Highly Migratory Species Report
By John Koegler

(from Jersey Coast Anglers Association February 1999 Newsletter)

"Oh what a tangled web we weave, when first we do deceive".

NMFS has followed this famous saying exactly! In their proposed Highly Migratory Species (HMS) plan for tunas, sharks & swordfish, NMFS has written an outrageous farce masquerading as fishery management. The Billfish plan is similar and like HMS, uses too many pages to propose not a single item that can rebuild the billfish stocks in my lifetime. The rebuilding time for HMS is also extended to a distant future time or ignored.

Written by NMFS-HMS division these new rules propose harsh new angler rules and regulations that mirror NMFS’s bluefin tuna management fiasco. In bluefin, anglers where regulated out of their traditional and historic fishery by outrageous NMFS rules. However, commercial fishers get almost "status quo". Their new rules ignore bycatch, and dead discards plus the part they had in decimating these fisheries. Scientists agree sharks, swordfish, and tunas can no longer biologically support the current level of commercial fishing. Commercial catches exceed replacement capability of their target species, resulting in overfishing. Clearly, the proposed commercial regulations fail to comply with Magnuson/ Stevens Fisheries Act as required by law. A position totally supported by the conservation communities who oppose these proposed plans.

A new limited entry system with free transferable sellable fishing rights is backed by a government financed permit/boat buyout program for longliners that may be available after the plan is approved and the permits issued. Where’s the buyout for the charterboats, marinas, bait and tackle stores, restaurants, manufacturer’s, and marine suppliers, who will be destroyed by these plans. Where does it state, they too will receive a financial "Golden Parachute" for being forced out of their business by NMFS biased rules?

The HMS plan is so huge (over 1,000 pages) that it is impossible for most to fully comprehend its varied contents and the future implications of these proposed regulations. JCAA has responded in the only way that makes sense and rejected NMFS’s billfish and HMS plans and requested that they be withdrawn and rewritten. JCAA took this position because in the past NMFS has ignored most requested changes from recreationals. These resolutions were approved with a 100% yes vote, at the December meeting.

These three resolutions read as follows:

"The Jersey Cost Anglers Association and the NJ Federation of Sportman’s Clubs represent over 150,000 fishermen and enters these comments on their behalf. At the December 29, 1998 meeting, after members thoroughly examined the draft plans, approved the following three motions.

  1. Amendment One to the Billfish Management Plan is totally unacceptable and should be withdrawn in its entirety. Th regulatory measures listed as preferred alternatives are biased against recreational fisherman and make no attempt to reduce the major source o9f billfish mortality, commercial longlining. Until such measures can be implemented, we are unable to support any measure in this draft amendment.
  2. The MFS-HMS Fishery Management Plan for Atlantic Tunas Swordfish and Sharks is equally offensive to recreational interests in these important fisheries. For example, while there in no biological reason to suggest a recreational bag limit of three yellowfin tuna per person per trip, that is the only recommended measure to limit yellowfin mortality for either user group. The regulations relating to large coastal sharks prohibit all recreation harvest without reducing commercial landings of these critically endangered species.
  3. Swordfish measures on longline fishermen are wholly inadequate and do nothing to protect juveniles, reduce bycatch, or reduce the overall commercial quota. For these reasons and many others too long to list in this synopsis, we request the entire plan be scrapped and real efforts at conservation be initiated immediately.

  4. A resolution supporting the South Atlantic Fishery Management Councils, proposed regulations concerning the harvesting of sargassum weed, protecting it as essential fish habitat. The proposed regulations will phase out the current harvesting of sargassum in a short time frame and then prohibit all future harvest".

Signed Mark Taylor
JCAA president,
January 5,1999.

NMFS proposed plans, written to deceive, so commercial HMS fishers can continue to fish at current levels, is illegal under Magnuson/Stevens act and Congress’s mandates. Too many commercial fishermen are chasing too few fish. The commercial equipment is too good. The HMS stocks can not and will not rebuild even in the 20 or even 30-year time frame proposed by NMFS. The Magnuson/Stevens Act mandates 10 years or less.

Recreational fishermen must band together and aggressively push ahead with a total involvement in the political process. The politicians, local, state and federal must understand what the commercial HMS fishers have done to our oceans public fish resources, over the last 15 years. We want our politicians to know who caused these resource problems and who must accept the burden for rebuilding them. Recreational’s carrying the primary burden of NMFS’s proposed rebuilding plan is totally unacceptable.

Dick Weber, owner of the South Jersey marina, sent a classic letter to NMFS director, Rollie Schmitten that ends with this paragraph, has the best outline of the plans intent:

"When will HMS managers give recreational businesses and the recreational fishermen just an even break: When will they stop trying to defend the indefensible and begin the orderly elimination of high seas longlining, first in US waters, then ocean wide. And when will you and other senior administrators insist that these HMS managers adhere to policies that provide all user groups as well as the fish themselves the reasonable protection to which they are entitled? A withdrawal of Amendment 1 to the Billfish Plan and a review of other HMS policies would be a good beginning.

Enough is enough, Rollie. We’re mad as hell and we’re not going to take it anymore!"

Thank you, Dick Weber for clearly covering the issues and putting them on paper.

NMFS has scheduled two New Jersey HMS meeting for February 18/19 where they will explain the proposed HMS plan. Later, if there is time, they will listen to your comments on their proposal to eliminate you from your HMS fisheries. Bluefin Tuna proposals were left out of the HMS plan until after ICCAT. These proposals should be available before the meetings. In a move that will have a major negative impact on anglers, NMFS has included in their fillings a proposed final rule filing which would implement the preferred alternatives in the draft Plans. This means, there will be no second round of hearings or comment period to cover the proposed final rule. A second round was normal when such major changes had occurred in the past. According to NMFS Jan 15 fax notice all three meeting will take place at the same time! The notice says, the proposed final rule will be available on February 20, 1999. The public comment period will remain open for all three plans until March 4, 1999.

The first public hearing is scheduled for Thursday February 18 at the Barnegat Light firehouse in Barnegat Light on Long Beach Island, NJ at 7-10 PM. On Friday February 19 in Tom’s River at the Quality Inn on West Route #37, also at 7-10 PM. Its 1 mile west of the Garden State Parkway on the left, you must go to the next jug handle to turn around.

You must take time to write NMFS and state a position and include a copy to your congressman, senator and your governor. NMFS mailing address is;

Rebecca Lent, Chief
HMS Division (F/SF1)
1315 East Wes Highway
Silver Spring, MD. 20910
Fax – 1-301-713-0596

It’s time to take the gloves off and fight like hell to save your fishery/business or get out!

The Marine Trades Associations must get together and start raising the needed money to

sue on these proposed rules. If MTA chooses not to sue to save their businesses and future, then they must accept that these proposed regulations which will put them out of business.

See you, your friends and neighbors at the February 19 meeting in Tom’s River


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