FISHERIES MANAGEMENT & LEGISLATIVE REPORT
by TOM FOTE
(from Jersey Coast Anglers Association - May 1997 Newspaper)
SUMMER FLOUNDER SCUP & SEA BASS
ATLANTIC STATES MARINE FISHERIES COMMISSION SPRING MEETING
SUMMER FLOUNDER SCUP & SEA BASS:
The state of North Carolina has a pending reduction of commercial harvest for the 1997 Summer Flounder quota to payback quota overages that have amassed in the past two years. The amount of overage amounts to approximately 1.6 million pounds. When deducted from the states 3.04 million pound commercial quota for 1997, it leaves an allowable harvest for the states commercial fluke boats of 1.44 million pounds, which North Carolina officials claim would be economically devastating for the states commercial industry.
They have put forward a payback scheme that requests they be permitted to take the necessary reductions in quota over a three year time period with reductions as follows: 1997 - 800,000 lbs.; 1998 - 400,00 lbs. plus a 22% conservation recoupment of 488,000 lbs.; 1999 - 400,000 lbs. plus a 36% conservation recoupment of 544,000 lbs. This is being asked without consideration for whether such a scheme can be justified within the framework of the Summer Flounder Plan and without regard for the impact it would have on other states commercial fishermen and on the recreational component of the fishery.
North Carolina is a state that has fought most regulation tooth and nail and many of the states fishermen flaunt the laws and regulations. There has been talk in the past of disregarding fluke landing quotas and suing the regulatory process for more quota. North Carolina already received the largest state commercial quota in the plan and has managed to overfish it by significant numbers through their own lack of reasonable trip limits. The question is, should managers permit this scheme to go through with the negative impact it will have on commercial fishermen in other states and recreational fishermen coast wide, or should North Carolina be held accountable for the overages in 1997?
North Carolina is presently suing NMFS over regulation of the weakfish fishery in the EEZ and its commercial fishermen are suing to expand the summer flounder quota through legal means in the courts of commercially friendly federal judges within their state. They continue to follow the path of resistance to management and often exhibit blatant disregard for the health of fisheries resources. The actions of North Carolina commercial fishermen do little to illicit sympathy on this issue from other states and recreational fishermen. In addition, commercial fishermen in other coastal states have shown little sympathy for North Carolinas plight, fearing it will only negatively impact their quotas and the future rebuilding of the stocks.
At the upcoming JCAA meeting, we will discuss this issue and establish a formal position. With the imposition of a 14-1/2 inches recreational size limit and with commercial fishermen claiming the fishery is rebuilt, it might be time to raise the commercial size limit to 15 inches. Commercial fishermen, speaking off the record, have expressed no problem with such an size increase because 15 inch fish bring a much better price.
Make your opinion on these subjects known at the upcoming meeting.
The ASMFC will be meeting the week of May 19 through May 23 at the Ramada Plaza Hotel-Old Town, 901 North Fairfax Street, Alexandria Virginia. The rooms are $109.50, inclusively. The ASMFC says to call and make reservations by May 2, 1997 to be assured a room at 703-683-6000. The Draft Agenda looks like this:
8:00 a.m..-.10:00 a.m. Atlantic Menhaden Management Bd.
10:00 a.m. - Noon Tautog Management Bd.
1:00 p.m. - 3:00 p.m. Habitat Committee
1:00 p.m. - 5:00 p.m. Striped Bass Advisory Panel
1:00 p.m. - 5:00 p.m. Law Enforcement Committee
3:00 p.m. - 5:00 p.m. Winter Flounder Management Bd.
8:00 a.m. - 3:00 p.m. Striped Bass Management Bd.
8:00 a.m. - 5:00 p.m. Law Enforcement Committee
1:00 p.m. - 5:00 p.m. Management and Science Committee
3:00 p.m. - 5:00 p.m. Legislators & Governors App.
May 21, 1997
8:00 a.m. - 11:00 a.m American Eel Management Board
8:00 a.m. - 11:00 a.m. Management & Science Committee
11:00 a.m. - Noon General Session
1 p.m. - 6 p.m. Atlantic Coastal Coop. Statistics Prog. C C
6:30 p.m. - 8:30 p.m. Reception
8:00 a.m. - 10:00 a.m. Advisory Committee
10:00 a.m. - Noon Training Session
1:00 p.m. - 3:00 p.m. Weakfish Management Board
3:00 p.m. - 6:00 p.m. ISFMP Policy Board
7:00 p.m. - 9:00 p.m. Legislative Committee
8:00 a.m. - 11:30 a.m. ISFMP Policy Board (cont.)
12:00 p.m. - 2:00 p.m . Executive Committee
2:00 p.m. - 3:00 p.m. Commission Business Meeting
At the May 20th ASMFC Striped Bass Meeting, we will be discussing updated VPA results and enter into preliminary discussions on the implications of this data. We are now at the point where ASMFC must tackle the problem of how it will create state by state quotas for this species. This is a scary time in the rebuilding of this fishery. NMFS proved what can be accomplished under a VPA scenario, you can literally collapse every stock in the ocean. What is the real reason ASMFC is moving to VPA stock assessments for striped bass? Does the ASMFC want to bury all the reference points we have used since the beginning of the rebuilding process so it can "start fresh" with harvest allocations that have no basis in historical data or harvest equity? Is this their attempt to hide the blatantly obvious fact that the commercial component of the fishery is harvesting at 100% or higher of their historical harvest levels while the recreational component is being held to two fish at 28 inches, nowhere near its historical harvest level!
Maybe what we should be doing is to stop wasting all this money on stock analysis and creating pie-in-the-sky VPA programs that have had highly questionable results in other fisheries, and returning to the basics. The position that JCAA has taken all along is that the recreational community should be allowed to harvest at its historical level, a minimum of 10 fish at 18 inches bay and coast wide. Until this simple equity in allocation is met, there should be no further expansion of the commercial harvest! Presently, the commercial sector in most regions is harvesting at levels approaching or exceeding 100% of their harvest levels in the base years of the original plan. Recreational fishermen are being restricted to extremely low levels of harvest compared to their participation in the fishery during the base years. This inequity can only be hidden if all references to base years harvest levels are deleted from the plan objectives and VPA is allowed to rule the allocation process.
JCAA is not asking for 10 fish at 18 inches next year. If it is at all feasible, without damaging the recovery process, we would like to see the size limits dropped to 18 inches coast and bay wide, maintaining the 2 fish bag limit until the stock is recovered to the point that the bag limit can safely be increased to a higher number, maintaining the 18 inch size and no closed seasons. But, until the stock recovery reaches these levels, additional commercial harvest increases can not be allowed to take place, further skewing the harvest ratio between the user groups making them even more inequitable than they have been made already by ASMFC management.
It was proved to us under Addendum 1 to Amendment 5, that if we do not allocate the fish that the recreational sector deserves and demands, those fish will be allocated to the commercial sector with no regard whatsoever for the overwhelming outcry to stop increasing the commercial harvest. We also know that even though allocations are made to the recreational sector, those allocations are not necessarily taken by recreational fishermen. An example of this is the "Trophy Fish" allocation for New Jersey, of which only about 5% is being taken. If allocation is made to the commercial sector, every last pound will be harvested and then some.
I have also asked Keith Walter if I could republish his article, "Cyber-Striper" that appeared in the April 4 magazine The Mariner. I felt that it would interesting to get the perspective from someone in Chesapeake Bay on actions taken at last ASMFC Striped Bass Board meeting.
Cyber-Stripers by Keith Walters
Recently, the Atlantic States Marine Fisheries Commission (ASMFC) voted to increase Marylands commercial striped bass allocation way over the 57-year (1929-1985) historic 2.3 million-pound annual catch. This makes many Maryland anglers wonder where all these "extra" giveaway fish came from. Do these stripers live only as electrons zipping around in a Maryland DNR computer, figments of fish in cyberspace? They must, because many Maryland anglers Ive spoken with have had a hard time consistently catching their limit of two 18" rock in the fall season. Unfortunately for the fish, Marylands ASMFC Commissioners, W. Peter Jensen of MD-DNR Fisheries, and Governors Appointee, William J. Goldsborough, voted to increase the largesse to Marylands commercial netters based on "science" that eminated from a MD-DNR computer program which has not been peer-reviewed or even submitted to the ASMFCs Technical Committee. Remember, a MD-DNR computer predicted, when the striper fishery reopened in October, 1990, that: "Average 2.5-pound stripers would be caught by 5,000 anglers, allowing 30 days of fishing." Instead, 20,000 anglers caught average-size rock of 6.5 pounds, so the season was closed after only nine days! One might hope the computer model has been improved since 1990, but Maryland anglers are still skeptical. They remember the last striper crash in the early 1980s.
In the 1960s and 1970s, daily sport catches of 25, 50, or more rock were not unusual - at a time when commercials netted about the same poundage as they are allowed now. What has happened to the commercial-sport ratio of 50-50? Has dubious computerology been used to get commercial netters back to 100 percent of their "historic" fishery, while keeping recreational anglers at 10 to 20 percent? Last falls striper season, many excellent anglers were skunked. A few smart-asses at striped bass hearings sneered at concerned anglers: "You just dont know how to fish!" At those hearings, and in letters to the ASMFC about increasing Marylands commercial netters allocation, 97 percent of anglers were in favor of Option #1, which would have kept the 1997 Maryland striper fishery at 1996 levels. Options #2 and #3 allowed for various fishery increases.
Chesapeake angling associations like MSSA and CCA MD were unanimously opposed to any increase. Coastal anglers organizations from Maine to North Carolina, plus recreational boating and sport fishing industry reps wrote in support of conservation. Letters and postcards from concerned anglers poured into ASMFC offices opposing any increase, supporting Option #1. But, instead of listening to their constituents, Marylands ASMFC Commissioners voted, along with other coastal representatives, for a modified Option #2, which granted an increase to Marylands commercial netters, and a possible 20-day extension of the recreational season.
Why did the commissioners ignore conservation and overwhelming citizen support for Option #1 and vote for a commercial increase? "The science supports an increased harvest," scientists say. So, anglers whose percentage of keepers has not been all that good have a hard time believing in the "science" that allows Marylands commercial netters a huge increase. In the Choptank River last fall, anyone listening to anglers on the VHF radio knew you had to sort through 20-30 undersized rock before you caught an 18" keeper. Chummers in the main Bay did slightly better, though there was much moaning and groaning on the radio from chummers, too.
In several rockfishing seminars I gave last winter, I asked those present how many caught their limit of stripers "most of the time." Only one chap raised his hand. Everyone looked at him, skepticism plainly visible on their faces. After some questioning, I felt he didnt understand my question. If Marylands commercial netters need additional allocation, and the MD-DNR computer says there are "many fish out there," why, then, have the Natural Resources police (NRP) found so much anchored (illegal), unmarked (illegal), monofilament (illegal), unattended (illegal), fished-all-night (illegal) gill net recently? Is all this extra (illegal) fishing necessary to catch a netters limit? Do they need to set more net to catch their allocation, meaning there is a scarcity of rockfish? Or are they deliberately and greedily over-harvesting, working toward another crash? Have the numbers of loons, diving ducks, and striper by-kill been recorded? If so, the timing was right to submit a net ban bill to the Maryland Legislature. The MSSA and CCA MD are strangely silent about this illegal netting - and about the tremendous job Marylands Natural Resources Police (NRP) are doing. Some say the poachers are afraid to go out and recover their illegal net, since the NRP is watching the poachers day and night. Sadly, all unrecovered anchored monofilament gill net is already "ghost net" that will keep on killing and wasting rockfish, diving ducks, and loons.
If stripers are that plentiful, really "recovered," why dont Marylands sport anglers have at the very least a 16" minimum size and a five-to-10-fish creel limit? In the 1960s and 1970s we had a 12" minimum, no creel limit, and we could keep one fish over 32" a day (except in spawning season). Now, THAT was a recovered fishery! Catches of 25-50 or more stripers were common, and there were enough rockfish out there to support that much sport harvest. Do these recently "recovered" stripers exist only in the bowels of computers run by bureaucrats who dont fish? Do ASMFC Commissioners vote based on Cyber-Striper "science" or real fish? What motivates ASMFCs anti-conservation votes? Politics? Are thousands of sport anglers wrong about not catching their limits of "real" keeper rock? Fishery managers bear watching: "Remember," says Gene Mueller, Outdoors Editor of the Washington Times, "striped bass were netted almost into oblivion in Chesapeake Bay under the watchful eye of the same people who are managing the fishery now!"
1998 will be a bellwether year in the management of bluefish and JCAA desperately needs to assemble a team of interested persons to staff a bluefish committee if we want to see a viable recreational fishery for this species continued. We have had offers from New Jerseys Mid-Atlantic Council members and ASMFC Members to sit down and work with them on this plan, but it will proceed with or without our participation. We can not sit back and do nothing. Bluefish are far too important to recreational fishermen in New Jersey and along the entire coast. Do you want to see a size limit on bluefish? Do you want to see a bag limit reduction to one or two fish? It can happen in 1998 unless we take the process seriously and get involved.
Sandy Hook Bay Anglers and the Hi-Mar Striper Club have shown us all what two dedicated groups of fishermen can accomplish with their efforts on the menhaden issue. We need similar action by a group of clubs to get this committee back on track. Please contact Tom Fote (908-270-9102) or Frank Richetti (908-477-3120) to get involved.
JCAA is publishing Congressmen Jim Saxton and Frank Pallones letters to NMFS on the latest allocation of the total allowable catch of Atlantic Bluefin Tuna to three purse seiners in this issue of the JCAA Newspaper. It is refreshing to read position letters from congressmen that agree with our stance on the blatant allocation bias shown to this user group that has been enriching themselves with the help of NMFS for years. Once again, New Jersey has taken a lead in this issue, both by the advocacy groups in the state and our congressional delegation. What you need to do is get your congressmen onboard for this important allocation battle. Call their offices and demand they write the same type of letter to Rollie Schmitten at NMFS and to Secretary Daley at the Department of Commerce.
We can win this battle if we can get every congressional delegation on board from North Carolina through Maine. There will be certain congressmen and senators who have enriched their re-election campaigns with funds from these purse seiners who will not support such actions, but they will be obvious by their stance. They are a small, but vocal minority and their influence in these matters can be overcome. There will be hearings on the proposed quota specifications as listed below:
Any comments sent regarding these hearings are due no later than May 16, 1997.
Letter to Rolland Schmitten from Jim Saxton:
April 16, 1997
Mr. Rolland Schmitten
National Marine Fisheries Service
Silver Spring, Maryland 20910
The proposed rule for the Atlantic Bluefin Tuna (ABT) fisheries quota is unacceptable for two reasons. First, I repeatedly have shared with you my view of the purse seining quota. I remain concerned about the seeming lack of equity among the various user groups, in particular regarding the purse seiners eighteen percent of the total allowable catch (TAC). There are five boats with three owners enriching themselves with eighteen percent of the total U.S. allocation. This is a misuse of a valuable U.S. marine resource.
The NMFS position becomes even more untenable when we look at the precipitous decline in ABT over the last twenty years. ICCATs own scientists have confirmed that ABT are at thirteen percent of the mid-1970s levels. With this small amount of remaining resource, to allow one small group such a huge percentage of this fish is folly.
I appreciate that the agency is concerned about the possibility of a lawsuit by the purse seiners. I also understand that under the Magnuson-Stevens Act, the NMFS is required to establish advisory panels comprised of fishermen and interested parties on particular species of fish. I can empathize that NMFS would like the panels to have their views known on the quota issue, and perhaps take the tough decisions out of NMFS hands. But the fact remains that NMFS is responsible for the survival and subsequent allocation of highly migratory species and should be taking the lead on the conservation of ABT.
Please consider the agencys responsibilities to the resource when NMFS Highly Migratory Species drafts the final rule
Jim Saxton, Chairman
Fisheries Conservation, Wildlife
And Oceans Subcommittee
Letter to Rolland Shmitten from Frank Pallone:
April 18, 1997
Mr. Rolland A. Schmitten
National Marine Fisheries Service
1335 East-West Highway
Silver Spring, MD 209410
Dear Mr. Schmitten:
I am writing to urge you to reconsider National Marine Fisheries Service (NMFS) proposed allocation for the Purse Seine Category and reduce the proposed allocation by 50% for the 1997 Atlantic bluefin tuna fishery.
As you may recall, I recently wrote to you in support of a 50% reduction in the Purse Seine Category. In my letter, I stressed the necessity of achieving a more equitable distribution of this resource. Currently, the purse seine fleet consists of five vessels and three permit holders, yet its allocation represents over 20% of the U.S. domestic quota.
I am concerned over NMFS apparent failure to adequately consider the needs of other user groups, such as the Angling and the General categories, that have thousands of vessels and permit holders. For many of these user groups, participation has increased and members of these communities are subject to frequent closures due to the limited access to these stocks.
As I had also pointed out in my previous letter, the basis for the Atlantic bluefin tuna annual quota is scientific monitoring. To that end, I am pleased to see that proposed rules have strong data collection requirements. However, I fail to see how maintaining the purse seine allocation at the current levels will assist you in this endeavor. Purse seining only provides a narrow range of scientific information in comparison to the other gear types. On the contrary, gears such as hook and line and handline provide broader scientific data for a greater geographic area with stronger data on size and age distribution and age frequency.
For these reasons, I believe that there is strong public support for reducing the purse seine allocation. Before NMFS takes final action on these rules, I again urge you to rescind the tuna permit fee. This fee acts as an impediment to the marginal recreational tuna angler. Tuna is a valuable resource to the recreational community and should be made accessible to those who wish to enjoy recreational angling.
I thank you for taking my concerns into consideration.
Frank Pallone, Jr.
Member of Congress
There is a problem with the expanding fishery for elvers, the young American eels that are found in coastal rivers, streams and ponds, which are being harvested with no regard or even understanding for the potential damage that is being done. This fishery is one of the least understood and the ASMFC has admitted that they have almost no scientific data on this species. JCAA realized that there would be a problem if this fishery was allowed to continue and expand and went to the New Jersey Marine Fishery Council asking for a six inch size limit on the harvest of eels. To date, the Council has refused to act and the state has done nothing to put a lid on this uncontrolled harvest.
There have been horror stories from states where this fishery was out of control and where it has since been shut. I went to the NJ Marine Fisheries Council asking them to not allow this fishery to even exist in New Jersey because serious problems were pending. That was three years ago. As usual, this ineffectual body did nothing, ignoring the problems in their early stages, allowing them to become big problems down the line. In this newspaper, you will read my congressional testimony on the problems with the overharvest of forage species. The only reason you wont read a lot about elvers in this statement was I was directed to cover specific species. New Jersey has become the hotbed of illegal sales of elvers from other states, where black market harvesters catch them illegally and bring them to New Jersey to sell. There have been shots fired by unsavory characters coming to New Jersey from other states where the fishery was prudently closed, but they buy permits here and continue the activity with the full blessing of our Marine Fishery Council and the Division of Fish & Game. This must be stopped and stopped NOW!
Watching the news on Channel Six on this issue, the elver fishermen being interviewed stated, "this is better and easier than selling drugs!" At $300 per pound, the money made is a quick buck for people who are not traditional commercial fishermen and who have no concern for the resource whatsoever. Its time to bring it to an end and see just how much damage has been done to the American eel stocks already. Call your state legislators today.
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