aquaculture efforts will improve, tastes will change, prices will drop). The claim that people will lose their "livelihoods" if there is no two-month glass-eel season seems a bit overstated.

Wipe out the resource and, of course, no one will make any money from the eels.

There may or may not be a sensible middle ground on this issue - that is, a permanent, outright ban on the taking of baby eels could be just what's needed to ensure this species isn't wiped out by the indiscriminate harvest of its young. But at the very least, New Jersey's baby-eel fishermen can afford a one-year moratorium until the Atlantic States Marine Fisheries Commission finishes its work.


Reprint from The Record, February 4, 1998

By Don Ecker

Once upon a time, we thought the oceans were and endless source of food, just as we believed it was impossible to "fish out" a bass lake. Today, those ideas are viewed in the same way as the fairy-tales often beginning with the same four words, once upon a time. The ever-increasing demands for sea food, particularly those from Asian countries, are creating a severe negative impact on the fisheries stocks on both the Atlantic and Pacific regions. Tuna, salmon, cod and other important food fish populations are being targeted and fished with an intensity greater than ever before. The harvesting pressure extends down the food chain to lesser species as well.

Remember whiting? Until the late 1980’s, there was a steady, reliable fishery for whiting in the Mudhole and along the Jersey coast. Whiting fishing benefited both commercial and recreational interests. Then, an overseas market for small whiting developed. Opportunistic commercial fishing groups zeroed in on the whiting stocks, fishing them into collapse, and adversely affecting both commercial and recreational fishing. This impact was felt by party boats, marinas, and fishing piers where whiting had previously been caught, as well as the supporting businesses such as gas stations, diners, tackle shop, etc.

The environmental impact extended to every species that preys on whiting, fish like bluefin and yellowfin tuna, cod, etc., significantly diminishing the availability of these species in the Mudhole and other traditional fishing grounds.

Similar over-harvesting threatens forage species such as bunker, butterfish, and most recently, eels. The Oriental market value of baby eels can be as high as $350 per pound. It takes 2,500 to 3,000 tiny, transparent (hence the name "glass eels") baby eels to make a pound. Last year, thousands of people, including many out-of-staters, jammed the salt water creeks and tributaries in South Jersey, using dip nets to scoop up many thousands of baby, glass eels for commercial sale or use.

Since Department of Environmental Protection rules now prohibit the taking of eels under six inches long, the even smaller, yet prized, glass eels would be protected unless Assemblyman John Gibson, R-Cape May, manages to get his well-meaning, but misguided bill, approved - a bill that would permit a baby eel harvesting season.

This is a bill that provides economic benefits yet fails to acknowledge the potential environmental impact of harvesting a natural resource. These baby eels are an important food source for species higher up the food chain.

At the very least, the glass eels should be protected from potential overharvest until more is known about their importance in the ecosystem, and the effect an open season might have on this forage species so in demand by protein-hungry human populations. If we are going to be able to feed ourselves on this planet in the coming years, we can not continue to repeat the errors of the past.

It may be possible to develop an aquaculture industry that raises eels to meet the market demand, without endangering the natural resource which, like so many others, can never be restored once it has been collapsed.

Until more is known, the Gibson bill should be left to expire.

REPORT ON ASMFC Week February 3-5

This was a quiet week at the ASMFC meeting. There were no particularly controversial decisions made.

The Habitat Committee had a long discussion on the National Marine Fisheries Essential Habitat Proposal. We discussed the draft document and made some recommendations. This is an interesting exercise to decide what is essential fish habitat and these decisions will provide guidance in making many future decisions. It is important for JCAA to stay involved in the process. If you have any questions you can call Dianne Stephan at 202-289-6400 (Atlantic States Marine Fisheries Commission).

The Weakfish Technical Committee and the Weakfish Management Board looked at the review of the SAW on the technical aspects of the weakfish management plan. There were no large discrepancies in the technical information. They felt confident with the methods the Technical Committee is using to assess the stocks and make recommendations. The Management Board recognized that the stocks are rebuilding but this is not the time to change the conservative approach. They recommended status quo for 1998.

The Winter Flounder Board discussed the dismal condition of winter flounder stocks in the New England/New York Bight area. The only place that appears to have a decent fishery is Raritan Bay and the rest of the coast is really struggling to rebuild the stocks. We will stay with the present regulations for 1998 but there will be pressure for New Jersey to raise the size limits for 1999 and 2000. If we raise the size limit we might be able to extend or eliminate the season restrictions. JCAA will be keeping track of developments in this area. We need a winter flounder committee and a chairman for that committee. Please contact Frank Richetti with volunteers.

The Striped Bass Management Board and the Striped Bass Advisory Committee both met. The Stock Assessment Workshop (SAW) reviewed the Virtual Population Analysis (VPA) to be sure that good science was being used. The SAW pointed out that we needed more work in order to pull out different stocks in the management plan and regulate by stocks. The Chesapeake Bay proposed an increased catch of Striped Bass under the VPA. They discovered there was a million pounds that could be harvested. The Board defeated this proposal for the following reasons. First, the VPA has not been approved by the Striped Bass Management Board for setting quotas at this time. At this time it is to be used as a stock assessment tool. Right now the management board has not approved the VPA for use in determining individual quotas for different regions. More work is needed before the board can do that. The Striped Bass Board approved Mike Burke (chairman of the JCAA Striped Bass Committee) to replace Gary Caputi.

As this newspaper goes to press, there will be a Striped Bass Workshop in Baltimore on February 18 and 19 sponsored by the Atlantic States Marine Fisheries Commission. Scientists will be presenting papers on a variety of issues. There will be a discussion about what is a Quality Fishery for Striped Bass. Mike Burke will attending the workshop representing the JCAA. The JCAA, American Sportfishing Association and Coastal Conservation Association have been working with ASMFC to run a workshop with state directors and representatives of the recreational community on what is necessary to establish a quality fishery for a variety of species. Hopefully this workshop will be scheduled for the spring ASMFC meeting in June. What is quality fishing is a really interesting discussion which generated many different opinions. One angler might feel a quality fishery offers the opportunity to release forty pound fish while another angler might feel a quality fishery is taking home a few fish. I feel a quality fishery is not possible without a wide distribution of fish over many year classes. It will be interesting to participate in this discussion. ASMFC will be making a decision at the October meeting on how to manage Striped Bass. We want quality fishing to figure in that decision making process.

The Bluefish Technical Committee met and realized how much they still don’t know about what is happening with the Bluefish stock. This should make for an interesting discussion at the joint meeting of the Mid Atlantic Council and the ASMFC in Annapolis March 10 - 12. In addition to Bluefish they will be discussing Summer Flounder, Scup and Sea Bass. This will be an important joint meeting and JCAA will be represented.

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