Highly Migratory Species Report

by John Keogler

(from Jersey Coast Anglers Association April 2008 Newsletter)


SMFC Proposed Shark Management Plan

ASMFC received a letter in May of 2005 requesting that they begin the development of an interstate FMP for Atlantic Coastal Sharks. NMFS stated they believed that coordinated state management is a vital step towards establishing healthy self-sustaining populations of Atlantic coastal sharks by eliminating enforcement concerns at the federal and state levels.

On Tuesday, March 4, 2008 a NJ meeting was held to review ASMFC new shark plan. It was presented by Chris Vonderweidt of ASMFC. He was supported by two NJMFC staffers. This meeting was a marked improvement over previous fishery meetings. They presented a list of choices being considered by the FMP. They gave all attending a vote on the items presented from the Coastal species shark plan. They covered recreational issues first and reviewed the choices for:

Fishing season: All present voted for January 1 to Dec 31.

Permitted recreational species: All present voted for.

Recreational anglers are prohibited from targeting or retaining any shark species that are illegal to land by recreational fishermen in federal waters. As federal recreationally prohibited shark species changes, recreationally prohibited shark species in state waters change at the same time without Board action. (The issue of what targeting was unclear)

Fork Length: Voted for option B greater than 4.5 feet but should have voted for A. That proposed 4.5 feet with no size limit for bonnethead or Atlantic sharpnose or smooth dogfish.

Possession limits should be the same for state or federal waters.

Permitted are one LCS, SCS, or pelagic shark per boat trip, plus one bonnethead, one sharpnose and one smooth dogfish shark per day per angler. It was stated that the land-based anglers and boat limits should be the same. Most at the meeting felt that a shore-based angler should be limited to one non-prohibited shark per day.

NMFS and ASMFC list sharks using FOUR species groupings.

Prohibited sharks: 19 species

To protect rarely caught shark species from directed commercial fishery, the NMFS classified them as protected. This list has grown to 19 species, leaving only 20 species that are legal!

Large Coastal sharks: 11 species

NMFS wants anglers prohibited from landing sandbar sharks. Their reason is the Dusky and Sandbar look similar in the water and anglers might land dusky sharks which have had their numbers sharply reduced by commercial shark overfishing.

Small Coastal sharks: 4 species, all southern.

Pelagic sharks: 5 species

The state commercial shark fishery would be greatly impacted by the new rules. This took 50% of the meeting because there were so many issues. Seventeen items were discussed. This new proposal applies federal rules to state waters. This makes a major difference to southern fishers who harvest most of the commercially sold sharks.

NMFS had a major problem with southern dealers/fishermen who had been reporting 50 % of their sharks sold as unclassified. This made Gulf of Mexico shark management useless. After several years with little results, NMFS finally chose to count all unclassified sharks as Sandbar sharks regardless of what species they might have been.

Southern commercial fishermen wanted to keep their season open and not report the sandbar species which represents over 70% of their sharks sold. This finally became effective in 2007. The result was the Gulf of Mexico shark fishermen went 300% over their first trimester LCS quota.

Sharks value is not in the shark’s meat but in their fins. Fins are exported to Asia where shark-fin soup is a great delicacy. Shark fins bring big dollars. Most LCS and Pelagic shark’s meat sells for less than $1.00 per pound, while their fins sell for up to $20.00 per pound.

There were three different copies of the proposed new plan. One was the discussed issue package which was 21 pages long. This was a great improvement from other fishery meetings and covered only the issues where there was a choice. Then there was the 175 page version and finally the 350+ page complete version which covered all finite details.

During the 1990’s, Shark finning had become a hot button issue with environmentalists. On Dec. 21, 2000 President Clinton signed the Shark Fining Prohibition Act into law. NMFS imposed their final regulations on February 11, 2002.

This caused me to question what was the big deal with shark management? Any directed commercial shark is/or should be illegal under National standard #1 of The Magnuson Act, which states that fisheries must be “sustainable.” Sharks have very limited reproduction because of the limits caused by live births. This means sharks can never support a sustainable directed commercial fishery.

Fishery scientist’s world-wide have documented that ALL directed commercial fisheries have always collapsed regardless of the shark species studied.

Should NMFS be allowed to ignore this issue? Environmentalists have yet to take NMFS to court for a shark species ruling that will save all sharks.

NMFS informs us that observed shark fishing trips are less than 5% of the total commercial shark fishing trips. The observed trips, catches and landings are reported in the Shark FMP for the period of May 1992 to December 2000.

In the report under Pelagic Longline Gear: Of the pelagic sharks observed caught in this fishery, the following were observed as dead: 3,647 blue sharks, 492 mako, 155 Mako ssp, etc. These statistics represent 15.9 percent of all blue sharks, 30.3 percent of all shortfin Mako and 28% percent of all Longfin Mako, etc. of the total observed pelagic catch.

Putting numbers to the observed trips provides some mind-blowing data:

The number of dead blue shark is 15.9% of the total catch. So the total catch is 3,647 X 84.1% = 306,348 blue shark observed caught on less than 5% of total shark trips. To estimate the total number of sharks caught on all trips: 306,348 blue sharks X 95% of the trips = 29,103,060 blue sharks estimated caught over 9 years. Are there that many sharks in the ocean?

Is this why shark finning was banned? Clearly, this document explains why a formerly great recreational shark fishery has disappeared over the last 15 years.

The explosion of the North Carolina winter Bluefin tuna fishery caused environmentalists to pay divers in 2004 and 2005 to explore local wrecks where many giant bluefin were caught. They wanted to determine if this fisherie’s live releases had caused an increase in dead bluefin. Their assumption was the released bluefin were exhausted by their battle on rod and reel and could die from their exhausting struggle. The divers only found dead finned sharks around the wrecks, NO bluefin tuna. Little was made of this report despite the fact that NMFS new shark regulations were final on February 2002. These rules prohibited the landing of any sharks without fins or fins without sharks. I guess rules for NC shark fishermen are different from other commercial shark fishermen.

It is an outrage that so much time and effort and taxpayer money is spent on a commercial fishery that under the Magnuson Act rules appears totally and absolutely illegal. Consider that the cost of regulation of this directed commercial fishery appears to exceed the dockside value of their landings by many times. But then whoever said government regulations make common sense?

This ASMFC report contained several other commercial fishing gems. Have they been ignored because of political pressure? Have they been swept under the regulation rug to avoid closing this fishery?

1 - Under the Marine Mammal Protection Act, the western North Atlantic coastal bottle nose dolphin is listed as depleted.

This stock is designated as depleted under the MMPA due to mortality caused during the 1987-88 die-offs and high incidental commercial fishing related mortality relative to PBR. Mortality numbers supporting this statement are missing! I am sure they can be found somewhere but not in my copy of the proposed new regulations.

2 - A Biological Opinion competed on June 14, 2001 found that the action of the pelagic longline fishery jeopardized the continued existence of loggerhead and leather back sea turtles.

It was stated that: all sea turtle are believed to be under population stress and are having difficultly rebuilding a sustainable breeding population.

A NEW BiOp for the Atlantic pelagic longline fishery was competed on June 1, 2004. This BiOp concluded the long-term continued operation of the Atlantic pelagic longline fishery was not likely to jeopardize the continued existence of loggerhead and other turtles but was likely to jeopardize the continued existence of leatherback sea turtles. How can this be legal?

Would any new FMP be complete without a parting shot from regulators directed at recreational fishing?

NMFS included the following statement in section which was titled Hook & Line. “Sea turtles have also been caught on recreational hook and line gear. For example, from May 24 to June 21 2003, five live Kemp’s Ridleys were reported being taken by recreational fishermen on the Little Island Fishing Pier near the mouth of the Chesapeake Bay. Many other similar anecdotal reports exist.” Anecdotal reports from recreational fishermen at fishery management meetings are always discounted and usually ignored. But what is a good story worth if all the facts are not reported!



Recreational anglers continue to learn how to hook and then land swordfish both day and night. There was a quality article story in the March issue of Sport Fishing magazine. A beautiful 363 pound sword is displayed on their cover page. Daiwa Dendoh gold reels have carefully integrated electric motors into this reel. I loved the reel but their $2,500 price changed my mind. There was also a recent article in Saltwater Sportsman about daytime Key West sword fishing.

Swordfish are difficult to land after hooking because they have soft mouth tissue. This means if the standard tuna drags settings are used, the hook quickly pulls out. This now older swordfish population has more fish over 200 pounds. It takes a light drag and careful attention to detail to keep them hooked. More anglers are treating swords like Marlin and releasing them alive.

I was on a swordfish trip several years ago when a 250 pound sword was near the boat but could not be coaxed close enough to gaff. I solved this problem by grabbing the leader and with the captain’s expert boat handling quickly guided that sword through the open tuna door into the cockpit. As I sat on the cabin steps holding the bill, that sword lit up. He kept working his bill closer to me even though I had retreated all the way into the cabin. I was holding onto that bill in shear terror. It took more than an hour to get my blood pressure under 180. They are one tough fish! I will never have such a problem again! I will turn all my future live swords over to Homeland Security.


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