Highly Migratory Species Report

by John T. Koegler

(from Jersey Coast Anglers Association June 2002 Newsletter)

On Monday, May 13, at the Barnegat Light Firehouse, NMFS heard comments on their proposed new rules for recreational anglers and commercial fishermen.

Commercial changes were major in that longliner’s  best swordfish area at the tail of the Grand Banks known as reporting area NED will be closed starting July 9. NMFS will close this area because of interaction with endangered specie turtles. This is the fishing area described in “The Perfect Storm” book and movie. 

There were additional changes in longline fishing methods to further reduce turtle interaction in other fishing area where turtles are not so numerous. Shark Gillnets also have new rules that reduce turtle interaction and insure that snagged turtles are released alive.

NMFS proposed five changes in their recreational rules:

  1. HMS Recreational Permit for private boats for ALL HMS species.
  2. Charter/Headboat changes- Separates commercial vs. for-hire trips.
  3. Allow category changes in season once for tuna permit categories.
  4. Recreational BFT limits will also apply to the Gulf of Mexico
  5. Charterboat/headboat limits can be different from recreational boat limits.This allows NMFS to set different bag limits for charterboat/headboat than recreational boats are permitted.

The biggest change is requiring an Atlantic HMS permit for private boat anglers for the first time to fish for sharks, swordfish and billfish. This change was made last year for charterboats/headboats. The stated purpose is to determine how many anglers boats are fishing for HMS. This has always resulted in additional limits on recreational anglers. Will this have an impact on the recreational angler’s season/bag limits for all HMS species?

 NMFS clearly explains on page 20 sections 5.2.2 of their intentions which states:

“Information collected from permit applications could be used by NMFS to monitor participation in Atlantic HMS fisheries. The vessel permit would also provide essential information for domestic recreational fishery management policy. For example, a recreational HMS permit database would provide NMFS with a sampling frame that is the basis for fleet size calculations used for catch and effort estimates in fisheries that do not require mandatory reporting. As mentioned above, permitting requirements do not have a direct ecological impact but increased information on participation, catch and effort in Atlantic HMS recreational fisheries could result in management decisions that benefit stocks.”

NMFS has in the past used “management decisions that benefit stocks” to impose new season and bag limits on anglers. NMFS data shows that US anglers have little impact on the condition of HMS stocks. The biggest affect of NMFS past regulations has been to commercialize recreational fisheries by limiting angler landings so that commercial landings could be stabilized and sustained.

NMFS transgressions on recreational anglers is getting longer and becoming galling.

A short review of past NMFS rules that have affected HMS anglers negatively include.

Bluefin tuna

Bluefin tuna was totally a recreationally fishery for over 50 years. Until 1963, when government research grants commercialized the fishery by introducing purse seine fishing to the US east coast, these government grants destroyed the angler fishery by purse seine boats that sold bluefin tuna for canning purposes.

This new commercial fishery destroyed the charterboat industry in New Jersey. This important recreational fishery was decimated. The hundreds of boats and businesses that were supported by this fishery never recovered. Later NMFS finished the job by imposing draconian rules on anglers such as the one bluefin per boat trip limit plus allocating anglers a tiny part of the US ICCAT bluefin tuna quota.

Yellowfin tuna

In a fishery where landings by anglers and commercial are about equal in tonnage, NMFS has imposed a 3 fish limit on only recreational anglers.  No commercial limits were imposed or even suggested. NMFS did this despite the Magnuson’s laws clear mandate that unilateral imposition of fish limit on only one party of a fishery is illegal.

For those who may have forgotten, NMFS proposed in 1992 to limit Yellowfin anglers to a 400 Mt. domestic quota.  Understand, this is the amount of Yellowfin tuna that is landed at one single New Jersey port like Manasquan. Nevertheless, NMFS

proposed that quota as the US recreational quota from Maine to Texas.  


A proposed rule in January 2002 proposed a one swordfish per angler boat limit per trip. No commercial trip limits were proposed or required despite NMFS data that proves beyond doubt that commercial overfishing has decimated the swordfish stocks. NMFS latest report indicates that US anglers catch less swordfish in total that ONE longline boat catches in a few trips. NMFS reports state that commercial swordfishing will end within ten years because of a stock collapse.  Despite all this documented information NMFS still wants to limit angler’s landings unilaterally.


Shark fishing was to be the savior of the commercial longline fishery. Commercials had overfished the bluefin tuna and swordfish species and were in a desperate need of an alternative species. The problem is biology.  Sharks are limited in number by their genes which allow only a few sharks to be born each year. This makes a directed shark fishery commercially unsustainable. Sharks biology does not allow enough sharks to survive to rebuild the species as fast as they are being caught. Shark fin sales to the Orient totally destroyed even none targeted sharks.

Meanwhile, anglers have been reduced from an original shark allocation of 4 sharks per trip to 2 sharks per trip and finally to one shark per trip without any shark  recovering from unsustainable commercial overfishing. Anglers who 25 years ago caught over 90% of all sharks landed now are landing less than 10% of the total landings.  Recreational industries have suffered major economic loses because there are so few sharks remaining.

NMFS has now listed a long list of shark species that are now forbidden to be landed by anyone. New quota limits on commercials have not been imposed because of lawsuits. Biologically sharks will never be able to sustain a directed commercial shark fishery. This has been biologically proven beyond any doubt. Yet, NMFS still issues permits for a directed commercial shark fishing and ignores proven shark biology as if it were fiction.


After 26 years, NMFS has been unable to get observed verified quota compliance from their fellow ICCAT member and non-member nations. How much longer must we wait before ICCAT is declared a failure? 26 years is a lifetime in many countries.

How much longer can we wait?

No other nation in the world regulates their recreational anglers and none intend to regulate their recreational fisheries. If all US HMS anglers released all the HMS they caught during the next ten years, the net benefit to the Atlantic HMS stocks would be zero. 

Only Canada and sometimes Japan of 23 member nations have observed the ICCAT rules. To make matters worse most of the international over-quota illegally caught fish in the Atlantic are imported into the United States, destroying the remaining commercial fisher’s ability to make a living

It has never been explained how unilateral US HMS conservation in ocean crossing fish can provide any benefit to US interests. The old nonsense of “leading by good example” is a totally absurd position to take and support, especially after 26 years of failure to get anyone else to follow their lead. Continuing to support such a worthless program is beyond belief.

Despite all NMFS rules, none of the important recreational HMS fisheries has recovered from commercial overfishing. Will NMFS “decisions that benefit stocks” still be imposed by NMFS on recreational anglers? Will they do this despite NMFS total failure to control international commercial overfishing of HMS?


NMFS must get international agreement and verified compliance from their other members at ICCAT. They must do this before imposing any new rules on recreational anglers that are of no value to the recovery of the HMS stocks.

Finally, NMFS must stop ignoring the laws that Congress passed and start acting like

the responsible accountable government agency that Congress and the people of the US pay for and expect.  It is clearly time for Congress to demand that NMFS follow the laws they wrote.

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