Highly Migratory Species Report

by John T. Koegler

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(from Jersey Coast Anglers Association January 2005 Newsletter)

In November, ICCAT had their annual meeting in New Orleans, USA. This is the first time this international meeting was held in the USA. An important item that was part of this meeting is the following:

International Shark Management.

Vice-Admiral Conrad Lautenbacher held a press conference on Monday November 15 to announce that the US is calling for the international management of Atlantic sharks. The press release continues:

Sharks are apex predators that are vital to ocean ecosystems, but they are also vulnerable to overfishing because of their low reproductive capacity. The US has already adopted measures to prevent overfishing and rebuild overfishing shark populations. However, a major hurdle in managing sharks for sustainability in US wasters is the lack of a comprehensive global approach for the conservation of these hared resources. Since sharks are highly migratory species, the effectiveness of conservation actions taken in the US depends on cooperation of other fishing nations that share access to these stocks.

Other important issues were considered at ICCAT including the integrated management of bluefin tuna, and measures that continue to address illegal, unreported and unregulated HMS fishing.

I fully support such actions. Sad past experience with ICCAT management leaves such a move by US very questionable. NMFS will further restrict US fishers while getting only lip service, not management from the other ICCAT nations.

The US under ICCAT has managed bluefin tuna in the US since 1976. As of 2003, only Canada and Japan have observed their ICCAT Quota or followed the conservation measures mandated for the other tunas, swordfish and marlins. All the European and African states have totally failed to observe their quota and have totally ignored their management obligations. Since the US managers have had 28 years to get the other ICCAT members to observe their ICCAT management obligations, what good is accomplished by giving ICCAT another species to non-manage?

NMFS HMS management impact on US fishermen has been horrific. Giant bluefin tuna fishing, a long time major fall fishery for North Jersey anglers, is non-existent today. New England’s giant Bluefin tuna fishing for only the second time in the history of this fishery since 1983 has failed to land the full US General Category quota. They landed only 220 MT of their 660 MT quota allocation.

At the same time Farmed Bluefin tuna in the Mediterranean Sea has exploded. The countries catching and farming these fish have refused to acknowledge that US conservation of bluefin has supported their overfishing. Pop-up and recovered internal tags have proven beyond all doubt that our conserved bluefin swim to the Western Europe and spawn and are landed in the Mediterranean Sea. Yet, other member nations ICCAT representatives have prevented this fact from becoming part of ICCAT management since 1976. What a totally worthless organization ICCAT is!

New Import/Export Rules

It has become all too obvious that many US conserved tuna, swordfish and marlins are being imported into the US and sold to the very people who had been restricted in their harvest of these same fish.

NMFS after many years of avoiding the issue has finally set rules in place to control the import, export or re-export of any fish into or from the US under ICCAT regulation. Their November 5, 2004 announcement says:

The final rule establishes the HMS international trade permits (HMS-ITP) to improve administration of HMS management programs. This permit is necessary for all dealers involved in international trade of covered HMS species. Bluefin tuna and swordfish trade are currently covered by other permits and these activities would be consolidated with the HMS ITP. The final rule also requires that trade-tracking statistical documents accompany all imports and/or exports of HMS fish. A re-export certificate is required for re-exports of these species and has been added to the existing bluefin tuna statistical document program. Export and re-export documentation must be validated.

These regulations will become effective on July 1, 2005.


Bluefin Tuna Season Closes and Then Reopens

NMFS announces that effective 11.30 PM on November 19, 2004 the Atlantic Bluefin tuna season for general and angling categories will end in all areas.

On December 8, 2004 NMFS announced that General and Angling Bluefin tuna fisheries will both reopen on December 8, 2004. The General Category has a remaining quota of 107 MT. This category will close on December 20. The Angling category will remain open until December 31 with a limit of 1 fish per vessel/day/trip measuring 47” to 73”. Angler School bluefin tuna under 47” will remain closed and must be released.

Currently there are many large schools of giant bluefin tuna (over 400 lbs) in the Morehead City area of North Carolina.

The value of the General Category fishery has sharply dropped in the last two years. The Mediterranean fishers have opened a large number of bluefin tuna farming areas. In large net type pens Giants are fed daily to make them available to the Japan market as prime bluefin tuna in December and January. The impact on world prices has been dramatic. Previously, US fall-caught fish in the fall were prime fish and always brought over $12.00 per pound wholesale. Many super prime fish brought over $20.00 per pound.

Recreational Bluefin tuna landing estimates

Angling Category catch estimates for the previous two years, 2002 and 2003, were announced at the October ICCAT advisory meeting. NMFS estimates from the Large Pelagic Survey (LPS) was the program used for these estimates. Landings by Maryland and North Carolina where all bluefin tuna are hard counted prove that NMFS survey estimates were too high.

NMFS continued to have the state hard count the angler bluefin landings while they continued making their LPS based estimates. North Carolina landings estimates by LPS were 50% too high. Maryland landings were even worse at nearly 60% too high.

NMFS has contended that the state hard count survey did not count all the bluefin landed in the state. In Maryland they estimated that 10% of angler landed bluefin tuna were not counted. Over 90% of the fish landed are closely monitored at marinas and docks in one small area. Maryland believes that their count in this area is 100% accurate. For none of the other 10% to not report anything is highly unlikely.

North Carolina has a trip ticket system that hard counts all recreational HMS fish landed. They believe their system to be accurate. They state that all recreational HMS fish are counted and species identified. All bluefin tuna has a recorded size on the completed trip ticket.

To Dr. Hogarth’s credit, he has arranged for the National Academy of Science to review NMFS survey methodology and survey mechanics used in the recreational HMS fishery. A separate issue has also surfaced about measurement employed by LPS interviewers. It is reported that NMFS weight estimates were never revised in 1995 and continued to use straight line measurement as the basis for weight calculations.

NMFS recreational rules published for the last 7 years have required curved fork length measurements. Such a glitz would over estimate the weight of the angler bluefin tuna landings. It is estimated that such an estimating error would increase angler landings weight by about 17%.

Who knows where we go from here. Clearly, NMFS recreational estimates are currently much higher than actual landings. NJ fishermen have told NMFS that their landing estimates are too high. Especially, since 1995 when NMFS changed their math formula used to estimate total angler landings. This change made in 1995 increased anglers’ season’s landings by 100% in a single week. But despite several meetings in 1995 and 1996, NMFS has refused to go back to the previous math formula. They have dismissed angler objections by stating the new formula has a high bias and is more accurate.

Since ICCAT does not work, and the European and African countries continue to file grossly false reports, it has been proven that 100’s of tons are underreported by most countries every year. In fact for 2002 landings, the European Union countries stopped reporting their landings of age “0” bluefin. This fishery had accounted for over 50% of their reported bluefin tuna landings for many years. They now claim they have stopped fishing for these small fish, despite this size bluefin being sold in all local fish markets.

What does NMFS accomplish by bashing anglers for small amounts of over estimated bluefin tuna landings? Especially, since none of the other ICCAT member countries report any angler landings of bluefin tuna. In fact, most have previously stated they do not intend to ever report angler landings. Since ICCAT rules are self imposed, why does NMFS continue to report angler landings when no other country reports their angler HMS landings?

Have a joyous Christmas and a Happy and Healthy New Year.

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