Highly Migratory Species Report
by John T. Koegler
(from Jersey Coast Anglers Association June 2005 Newsletter)
NOAA Fisheries Bad Management
NOAA through NMFS has proposed major changes in HMS fisheries management. The key issue is combining the billfish advisory panel with the tuna advisory panel as one body. The big problem is billfish are strictly a recreational fish and the tuna advisory panel has an overwhelming commercial majority.
However, this is not the major problem. Years ago billfish in US waters were determined to be very valuable to recreational fishers. As a result of this determination marlins were reserved exclusively for recreational use and harvest. This key wording for billfish management is missing from their new proposal. This has nothing to do with the concept of combining the two panels. So, in effect, NMFS fisheries is rewriting the US fisheries management law and removing recreational exclusive rights to marlins.
No one has yet to take on NOAA and NMFS in their illegal management of all US fisheries. Federal law requires that all federal agencies allocate the public’s resources fair and equitable for the good of the resource and citizens of the US. NOAA does not do the economic studies required to look at the impacts the HMS Regulations have on recreational angling. This becomes evident in the way they manage bluefin tuna for the commercial fishery and not for the largest number of permit holders, the recreational sector. The recreational sector has the greater economic importance in the HMS management but for the most part is ignored and shortchanged. How come NOAA and NFMS does not observe US Federal law?
Longline Experimental Fishing Exemptions
Last November NMFS sent a notice about issuing Exempted Fishing Permits and asked for comments. On March 30, 2005 NMFS issued a longline Exempted Fishing Permit (EFP) proposal of 131 pages that was a real shocker.
Six operators of longline vessels requested EFP to conduct bycatch reduction research in the Atlantic and Gulf of Mexico. The primary purpose of this research was to determine if gear modifications or various techniques can be found to avoid incidentally caught marlin, bluefin tuna and sea turtles while allowing for the targeted catches of allowed species.
NMFS explained the longliners proposed research grant as, “In order to conclusively demonstrate the effectiveness of gear modification, in the shortest time frame, it is necessary to test bycatch reduction measures in those areas where pelagic longlines are most likely to encounter the bycatch species of concern (i.e., juvenile HMS). As such, it is necessary to conduct comparisons experiments both inside and outside existing closed areas. Restricted access to existing closed areas has been proposed by the applicants as terms and conditions of the proposed research activities in order to minimize or eliminate the potential for gear and/or fishing grounds conflicts. If authorized, this research would begin in 2005 and extend into 2006. The research may benefit all interested parties by providing fishery managers with additional gear modifications and/or fishing techniques that reduce or avoid incidental capture/bycatch mortality of highly migratory species in the research areas as proposed above.”
Don’t you just love it! The inmates are running the asylum, writing the rules and getting paid besides.
In 2000 NMFS determined that the east coast of Florida, a part of the Gulf of Mexico known as the Desoto Canyon areas, had such large catches of undersized swordfish, plus marlins, sailfish and other undersized fish that continued longlining in these areas would prevent any of these species from ever rebuilding their numbers under the current fishery management plans if longlining was allowed to continue in these areas. NFMS then closed these areas in 2001 to longline fishing to comply with their own fishery management plans. P/S-Environmental groups had written NMFS that they would go to court if NMFS failed to follow their own law.
The longliners proposed two boats would make 100 sets of 750 hooks per set in the Desoto Canyon (closed Area). Another two longline vessels would work the Florida East Coast (closed area) and the South Atlantic Bight (seasonally closed area) with 50 sets of 556 hooks per set with a maximum of 12 sets in the Florida east coast closed area. The final two boats would make 50 sets in the NE coastal area using 680 hooks per set. It does not state if the two NE boats would be allowed to fish the closed bluefin tuna area in June.
What has been proposed? Longliners are to be paid with a NMFS research grant to fish. Longliners are allowed to keep and sell all the legal fish they catch. In addition, they are to bring to the dock all their illegal fish (undersized) for research purposes and donate them to charity. If you count the hooks authorized for this NMFS research grant that number is 116,000 hooks.
I could not find the amount of money to be paid by NMFS research grant for this study. Last year NMFS proposal was to pay longline boats $3,000,000. for similar research.
NMFS written decision on the longliners requested actions published on May 3 was:
“Bycatch reduction information will be gathered via research efforts conducted outside of closed areas, consistent with a NMFS issued cooperative research grant. Further consideration of bycatch reduction research inside of closed areas may occur upon completion of an EIS (Environmental Impact Study).”
Last year a shocking proposal by the Pew Foundations Ocean Study Commission recommended that NMFS fishery management divisions be eliminated and all their management authority be transferred. The Pew study determined that NFMS management divisions often failed to observe the rules in their own fishery management plans. Congressional mandates in the Magnuson/Stevens Act were often ignored. The Pew report concluded that NMFS management divisions were totally inept or worse.
Consider NMFS recent management choices:
In the Dolphin Wahoo plan, the two most important commercial control items were
stripped from the plan by NMFS in their finally approved process.
1- NMFS gutted the limited entry provision making controlling the number of commercial fishermen impossible.
2- NMFS tossed out the commercial trip limit provision.
The bluefin tuna plan is a shambles because:
1-NMFS too high landing estimates increase recreational landings by 40% and will cause 2005 or the 2006 season to be absurd in terms of angler trip limits and season.
2- NMFS hard count census prove beyond all doubt that their angler estimates are 40% too high.
3- NMFS estimates the weight of angler bluefin tuna based on fish length. The dockside LPS measurers use the standard straight length measurement tool. NMFS rules uses curved fork length measurement. The difference in weight is a 17% overestimate.
Recreational fishermen alone have a control limit on yellowfin tuna per boat trip. Commercial fishermen have no control limits on their fishing of any kind.
Considering everything above is it not time for a major change?
As Congress struggles with their re-authorization of the Magnuson/Stevens Fishery Conservation Management Act in their 2005 legislative session, should not the Pew Study’s recommendations for major changes of NMFS management divisions be supported?