by Tom Fote

(from Jersey Coast Anglers Association March 1999 Newsletter)


JCAA asked Dusty Rhodes to prepare an explanation of what your choices are under conservation equivalencies, regarding the summer flounder season this year. We will try and get the tables on our web site as soon as possible. There are more options on the tables but after the discussions last night these seem to be the most acceptable options. JCAA Member clubs please come to the JCAA meeting on February 23 with a prepared to vote on a position from your organization. The table and charts are on the last page and also our web page.

There has been some questions on why we are talking about going to 10 fish. According to the conservation equivalency tables that we are required to use this is no real difference between an 8 fish bag limit or a 10 fish bag limit. The both produce the same result. So we might as well use the 10 fish bag limit. The real difference is the size limit change. This is what gives you the real season differences. The choices really are what date do we open the season on and do we have a 15 or 15 1/2 size limit.


The brouhaha which surrounded recreational summer flounder measure setting for 1999 is far from over. Though vibrating a few decibels lower, the debate over customizing New Jersey's measures has generated its own heat. And for the first time in the history of summer flounder management, state anglers have an opportunity to comment on how measures should be fashioned for local waters.

This opportunity arose because last December when the Mid-Atlantic Fishery Management Council (Council) and the Atlantic States Marine Fisheries Commission (ASMFC) voted coastwide recreational summer flounder measures they included the provision for state equivalencies. That is, each state could fine tune, or customize, if you will, the coastwide measures based on its own fishing experience as long as such changes produced the same percentage reduction. Basically, that reduction was about 40 percent. In other words, recreational measures had to reduce landings by at least 40 percent to insure the recreational sector stayed within its 1999 quota limit, which coastwide is 7.41 million pounds.

At a meeting with New Jersey Marine Fishery representatives on February 8, recreational fishermen representing organizations, fishing clubs and the charter and partyboat industry learned about the 1999 options available for New Jersey. To help you understand those options and to formulate an opinion or recommendation of your own, the following information has been provided.

For background, the coastwide measures called for a 15-inch minimum fish size, an eight-fish daily bag limit and an open fishing season from May 29 through September 15. Stated another way, summer flounder fishing would be closed from January 1 through May 28, and from September 16 through December 31. Any state could adopt those measures with its recreational anglers fishing accordingly.

However, states could also opt for some variation based on its fishing experience, which for New Jersey means certain flexibility. For example, increasing the minimum fish size produces a LONGER open season. Likewise, reducing the bag limit from eight to six fish yields a very slight increase in the open season, in actuality, three days. In addition, New Jersey could also select alternative starting dates, which further influence the season length. Using the 15-inch minimum with an eight-fish bag limit as an illustration, an April 1 start date would mean a season end on September 9; whereas a June 15 start date would allow the season to run until September 27.

Recognize that the foregoing is in no way a recommendation. Rather, it's by way of illustrating how by varying the factors at our disposal we can adjust the length of an open season. And make no mistake about it, to achieve the 40 percent reduction mandated by the managing bodies, states must establish a season because increasing minimum fish size or reducing bag limits alone do not yield the full savings. The one exception is a 16-inch minimum size. That's right, if New Jersey were to opt for this measure at a bag limit of eight or ten fish, no closed season would be necessary. And while there has been no apparent support for going to a 16-inch minimum, it remains an option. However, as we'll discuss later, minimum size increases carry a hidden danger, which must be understood before they're selected.

If we eliminate a 16-inch minimum option for this portion of the discussion, we have two size choices: remaining at 15-inch minimum, or increasing to 15.5-inches. Let's examine what each produces.

Assuming an eight-fish bag limit for this explanation, a 15-inch minimum size yields these seasonal opportunities: May 1 through September 11; May 15 through September 14; and May 29 through September 27. Incidentally, we have ignored the option of an April opening or one as late as June since the former is hardly considered a high yield time while the latter is simply too late for most people. However, those are options, and you can see the entire option array by visiting the JCAA website at: http://www.jcaa.org/sftable.htm

Note in the above example that delaying the opening from May 1 to May 15 adds only three days to the season. And in actuality it might be only a two-day difference since the state marine fisheries people say the difference between a September 11 and September 12 closing is so slight, we might be able to elect the latter. In any event, it would hardly seem advisable to delay the season opening for 14 days just to gain two or three more days at the end. But delaying the opening until May 29, a full 28 days from the earliest possibility, allows almost an extra week in September. To some, that extra week at the end of the season might be more valuable than an earlier opening. Again, this is not by way of trying to influence your decision; the analysis is offered just to help you put all of the data into perspective. Also, going down in bag limit to six fish adds three to four days to the season, whereas going to 10 fish decreases the season by about one day.

From this analysis, it appears that a bag limit DECREASE is hardly worth the gain. And as you'll quickly see when we explain the affects of increasing the minimum size to 15.5 inches, bag limit decreases are simply not necessary. A bag limit increase is another matter. The data clearly indicate that virtually no difference in seasonal considerations exist at eight or ten fish. Furthermore, going up in bag limit might stand us well down the road should a bag limit reduction become necessary. In that case, the drop might not seem quite as onerous. However, bear in mind that bag limit cuts are usually effective only when they're relatively severe since most anglers don't catch their limit. Therefore, if history were an indicator, a bag limit reduction, should one become necessary, would in all likelihood be so great that it wouldn't matter if we dropped from eight or ten fish. Moreover, opting for a bag limit increase might draw from various quarters criticisms we could well do without. Just weigh all the facts before you decide whether a bag limit increase is worth pursuing.

Now to the size limit increase, which offers significantly more impact than a bag limit hike does. At any bag limit (six, eight, or ten), a 15.5-inch minimum size produces an open season which runs into October. For example, at eight fish, the season would run from May 1 through October 6; from May 15 though October 11; and from May 29 through October 20. The 10-fish bag limit is about the same, whereas at six fish the season would run, respectively, until October 10, October 15 and October 27. Enough to matter? That's your call, but bag limits aside, beware of the aforementioned hidden danger in size limit increases.

Throughout the history of summer flounder management, both commercial and recreational quotas have been calculated by weight, not numbers of fish, even though recreational statistics are gathered by numbers. When landings are calculated, the recreational counts (numbers of fish) are multiplied by the average weight to determine poundage to match against the quota. As you can readily understand, the average weight for a 15.5-inch summer flounder is greater than the average weight for one at 15 inches or 14.5 inches. Therefore, as long as the recreational sector's landings are measured by weight, increasing the minimum size also heightens the risk that the quota will be exceeded more quickly. In fact, an analysis of the affects from increasing from 14.5 inches to 15 inches in 1998 showed that while the numbers of fish landed increased over 1997 figures by under 30 percent, the increase by weight was almost 40 percent. Not surprisingly, some have argued we should not increase minimum fish size until recreational performance is measured by numbers of fish, not weight. On the other hand, no one can predict what increasing the minimum size will mean to New Jersey performance, and concern about length of fishing season is, to some anglers, paramount.

To recap, you have some options to consider, the most critical, as we see it, being whether to increase the minimum size to 15.5 inches. Next is the season start, bearing in mind that many anglers and the businesses which serve them are usually anxious for an early season launch. Finally, and to a much lessor extent, is the question of bag limits.

Think it over and communicate your ideas to New Jersey Marine Fisheries Council before March 4. The NJ Marine Fisheries Council will select the state's 1999 recreational measures at its March 4, 4 p.m. meeting in Galloway Township Library, Jimmie Leeds Rd., Absecon.. JCAA would also like to hear you ideas on these choices. We have a membership meeting on February 23 and that is when we will vote on our position. Our email address is tfote@jcaa.org. Fax is 732-506-6975

Summer Flounder Lawsuit Rebuttal

When certain environmental organizations filed a lawsuit against the Secretary of Commerce over summer flounder quotas, we asked two New Jersey representatives to the Mid-Atlantic Fishery Management Council for their comments. The rebuttal provided by Gary Caputi and Dusty Rhodes follow.


My comments were first sent to the Center for Marine Conservation (CMC), one of the signatories to the lawsuit. I repeat them here because they might help enlighten people about my feelings on the growing reluctance of recreational fishermen to work with some national environmental groups, especially those that believe press releases and headlines are more important than working coalitions capable of getting substantive measures put in place.

It is too bad that the situation concerning summer flounder and a hard line attitude was allowed to drive a wedge between some members of the environmental and recreational communities, but it should serve as a wake up call that sometimes it is wise to pick your battles, or at least let allies know when you are taking an adversarial position on an important issue in advance.

Summer flounder present a very different scenario than most other fisheries we are mutually concerned about. It is a fishery that is recovering at a rate none of us could have predicted just five years ago and, in my opinion after looking at the science, through conversations with fishermen up and down the coast, and my personal on-the-water experience, assessment scientists are still underestimating the spawning stock biomass (SSB), even though their latest rebuilding graphs show the past three years increasing so fast that the curve is almost vertical.

You have to recognize that summer flounder are of immeasurable importance to recreational fishermen and the industry they support. The sector took a huge hit when the plan was being developed in the quota allocation scheme of 60% commercial/40% recreational. That ratio was skewed dramatically in favor of the commercial users after years of increased commercial pressure on the stocks, overfishing and stock depletion which impacted recreational harvest well before commercial landings saw a decline. That was because the greatest damage to the fishery occurred on the offshore grounds when large trawlers began dragging the deep water near the canyon edges where these fish winter and spawn. Let 'em spawn and they repopulate very nicely, one of the benefits of a fecund species. When the winter trawl fishery got into full swing, the first thing to show the effects was the recreational fishery because hook and line is so inefficient. Later, the small, dayboat draggers that fish nearshore in the late spring through fall felt the effects of the build up of offshore trawling. The overall commercial harvest numbers stayed high because the winter harvest, when the fish are concentrated offshore, continued in earnest and with a greater number of boats participating which sustained the harvest figures, even though catch per unit of effort (CPUE) had increased dramatically to achieve the same harvest. However, with the build up, it didn't take long before the stocks began to crash.

When the plan was drawn up, the managers at that time used a recent series of "base years" to establish the allocation ratio of the low total allowable catch (TAC) allowed and recreationals got screwed, just like they've been screwed in scup, sea bass and others. The ratio, if the base years chosen were 10 years earlier, would have been the far more representative 70% rec/30% com, and would have only sped up the rebuilding of the stocks. Now that the stocks are rebuilding at a pace nothing short of remarkable, it is extremely hard to constrain recreational harvest because such a large body of fish is present on the inshore grounds. The major reasons this rebuilding has accelerated to the pace it is at today, in my opinion, are two fold:

1) The regulatory implementation of 5-1/2 inch mesh throughout trawl nets and the corresponding 14-inch size limit, which allows almost all fluke to reach spawning age; and 2) the quarterly seasonal quota periods that allow great numbers of fluke to migrate both offshore in the fall and back inshore in the spring unmolested by the deepwater dragger fleet throughout much of the fish's range.

The overwhelming majority of fish are getting a chance to spawn at least once, and most two, three and four times. This is obvious from the expansion in the numbers of 2, 3, 4 year and older fish that assessment scientists have identified. That was unheard of just five years ago because the majority of the fish going to market, after the larger spawning stock was depleted, were overwhelmingly 12 and 13 inch, prespawn fish. Today, almost no prespawn fish are going to market, or being retained by recreational fishermen! Summer flounder are so fecund that when the majority of individuals are provided with the opportunity to spawn, even just once or twice, their stocks rebuild dramatically. If nothing but the mesh regulations with a reasonable commercial quota and quarterly commercial seasons are enforced, I am confident that the rebuilding will continue and the stocks will continue to rebound at the same remarkable pace they have in the past three years.

It's time to start relaxing the quota, not continuing to clamp down. If we do not allow fishermen to see some small degree of benefit from rebuilding and stop forcing them to throw back huge numbers of fish either as hook and release among recreational fishermen (now recognized to be just 5 to 10% mortality and not the 25% that we had been estimating for years), or as regulatory discards in the commercial fishery, fishermen will not support the system in the future. We should not be further reducing harvest, but reworking the plan to establish regulations that will allow us to manage a recovering (and soon to be recovered) fishery. If we don't learn how to do that, we're not very good managers.

Besides those comments sent to the Center for Marine Conservation, I would like to state further that if the environmental groups really wanted to make a point, they would recognize the incredible rebuilding job that has been accomplished already instead of charging ahead with a frivolous lawsuit. In the obligatory press release, which always accompanies anything these groups do, Tim Eichenberg is quoted as saying, "The summer flounder can be the success story that striped bass is if we stay the course." If Tim was really up on what is happening, he would realize that summer flounder is already the success story that striped bass is and even greater because management has accomplished in a few short years with summer flounder what it took a couple decades to accomplish with striped bass! Once management hit on the right combination of regulations for addressing the real problems, the stocks began coming back in record fashion. If they want to cite the stock rebuilding goal as it appears in he plan, they should first recognize that many people involved in the management of this species, including eminent biologists, are already questioning whether the rebuilding target is attainable under any circumstances.

The stock assessments presently being used are based on old data---the newest on water assessment is two years old. When dealing with a species with the spawning potential of summer flounder, and a curve on the virtual population analysis (VPA) stock rebuilding graph heading upwards at an incredible incline, the assessment this spring will provide some very interesting data.

If environmentalists want to throw stones at the plan, they should aim at the real culprit right now---regulatory discards. We realize that the commercial draggers are dumping what many believe are massive amounts of dead fish as bycatch, dead discards in both directed summer flounder trips and non-directed trips. Hold NMFS feet to the fire on this issue. The Sustainable Fisheries Act (SFA) requires bycatch reduction and the current plan, with the restrictive quotas, closed seasons and inability to identify the magnitude of the discarding problem, probably doesn't meet SFA requirements. We just don't have the dollars to fund the sea sampling to get a better handle on the problem, but from off the record reports from commercial dragger, skippers who have appeared at meetings, it is becoming evident that discards could be the biggest deterrent to an even more rapid rebuilding than we are already experiencing. With all the battles that really need to be fought in fisheries right now, to pick the summer flounder TAC as the battle ground really makes me wonder what some of these groups are up to. I hope it will not be the death nell of cooperation between the recreational and environmental communities. Recreational fishermen were the first marine conservationists, out there fighting the battle against a corrupt fishery management system long before many of today's environmental groups came on the scene. We can accomplish great things together, but if we become adversarial, we will only serve to cancel each other out and you know the commercial industry would love that!


First, I concur with everything Gary has stated, and I suggest everyone reread his comments because they represent an extremely penetrating perspective on how he facts of summer flounder management, and its success and failures, have distorted by some. Second, I must observe that the enviros who first signed the demand for a recreational closure last year, the wisely publicized letter to the Secretary of Commerce about how management councils "missed the boat" in attempts to meet the SFA requirements and now this lawsuit have exhibited their total disdain toward the recreational community and toward working with it. Their actions suggest just one goal to me: dominance of the management process, recreational interests be damned. To convince me it's otherwise, they must explain why they reacted as they did to June 1998 data about recreational summer flounder landings possibly being in excess of 20 million pounds when council scientist, Dr. Chris Moore, made it quite clear at a council meeting last year that landing data were too premature to draw any conclusions. They must also explain their silence after it became known that landings were actually about 12 million pounds. Admittedly an overfishing situation, but not the one previously believed. Moreover, at no time during our attempts to forge controls for the 1999 fishing season did any of the aforementioned enviros come forward with suggestions to help remedy the situation. At best, perfunctory remarks were offered at council meetings, but certainly nothing of substance.

The "missing the boat" letter is another example of bad faith. Tarring everyone with the same brush was uncalled for. Many of those who signed on know just how hard the Mid-Atlantic Council has tried to improve fishery management. Yet we're denigrated in an overall attack on the system. That's an example of cooperation and striving to find a common ground for solutions? What about our actions with dogfish and monkfish despite delaying tactics from New England? What about our resistance to factory trawler invasion? What about our refusal to increase mackerel quotas despite pressure from NMFS? What about our lowering of the squid quota? What about evidence that the recreational sector is SERIOUSLY UNDERFISHING bluefish? And why haven't those same enviros waded in on the arguments AGAINST transferring unused bluefish quota to the commercial sector, an action which occurred when amendment 1 to the bluefish plan was passed last year?

Resource concern? Interest in working with the recreational sector? Sorry, but I'm having difficulty finding evidence to support such claims. Finally, their conduct over the 14 million-pound quota is the most egregious example of singular---and sinister---intent. There's no need to repeat Gary Caputi's comments about the assessment which led to the 14 million-pound quota, but it is necessary to identify a glaring omission in the enviros actions. A representative from one of the involved groups was at the Summer Flounder Monitoring Committee in Baltimore last year prior to the December council meeting. There, she heard as we all did from Dr. Mark Taserio that the recreational hook and release mortality was 10%, not the supposed 25% used in the summer flounder plan. However, as Dr. Taserio explained, the model used to calculate flounder biomass can't handle a change in values. Thus, although Woods Hole scientists acknowledge that more fish have been left alive in the ocean and those fish have spawned even more fish, we can't calculate their numbers. That alone renders the summer flounder assessment suspect. And while no one can state with certainty what the quota would be if we were able to accurately calculate the biomass using a lower release mortality, it's logical to conclude that value would be higher than 14 million pounds. Despite this, the enviros sue for a quota which could not possibly be correct, and we're to believe this is not an overt break with not only the management community but also the recreational sector particularly?

There's more. The "missing the boat" letter decried the lack of attention to discards as mandated by the SFA amendments. Yet the signatories to that letter seemed to have overlooked what NMFS has attempted to accomplish regarding discards by separating the commercial portion of the 18.5 million pound overall quota into directed and bycatch components. I have no problem with any disagreement over that approach, but to conveniently overlook such an effort is quite another matter. Moreover, commercial fishermen have increasingly come before the council with information about significant discards, an issue we must address and will address in the summer flounder amendments under way. But at no time have any environmental representatives come forward with suggestions toward a solution to this serious problem. If they're really intent on working with us, if they're really as concerned about the resource as they claim, why haven't they channeled the energy and funds committed to letters, press releases and lawsuits into constructive cooperation? Until that happens, I cannot credit any claims about wanting to "work with the recreational community" or any attempts which are supposedly aimed at healing rifts which have occurred.

Update on Menhaden Protection Bill S722/A1827

By the time you read this newspaper, the Senate Environmental Committee will have heard S722/A1827, the Menhaden Bill. The hearing is scheduled for February 18. The results will be posted on our webpage. We anticipate this bill will be voted out of committee.

That means you need to write Senator Donald DiFrancesco and let him know we want this bill posted for a full Senate vote as soon as possible. You also need to write your local Senator and ask him or her to vote yes. We have come a long way, this is not the time to sit back and expect someone else to write the letters and make the phone calls. If you want this bill to pass, to get the reduction boat out of state waters and move the bait boats out of Raritan Bay now is the time to write your letters.

Senate President Donald T. DiFrancesco
Legislative District 22
1816 Front St., Scotch Plains, NJ 07076
Phone Number (908)-322-5500
Fax (908)-322-9347

Congressman Frank Pallone's Letter On HMS

February 3, 1999

Dr. Rebecca Lent
Chief, Highly Migratory Species Management Division
National Marine Fisheries Service
1315 East-West Highway
Silver Spring, MD 20910

Dear Dr. Lent:

I would like to express my concerns regarding the National Marine Fisheries Service (NMFS) proposed Fishery Management Plans (FMP’s) for Highly Migratory Species (HMS) and Billfish.

I realize the importance and the necessity of instituting plans to rebuild HMS and Billfish stocks. Longline bycatch has created diminished stocks which require strong, effective fishery management intervention. However, I feel that the NMFS proposed FMP’s do not protect and rebuild stocks, as mandated by the Magnuson-Stevens Act of 1996. Further, I would like to bring to your attention the clear bias in the proposals against recreational fishermen and the recreational fishing industry.

The specific proposed regulations that I find discriminatory are the draft FMP’s for large and small coastal sharks, small swordfish and billfish, yellowfin tuna, observers of HMS charter vessels, and the export of Pacific billfish in the Continental United States.

Large and small coastal sharks, small swordfish, and small billfish are overfished as a result of commercial longline gear. In the proposed plans, recreational fishermen will be excluded from landing any large or small coastal sharks. In addition, the recreational fishermen are disappointed with the short proposed area closure for the South Atlantic Bight and the West Coast of Florida. The commercial fishery is responsible for longline bycatch, however, the draft FMP’s for sharks, swordfish, and billfish do not propose regulations for the commercial industry that are comparable to the restrictions proposed for recreational fishermen.

The proposed plan for a three-fish bag limit on yellowfin tuna for recreational fishermen is also unfair. Yellowfin tuna are at a near maximum sustainable yield, and the International Commission for the Conservation of Atlantic Tunas (ICCATT) has already addressed the problem of the large take of undersized yellowfin tuna. This is another example of discriminatory action against the recreational fishing sector, with no comparable limit on commercial fishing.

The proposed alternative of observer coverage of all HMS charter fleet unnecessarily utilizes resources that could be directed at expanded longline observer coverage. The recreational fishermen are aware of the serious problems of bycatch and discards of juvenile swordfish and sharks. Observer coverage is a conservation measure that must be implemented on select charter vessels, and this type of coverage must also be extended to commercial longlines.

Lastly, I would like to bring to your attention that most billfish tournaments are catch and release only. Recreational fishermen have implemented strong Atlantic billfish conservation efforts, and to allow the sale of Pacific billfish from Hawaii in the Continental U.S. would only serve as an avenue for an Atlantic billfish black market.

Thank you for taking my concerns about the apparent discrimination towards recreational fishermen into consideration. I look forward to hearing from you soon.


Frank Pallone, Jr.

cc: Honorable Albert Gore, Jr., U.S. Vice President
Mr. Terry Garcia, Department of Commerce
Mr. Rolland Schmitten, National Marine Fisheries Service


By Ken Hinman, President

National Coalition for Marine Conservation

Have you wondered what it will take to get the National Marine Fisheries Service to do something to tame runaway longlining and restore overfished populations of billfishes, sharks and tunas to healthy levels? It takes you standing up for your fish and the future of sport fishing. And now’s the time.

The Draft Fishery Management Plans for Billfish and other Highly Migratory Species are stark evidence that NMFS is still unwilling to do the right thing. The Plans don’t do nearly enough to rebuild these overfished stocks (proposed measures for large coastal sharks being the lone exception). NMFS goes to great lengths to avoid putting badly needed restrictions on commercial longliners, who kill the vast majority of marlins, swordfish and pelagic sharks -- as bycatch. The Plans needlessly and unfairly punish recreational fishermen, who’ve voluntarily made great sacrifices to conserve these fish.

In response, the National Coalition for Marine Conservation has launched a campaign to BRING BACK THE BIG FISH!, dedicated to strengthening the NMFS plans before they are finalized later this year and to getting complementary action at the 1999 meeting of the International Commission for the Conservation of Atlantic Tunas (ICCAT).

As part of that campaign, NCMC is urging anglers to let NMFS know how they feel about the draft plans during the public comment period, which extends through March 4th. Stand up and be counted. Write letters, make phone calls, attend public hearings. Tell NMFS the future of our offshore fisheries is extremely important to you. Let them know their actions have real consequences for real people. Demand that they do their job: stop overfishing, eliminate wasteful longline bykill, and set the marlins, swordfish, tunas and sharks on the road to recovery once and for all.

NMFS Ignores Biggest Threat

Fishery Management Plans for Highly Migratory Species (tunas, swordfish and sharks) and Billfish (marlins and sailfish) were completed by NMFS last October, in response to the 1996 Sustainable Fisheries Act’s mandate to prepare recovery plans for all overfished species and adopt measures to reduce bycatch.

Although the plans do take some positive steps toward improving conservation, especially in establishing fairly aggressive rebuilding schedules for overfished stocks, the proposed plans are severely flawed in three ways that jeopardize achieving those recovery goals:

  1. they rely too heavily on uncertain international action (ICCAT) to control all sources of mortality;

  2. they fail to curb longline bykill; and,

  3. they ask recreational fishermen to do most of the conserving of marlins, sharks and tunas.

Easily, the most serious shortcoming is the fact that the draft plans contain almost no measures to minimize bykill on swordfish and tuna longlines, the greatest source of mortality for marlins, swordfish and pelagic sharks in the U.S. fisheries.

The SFA requires the U.S. to "minimize bycatch" in all fisheries. But the billfish plan doesn’t address commercial bykill at all, even though, as NMFS admits, longliners kill 85% of the blue marlin and 95% of the white marlin taken by U.S. fishermen. Instead, the plan is to reduce angler catches by an additional 30–40%, even though sport fishermen account for only a tiny fraction of total mortality and anglers voluntarily live-release up to 90% of their billfish catch.

Swordfish and shark bycatch are dealt with indirectly, by deducting dead discards from landings allowances. My organization, the National Coalition for Marine Conservation (NCMC), advocated such a policy as an incentive to reduce bycatch, since each pound of fish discarded would mean a pound that could not be landed and sold. But counting dead fish is not a substitute for measures to avoid catching them in the first place, measures recommended by NCMC and others, such as closing sensitive areas like nursery and spawning grounds, or areas with high bycatch rates, or measures to reduce mortality of accidentally-hooked fish, such as shorter lines and soak times.

Deducting discards from quotas, says NMFS, requires ICCAT approval. Measures to directly minimize bycatch, on the other hand, do not. Even though counting discards is the plan’s preferred alternative for dealing with swordfish, the U.S. delegation to ICCAT did not even raise the issue at last November’s meeting. That leaves the draft domestic plans with virtually no provisions to protect the 30,000-40,000 juvenile swordfish discarded dead each year.

Some of NCMC’s bycatch recommendations, as featured in our longline report, Ocean Roulette, are included in the draft HMS plan. Longlining would be prohibited in the Florida Straits from July to September to reduce, but only slightly (less than 5%) longline bycatch of juvenile swordfish. All other known nursery areas are left open year-round. Every longliner would be required to carry an electronic vessel monitoring system, essential to enforcing any closures. And a regulatory framework is established to add gear restrictions and additional area closures in the future. But NMFS rejects taking such action now, solely on the basis of the adverse economic impact on longliners, completely ignoring the devastating impact unregulated longlining has on other fishermen.

Blatant Bias

While the longliners get a free ride in the HMS and Billfish Plans, there is a blatant bias against recreational fishing throughout. In addition to the lopsided billfish and swordfish rules:

Sport fisheries for threatened large and small coastal sharks would become catch-and-release only, but allow commercial fishermen to continue landing and selling about 1,200 tons of these sharks every year.

A per-trip bag limit of three yellowfin tuna is recommended, but no quota is suggested for commercial fishermen, even though NMFS says they take half the catch and expects increased commercial effort to shift to tunas.

Charter boats would have to carry observers, but coverage of the longline fleet remains minimal (<5%), even though longline discards are known to be under-reported and expanded coverage of these vessels is badly needed, especially if discards are to be counted against quotas, as NMFS proposes.

In sum, the NMFS draft plans are not only unbalanced, they are inadequate to restore these overfished stocks, and must be strengthened to address the real threats to our offshore fisheries. JCAA club members are urged to contact NMFS and demand that the final FMPs for Billfish and Highly Migratory Species include the following two goals:

Rebuild swordfish, blue marlin and white marlin stocks in 10 years or less;

Reduce longline bykill of juvenile swordfish, marlin, sailfish and sharks by at least 75% from recent levels.

Urge that NMFS adopt the following measures to reduce bykill of marlin and juvenile swordfish:

Close the Florida East Coast, the eastern Gulf of Mexico and the Charleston Mound to all longlining;

Limit all longlines to a maximum length of 10 miles and a maximum soak time of 6 hours.

[For more information on helping the NCMC BRING BACK THE BIG FISH!, write to: BBBF, NCMC, 3 West Market Street, Leesburg, VA 20176.]


Dr. Rebecca Lent, Chief
Highly Migratory Species Division
National Marine Fisheries Service
1315 East West Highway
Silver Spring, MD 20910
Call (301) 713-2347
Fax (301) 713-1917
Or E-mail rebecca.lent@noaa.gov


Nothing has changed since last month. Please read the following and contact the legislators listed below.

Since our last newspaper, I spoke at the Senate Health Committee on Bill S1267 representing JCAA and the NJ Federation of Sportsmen’s Clubs and Dave Pringle represented the NJ Environmental Federation. We were the only ones speaking in support of this legislation. Speaking against the bill were the Restaurant Owners Association, the Agriculture Board, and numerous commercial fishing organizations. Fortunately,

Bill S1267 was moved out of the Senate Health Committee with vote of four to two. The Republican members all voted yes and the Democratic members all voted no. The Democratic members stated that a lack of support from the medical community influenced their vote. Since that meeting, we are gathering a list of doctors who will be available to testify in favor of this bill. In addition, we are in contact with groups representing learning disabled children and have their support.

Now goes to the Senate Budget Committee. I can’t help but wonder why this bill is headed there. This will be a more difficult committee to convince. I cannot understand why the public should not have the same information we do about health advisories. I have reprinted my testimony for you information. You need to write your senators now. If your senator is on the budget committee, write, call, fax, email and generally let him or her know how important this is. If you are aware of someone with information or personal concerns about this issue, please send their names to us. In particular, I need letters and testimony from members of the medical/scientific community.

Senate Budget and Appropriations (Bill List)

Littell, Robert E. - Chair
Inverso, Peter A. - Vice-Chair
Bucco, Anthony R.
Kavanaugh, Walter J.
Kenny, Bernard F.
Kyrillos, Joseph M.
Lipman, Wynona M.


February 4, 1999
Environmental Research Foundation
P.O. Box 5036, Annapolis, MD 21403
Fax (410) 263-8944;
E-mail: erf@rachel.org

The term "dioxin" encompasses a family of 219 different toxic chemicals, all with similar characteristics but different potencies.[1] In recent years, the International Agency for Research on Cancer (IARC), a division of the World Health Organization, has labeled the most potent dioxin, called TCDD, a known human carcinogen.[2] IARC has labeled many of the less potent dioxins "probable" human carcinogens.

Low-level exposures to dioxins are also known to interfere with the immune system, the reproductive system, the endocrine system, and the early growth and development of humans and animals.[3] In sum, dioxins are a family of powerful all-purpose poisons.

In the early 1990s, many governments, including the U.S. government, reported that everyone in the industrialized world is exposed to substantial quantities of dioxins day in and day out, thus acknowledging a humiliating failure of the world’s public health apparatus.

In 1991, the U.S. EPA [Environmental Protection Agency] with considerable fanfare announced it was undertaking a full-blown scientific re-assessment of dioxin. Nine years later, that re-assessment has now disappeared from view and may have died, a victim of politics. (See REHW #390, #391.) The big corporate dioxin dischargers are also major contributors to federal election campaigns, and the Clinton/Gore administration at this point in history seems incapable of even gumming the hand that feeds it. Furthermore, since 1994, the Republican-dominated Congress has dropped all pretense of acting independently of its corporate sponsors.

Meanwhile, a meeting of 40 scientists convened in Switzerland last May by the World Health Organization concluded that dioxin is 2 to 10 times as toxic as it had seemed in 1990,[3] and a group of German scientists concluded last April that dioxin may be responsible for 12% of human cancers in industrialized countries.[4] If this estimate were correct, it would mean dioxin is responsible for 120,000 cancers each year in the U.S. This new German estimate is at least 10 times as high as previous estimates by U.S. government scientists (see REHW #390, #391).

The good news is that the levels of dioxin in the environment have dropped as much as 50% in the last decade as governments in Europe and local activists in this country have forced industry to adopt cleaner technologies.[3] Still, many of the effects of dioxins are delayed by a decade or more, so health effects from past exposures will continue to manifest themselves for several decades.

Except as laboratory curiosities, dioxins are never intentionally produced because they have no commercial value. However, they are created as unwanted byproducts by most combustion processes; during the manufacture of many kinds of chemicals, pesticides and wood preservatives; during incineration of medical, municipal and hazardous wastes; in metal smelting; and in the manufacture of paper. An important pathway for spreading dioxins into the environment is using sewage sludge as a soil amendment or a fertilizer.

Dioxins are also present in cigarette smoke at about the same concentration found in the stack of a municipal incinerator, the difference being that no one draws the smoke from an incinerator into their lungs undiluted, or exhales incinerator flue gas into an enclosed room for others to breathe.[5]

Some dioxins are more toxic than others, and the scientific community has established a way of comparing the toxicities and the quantities of various mixtures of dioxins. The technique is called TEQ, or toxic equivalents. The TEQ system takes into account the variations in toxicity and expresses toxicity in terms of the most toxic dioxin, which is TCDD.

For example, U.S. EPA estimates that total dioxin emissions in the U.S. averaged about 3000 grams (3 kilograms, or 6.6 pounds) per year TEQ in 1995. This means that all of the dioxins released into the environment in 1995 in the U.S. had a total toxicity equal to the toxicity of 3000 grams of TCDD.[6] (EPA acknowledges considerable uncertainty in this estimate; the true average lies somewhere between 1200 grams and 7900 grams TEQ, EPA says.[6,pg.2-7])

According to EPA, the major sources of dioxins in 1995 were municipal garbage incinerators (1100 grams, 36% of the national total); medical waste incinerators (477 grams, 16%); cement kilns burning hazardous waste (153 grams, 5%); industrial coal combustion (73 grams, 2.4%); residential wood combustion (63 grams, 2%); industrial wood combustion (29 grams, 1%); diesel engines (33 grams, 1%); copper smelting (504 grams, 17%); aluminum smelting (17 grams, 0.5%); forest fires (208 grams, 7%); incineration of sewage sludge (6 grams, 0.2%); plus 375 grams (12% of the national total) spread directly into the nation’s soils in sewage sludge.[6,pg.2-13] (The total is not exactly 100% because of rounding.)

Dioxins do not dissolve readily in water, but they do in fat. Therefore, fat-containing foods tend to be contaminated with dioxins. Adults in the U.S. take in between one and 10 picograms of dioxin TEQ per kilogram of body weight per person per day (pg/kg/day).[1,3] (A kilogram is 1000 grams, or 2.2 pounds; a picogram is a trillionth of a gram and there are 28 grams in an ounce.) Eighty to 90 percent of our daily dioxin intake comes from eating milk, meat and fish.

Breast-fed infants take in 70 picograms of dioxin TEQ per kilogram of body weight per day—seven to 70 times as much as the average adult.[3] Despite this, breast-fed infants are healthier than infants fed bottled formula.

The cancer hazard from routine exposure to dioxin has recently been estimated by a group of German scientists.[4] They report that, for adults, the lifetime cancer hazard lies somewhere between one per hundred and one per thousand for each picogram of dioxin TEQ ingested per kilogram of body weight per day (pg/-kg/day) Since the daily ingestion in the U.S. ranges from one to 10 pg/kg/day, we can calculate that the cancer hazard from environmental exposure to dioxin ranges between one per thousand and 100 per thousand. The middle of this range would be 50 per thousand. Because the average person’s lifetime chance of getting cancer is now about 400 per thousand (or four in 10), we can see that routine exposure to environmental dioxins may be making a substantial (12%) contribution to the danger of cancer in this country, if the German estimate holds true. If it holds true, it qualifies as a public health disaster.

The mechanisms by which dioxin causes cancer remain poorly understood. In most studies, dioxin seems to be a powerful promoter of cancer, rather than an initiator. In other words, once a cell has been made cancer-prone by something else, dioxin may push it over the edge and turn it into a full-blown cancer. This would explain why dioxin seems to cause a general increase in many cancers among exposed populations.[2]

However, a study published during 1998 made it clear that dioxin can cause breast cancer in rats without either initiating it or promoting it in the traditional sense. As we reported earlier (REHW #630), researchers in the U.K. exposed pregnant rats to small amounts of dioxin on the 15th day of pregnancy.[7]

The female offspring of the dioxin-exposed pregnant rats were born normal, but by the time they were 7 weeks old, their mammary glands had developed an unusually high number of "terminal end buds"—the places in a breast where breast cancers develop. Four studies have shown that there is a direct correlation between the number of terminal end buds in a breast and its susceptibility to breast cancer.

The British researchers went on to expose these young rats (and a control group) to a well-known carcinogenic chemical, dimethylbenz[a]anthracene. The dioxin-exposed young rats developed many more breast cancers than did the control group.

Thus a chemical (like dioxin) that, under some circumstances, appears to protect against breast cancer may, in fact, under other circumstances, cause it.

Based on non-cancer health effects, the World Health Organization’s meeting on dioxin in May, 1998, recommended that the "tolerable daily intake" of dioxin should be between 1 and 4 picograms per kilogram of body weight per day (pg/kg/day). To reach this number, they took the lowest observed level that caused problems in laboratory animals and reduced it by a safety factor of 10. Normal practice in such circumstances would be to apply a safety factor of 100, but, according to a knowledgable source who asked not to be quoted, if the WHO group had applied a safety factor of 100 they would have been declaring much of the food supply in industrial countries dangerously contaminated, which they were reluctant to do for political reasons.

The middle of the range that they adopted—one to 4 pg/kg/day would be 2.5 pg/kg/day, 4 times as low as the World Health Organization’s 1990 recommendation, which was 10 pg/kg/day as the tolerable daily intake. Thus the tolerable daily intake recommended at the May meeting for an adult weighing 70 kg (154 pounds) would be 2.5 x 70 = 175 picograms per day, or 175 x 365 = 63,875 picograms per year.

Now that we know that a picogram of dioxin has some public health significance, we are in a better position to appreciate that 3000 grams of dioxin emitted each year by industrial sources in the U.S. is a very substantial quantity. If we multiply 3000 grams by a trillion to turn it into picograms, then divide by the U.S. population (260 million), we can see that 3000 grams of dioxin TEQ represents 11 million picograms of dioxin TEQ for each man, woman and child in the U.S. each year.

Scientists at the May, 1998, World Health Organization meeting concluded that, based on animal experiments, the following effects might be expected in humans: decreased sperm counts might be expected in humans who have a daily dioxin intake of 14 pg/kg/day; learning disabilities and endometriosis might be expected in humans with a dioxin intake of 21 pg/kg/day; suppression of the immune system might be expected in offspring of humans with an intake of 37 pg/kg/day.[3,pg.25] The May, 1998 WHO meeting "recognized that subtle effects may already occur in the general population in developed countries at current background levels, 2 to 6 pg/kg body weight. They therefore recommended that every effort should be made to reduce [dioxin] exposure to the lowest possible level," according to a statement released by the World Health Organization.[3]

All together, not very reassuring news from Europe about dioxin, we conclude.

[1] Jean A. Grassman and others, "Animal Models of Human

Response to Dioxins," ENVIRONMENTAL HEALTH PERSPECTIVES Vol. 106, Supplement 2 (April 1998), pgs. 761-775. There are 75 polychlorinated dibenzodioxins (PCDDs), the most potent of which is TCDD; plus 135 polychlorinated dibenzofurans (PCDFs), plus 9 PCBs (polychlorinated biphenyls) that are structurally similar to PCDDs and PCDFs.

[2] Douglas B. McGregor and others, "An IARC Evaluation of Polychlorinated Dibenzo-P-dioxins and Polychlorinated Dibenzofurans as Risk Factors in Human Carcinogenesis," ENVIRONMENTAL HEALTH PERSPECTIVES Vol. 106, Supplement 2 (April 1998), pgs. 755-760.

[3] "Executive Summary; Assessment of the health risk of dioxins:

re-evaluation of the Tolerable Daily Intake (TDI); WHO

Consultation, May 25-29 1998, Geneva, Switzerland." World Health Organization, WHO European Centre for Environment and Health, International Programme on Chemical Safety, Final December, 1998. This paper is marked as follows: "This report does not constitute a formal WHO publication. It should not be quoted or cited and is for personal use only!" However, see http://www.who.org/inf-pr-1998/en/pr98-45.html, a WHO press release announcing the results of the May meeting. We can send the WHO paper free as an Adobe acrobat file to anyone who requests is by E-mail. If you want the paper by U.S. mail, please send $3.00 to cover postage and handling to Rachel’s, P.O. Box 5036, Annapolis, MD 21403 with a note saying what you want.

[4] Heiko Becher, Karen Steindorf, and Dieter Flesch-Janys, "Quantitative Cancer Risk Assessment for Dioxins Using an Occupational Cohort," ENVIRONMENTAL HEALTH PERSPECTIVES Vol. 106, Supplement 2 (April 1998), pgs. 663-670.

[5] H. Muto and Y. Takizawa, "Dioxins in Cigarette Smoke,"

ARCHIVES OF ENVIRONMENTAL HEALTH Vol. 44, No. 3 (May/June 1989), pgs. 171-174.

[6] U.S. Environmental Protection Agency, THE INVENTORY OF SOURCES OF DIOXIN IN THE UNITED STATES [EPA/600/P-98/002Aa External Review Draft] (Washington, D.C.: U.S. Environmental Protection Agency, April, 1998).

[7] Nadine M. Brown and others, "Prenatal TCDD and predisposition to mammary cancer in rats," CARCINOGENESIS Vol. 19, No. 9 (1998), pgs. 1623-1629.

Descriptor terms: dioxin; who; epa; standards; tolerable daily intake; tdi; pcbs; tobacco; cigarettes; iarc; carcinogens; cancer; endometriosis; sperm counts; immunotoxins; immune system;


Mercury and dioxins are among the most potent poisons on Earth. The EPA is proposing a new strategy that retreats from previous commitments in the Clean Water Act and other laws to eliminate the poisons in our water. Please write to Administrator Browner calling for her to strengthen the strategy.

February 2, 1999

Dear Friend:

Every year over one billion pounds of toxic chemicals are released into the environment in the U.S. The most dangerous chemicals are persistent, bioaccumulative, toxic (PBT) chemicals like mercury and dioxins. These chemicals can persist for many years or decades, building to higher and higher concentrations as they are passed up the food chain, where they can poison wildlife, aquatic life, and people.

The threats from these chemicals are very real:

Mercury can cause long-term damage to the nervous systems of fetuses and young children. Forty states have issued fish consumption advisories due to mercury-contaminated fish. Mercury contamination is deadly to loons—studies have linked mercury poisoning to a massive die-off of approximately 7500 loons in the Gulf of Mexico in 1983. The risks to people also are severe—according to the EPA, up to 166,000 pregnant women are exposed to harmful levels of mercury in a given year.

Dioxins are extremely potent birth defect-causing chemicals produced by incineration of PVC plastics, and in certain manufacturing processes. Research has shown that extremely low concentrations -- 60 parts per trillion in tissue—can kill 50 percent of young lake trout.

These chemicals are so toxic and persist for so long that simply reducing their release into the environment will never be enough. The release of these chemicals must be completely eliminated. That is why NWF and our allies fought for and won zero discharge and virtual elimination policies adopted by the United States and Canada that are designed to eventually eliminate these chemicals from the environment.

But now the policies of zero discharge and virtual elimination are in danger

The U.S. EPA has published its long-awaited "Multimedia Strategy for Persistent, Bioaccumulative, and Toxic (PBT) Pollutants." The strategy takes EPA incrementally in the right direction by focusing on all pollutant sources—air, water, and land; and it is an important step in integrating EPA programs that have been fragmented and ineffective. As an effort to implement zero discharge and virtual elimination, it is worse than timid; it is actually a retreat.

The EPA strategy abandons the goal of eliminating persistent toxic substances in the Great Lakes and other watersheds, and fails to propose the most effective policy tools bans and phase-outs of chemicals needed to achieve that goal. It does so even though the EPA is bound by both the Clean Water Act and the Great Lakes Water Quality Agreement with Canada to work toward zero discharge and virtual elimination goals.

We need your help

The EPA is accepting public comments on its proposed strategy until February 16. Please write to EPA Administrator Carol Browner before Feb. 16 to urge her to develop and implement a strong PBT strategy that actually moves us toward these goals. Ask her to amend the proposed strategy in these ways:

The PBT strategy should include a zero discharge goal that ends the release of PBTs. The current EPA proposal will continue to allow significant releases.

The PBT strategy should use bans, phase-outs, and sunsetting of PBTs. The current EPA proposal relies on the existing permit system (which may reduce, but will not eliminate, PBTs).

The PBT strategy should require full enforcement and implementation of existing programs. The EPA proposal relies on inadequate programs and voluntary measures that will not get us there.

Please send your letter, with the docket control (identification) number of OPPTS-00255 at the top, to (no fax or e-mail option is available):

Carol Browner, Administrator
Environmental Protection Agency
401 M St., S.W.
Washington, DC 20460

And, if you have a chance, please send a copy to us at our Great Lakes Office:

Andy Buchsbaum, Water Quality Projects Manager
National Wildlife Federation
506 E. Liberty
Ann Arbor, MI 48104
e-mail: buchsbaum@nwf.org

Thank you for your help on this important matter. We must continue to fight for clean air, water and soil to protect wildlife, aquatic life, and the health of future generations.


Mark Van Putten

P.S. As the number of fish consumption advisories grow and as scientists learn that PBT chemicals cause health problems even in minute amounts, EPA’s Strategy won’t eliminate PBT chemicals from the environment. This is unacceptable. Our children deserve better. Please write the EPA to urge the elimination of these toxic chemicals.


[Contents] [Top]