APRIL 1, 1996



Thomas P Fote
22 Cruiser Court
Toms River NJ 08753
PH 908-270 9102 Fax 908-506-6409

Jersey Coast Anglers Association would like to thank Congressman James Saxton for holding this field hearing on bluefish in Toms River and Congressman Frank Pallone for attending this hearing. JCAA is aware that both Congressmen understand the importance of bluefish for the citizens of New Jersey.

Do bluefish play an important role in the fisheries industry of New Jersey? Absolutely yes! Just look at the statistics and you will understand that bluefish are important to the recreational and commercial fishing industries. Most saltwater anglers, as children, made their first catch on snapper blues. They were abundant, easy to catch and provided an immediate, positive reward for the child's' effort. Tackle store owners know that fishing for bluefish creates business for them. The nature of bluefishing creates the need for new lures and new tackle. Bluefish can empty an anglers' tacklebox faster than any other species. It may be frustrating to the anglers but it's certainly good for business. In the 60's, 70's and 80's, bluefishing was the bread and butter experience for the party, charter and private boat owners as well as surf fishermen. Companies such as Ultimus Lures got their start making bluefish lures. I often spent September, October and sunny November days on my boat chasing bluefish.

With the decline of the bluefish stocks in New Jersey, these industries (tackle shops, tackle manufactures, party and charter boats and marinas) have suffered economically. No other species has filled that gap. As the bluefish declined, so did these industries.

Having expressed my concern about the economic impact of a decline in the bluefish stock, let me now address the questions submitted.

What is responsible for the decline in bluefish stocks? There does not seem to be a simple answer. For some species, overfishing or a loss of habitat are clearly the reasons for a decline in the stocks. This does not seem to hold true for bluefish. The commercial fishery has remained constant since the 60's. There has been no dramatic increase in the commercial fishery to blame for the decline in the bluefish stocks. The recreational anglers dramatically increased their catch in the 60's with no restrictions and had no measurable effect on the stocks. The ten fish bag limit imposed in the early 90's did nothing to stop the collapse of the stocks. The bag limit was not imposed to preserve the stocks but implemented as a poorly conceived conservation measure. The dramatic collapse of the stocks followed rather than preceded the bag limit. I am not a scientist but I have been involved in fisheries for a long time. It takes no scientific training to realize as forage fish that feed the bluefish stock decline, the bluefish will soon decline as well. From the 60's to the 80's sand eels were in abundance, especially in the New York Bight. I could go out Barnegat Inlet and travel to Manasquan Inlet and constantly record sand eels on my chart recorder. This is no longer true. The discovery of an isolated pod of sand eels is the exception rather than the rule. These sand eels provided the fattening needed for the bluefish fall migration. Today's bluefish are described as runners, long and slender with little of the usual body fat. As a response to stress, many species decrease their reproduction. No wonder the stocks of bluefish are declining! We have theories but no definite explanation for the decreased in forage stocks. Until the forage stocks increase and the conditions improve, we must implement a management plan to insure that the spawning stock biomass of bluefish is large enough to rebuild the stocks. The heyday of the 80's may never return, but we cannot allow the stocks to fall beyond the point of recovery.

What will be the impact of eliminating the Mid-Atlantic Council from the management of bluefish? The elimination of the Mid-Atlantic Council from bluefish management would be a disaster. Public input would be curtailed severely. By comparing the records of the Mid-Atlantic Council and the Atlantic States Marine Fisheries Commission, we can clearly see that the Mid-Atlantic Council affords the citizens of New Jersey with much more access and more ability to participate in the decision making process. Last year, the Mid-Atlantic Council held two meetings in New Jersey, in Atlantic City and Long Branch. The Atlantic States Fisheries Commission has not held a meeting in New Jersey since 1988. This year's scheduled meeting in Philadelphia was relocated to Norfolk, VA. Until the ASMFC revises its meeting schedule to provide access to all states and their citizens, then we need the Mid-Atlantic Council to fill in the gaps and insure public participation.

How should the bluefish management plan be amended? We need to insure the historical split of this fishery. During the 80's the recreational sector made up over 92% of the catch. The current management plan calls for an eighty/twenty split. In practice the split has not been holding at eighty/twenty and we must manage bluefish the same way we manage fluke. We need to rely on the scientists to determine the bottom line figure for bluefish stocks so we do not slide below that figure while waiting for conditions to change. Both the commercial and recreational communities need to share the burden in a way that reflects their historical catch. We also need to consider if it is to our advantage to slow the harvest in the short term, hoping for a long term increase or a longer sustainable yield of bluefish. Science does not currently provide data to make a definitive decision. A full moratorium might not substantially increase the stocks at this time. Or, for that matter, not slow the decrease but it would cause economic disaster for the fishing industry. Any plan that will come from the Mid-Atlantic Council and ASMFC must do two things:

  1. Insure that we preserve a spawning stock biomass large enough to rebuild the stocks if the conditions are right.
  2. Protect the historic commercial/recreational split. Each community should share fairly in any sacrifice that must be made.

Remember, the original bluefish management plan was not designed to address a declining stock. It was written to protect the historical split from any new fisheries that might develop. The great fear was that any new foreign markets could devastate the stock. Any new plan must be based on different assumptions that recognize the current decline in the stock.

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