JCAA

      


Fisheries Management & Legislative Report

by Tom Fote

(from Jersey Coast Anglers Association September 2006 Newsletter)

Contents:

            

SUMMER CRAZINESS

 

Most people believe very little happens in the summer regarding fisheries management.  This summer has certainly been an exception.  In early August the Joint Monitoring Committee for ASMFC and the Mid-Atlantic Fisheries Management Council met to set quotas for 2007.  We went to this meeting prepared to object to another 3.8 million pound cut.  We never expected to be cut by over 75%.  Much of the information about the summer flounder issue is included in other articles in the newspaper.  As of this writing, I have no clear idea how this will be resolved.  There are some who believe the solution to the problem lies in the passage of the Magnusson Stevens Bill.  My first concern is that the bill may not even pass.  Even if we get the solution added to the House Bill, the Senate already has a bill that has been passed.  Whatever the House passes heads to a conference committee where anything can happen.  Even if the bill is passed with added flexibility, I doubt we will have it in place in time for the ’07 season.  I hope I am wrong but that is what I see at this time. 

The only solution I see right now is for NMFS and ASMFC to change the target to one that can be reached.  They need to stop using an imaginary number based on suspect data collected in 1930.  NMFS knows full well that the environmental conditions have changed drastically since 1930.  I am flabbergasted by their excuses.  I am told they have no model to factor in any of the environmental changes that have happened since 1930.  At the same time they tell me they have a model that can estimate the stocks in 1930 with absolutely ridiculous data.  Also, NMFS is using the excuse that the environmental groups will sue them in 2010 if we don’t reach this environmental target.  I have not heard lawsuit rumblings from any environmental group.  Additionally, if you read the Magnusson/Stevens Act carefully, you discover that there is no penalty for not reaching the target by 2010.  Who are we kidding? 

JCAA will keep you informed.  As we get more information, we will make it available to the public.  Right now, write your governors, senators and congressmen and tell them how concerned you are.  You can urge them to find a solution.  There is a lot of information contain in other sections of this newspaper about this topic so please read it carefully.

            I would also like to thank Congress Frank Pallone for showing up to the joint meeting in Philadelphia to hand deliver the letter for him, Congressman Jim Saxton, Senator Frank Lautenberg and Senator Robert Menendez.  These members of NJ congressional have be fishing hard for us.  We need to get the rest of NJ delegation involved.  Groups in other states need to get their congressional delegations also involved.

WEAKFISH

 

The craziness continues at the weakfish meeting.  Unlike summer flounder where recruitment has been lousy for the past few years, weakfish has very good recruitment.  There are many small fish but they seem to disappear.  The ASMFC Weakfish Management Board and the Technical Committee agree the problems they see are not being caused by fishing.  They seem unable to identify an exact cause.  However, since they think their job is to do something, even if there is no hint the action will solve the problem, they have proposed a 25% cut in the weakfish quota. 

I tried to give them a history lesson but I’m not sure that I convinced them not to take an action for its own sake.  It is interesting to listen to participants who will not be impacted by a decrease in quota.  There is no negative financial impact for them.  Yet they seem to ignore the economic consequences for members of our community who rely on weakfish.  Testifying at the Weakfish Board I made the point that their proposed 75% reduction in summer flounder with little science and their 25% proposed reduction for weakfish with little scientific justification ruins their credibility.  JCAA has always supported conservation when conservation makes sense and moves toward a reasonable goal.  Right now, they meet neither of these criteria.  Their proposals make no sense and there is no reasonable goal in sight that can be accomplished with these proposals.  The ASMFC will publish this proposal.  At this time there are no public hearings scheduled.  There will be a meeting of the advisors and then they will accept written comments from the public. 

JCAA should have more information by the September newspaper.  The two proposals currently being published are a 25% reduction or status quo.  We will keep you posted. 

 

SPINY DOGFISH MEETING

 

There is a summary of the meeting included below.  Sometimes the irony is so clear.  When we talk about summer flounder, we are discussing harvesting about 20% of the biomass.  The current proposal is for 5 % of the biomass as the quota.  In spiny dogfish the biomass is estimated at 900 million pounds, plus or minus 30%.  Yet there is a debate about a quota of 8 million pounds.  This would be less than 1% of the biomass.  Any fisherman who has fished for fluke, striped bass or codfish realizes that the dogfish biomass is healthy.  There is also much speculation that at the current biomass, dogfish are one of the largest predator groups.  If you put weakfish, bluefish, striped bass and summer flounder together, you do not equal the feeding packs of spiny dogfish.  We support conservation but we don’t support it over everything else.  One of these days we need ecosystem management that puts everything in perspective.  Until that happens we will continue species by species management with no recognition of the interaction that occurs. 

 

TAUTOG BOARD MEETING

 

There is no good news on tautog either.  The stocks are not rebounding even with the strict management measures in place.  My feeling is that the illegal fishery for the live fish market is what is destroying the stocks.  Until we make the penalties large enough that the fishermen lose more than one night’s catch, nothing will change.  It is time to begin confiscation of boats, vehicles and anything else involved in this illegal fishery.  I am not talking about someone who has one extra tautog or the commercial guy who has a minor violation.  I’m talking about the organized smuggling rings supplying the live market.  We need to do something about it. 

 

ASMFC SUMMARIES OF THE AUGUST MEETING WEEK

 

Spiny Dogfish & Coastal Sharks Management Board

(August 15, 2006)

 

Meeting Summary

The Spiny Dogfish and Coastal Sharks Management Board met order to discuss the next steps in the development of the Draft Interstate Fishery Management Plan for Atlantic Coastal Sharks.  After receiving a summary of public comment on the Public Information Document, an update on results from the 2006 Large Coastal Shark stock assessment, and recommendations from the Coastal Sharks Advisory Panel and Technical Committee, the Management Board tasked staff to create a matrix table highlighting all the common themes received from the public comment, Advisory Panel, and Technical Committee.  This concise summary of information will be presented to the Management Board at its next meeting in October. From there, the Management Board will provide direction to the Coastal Sharks Plan Development Team for those issues and options to be included in the first draft of the Coastal Sharks Fishery Management Plan.

 

The Management Board also discussed a proposal submitted by Massachusetts requesting the Management Board change the already established 2006 quota and possession limits in order to open a directed spiny dogfish fishery in state waters.  After discussion on the proposal, the Management Board tasked the Spiny Dogfish Technical Committee to review of the scientific merits of the Massachusetts proposal. Specifically, the

 

Management Board would like the Technical Committee to investigate:

•           The impact of the Massachusetts proposal on dogfish mortality

•           The influence and reliability of the 2006 biomass estimate for determining stock status and implications to the Massachusetts proposal

•           The influence of variable fishery selectivity pattern on the F reference points and implications to the Massachusetts proposal

•           The likelihood that opening a directed dogfish fishery would result in the targeted harvest of adult female dogfish

•           The feasibility of a male-only dogfish fishery

•           If a small-scale directed fishery were initiated, what is the potential for other fisheries to be closed due to bycatch of dogfish in those fisheries (i.e., Atlantic herring)

•           The North American Journal of Fisheries Management (2002) paper and other relevant literature on the predatory impacts of spiny dogfish on populations of other species

 

The Management Board will meet in October to review the findings of the Technical Committee and consider final action on the Massachusetts spiny dogfish fishery proposal.  For more information, please contact Ruth Christiansen, Fisheries Management Plan Coordinator, at (202) 289-6400 or rchristiansen@asmfc.org .

 

Motions

Move that the spiny dogfish commercial coastwide quota be increased this year from 4 million pounds to 6 million pounds.

Motion made by Dr. Pierce, second by Mr. Pope. Motion postponed.  

Move that the trip limit for the spiny dogfish commercial fishery be increased this year from 600 pounds to 2000-5000 pounds. 

Motion made by Dr. Pierce, second by Mr. Pope. Motion postponed.

Move to postpone the motions until after Technical Committee review of the Massachusetts proposal to see whether it will have a negligible effect on F and report back to the Board in October.

Motion made by Mr. R. White, second by Mr. Boyles. Motion passes (13 in favor, 3 opposed, 0 null and 0 abstain).

 

TAUTOG MANAGEMENT BOARD

(August 15, 2006)

Press Release 

Tautog Board Initiates Addendum to Rebuild Stock

Arlington, VA – The Commission’s Tautog Management Board approved the development of Draft Addendum IV to the Interstate Fishery Management Plan for Tautog. The Draft Addendum will propose the establishment of new biological reference points (target and threshold limits for biomass and fishing mortality) to define stock rebuilding goals. 

 

This action is taken in response to the findings and recommendations of the 2006 peer-reviewed stock assessment, as well as those of the recently updated virtual population analysis (VPA). Both assessments indicate the tautog resource continues to be at low biomass levels. Since the mid-1980s tautog has undergone a substantial decrease in total and spawning stock biomass, with both currently at levels about one-third of their early time series average.  Based on the current fishing mortality target (0.29) and the recent fishing mortality estimates for the last two years, overfishing is not occurring.

 

In addition to defining a coast wide biomass target, the Draft Addendum will also propose allowing individual states or groups of states to develop scientifically-based spawning stock biomass and fishing mortality rate targets and thresholds appropriate for that geographic region.  These regional reference points would require Technical Committee review and Management Board approval before they could be implemented at the state and/or regional level.

 

The Draft Addendum will be available for Board consideration in October at the Commission’s Annual Meeting in Atlantic Beach, North Carolina. If approved, it will be made available for public comment in the fall with final Board approval anticipated for early 2007. For more information, please contact Ruth Christiansen at (202) 289-6400 or rchristiansen@asmfc.org.

 

ATLANTIC MENHADEN MANAGEMENT BOARD

(August 16, 2006)

Press Release 

Atlantic Menhaden Board Approves Draft Addendum III for Public Comment

 

Addendum Proposes Chesapeake Bay Reduction Fishery Cap of 109,020 MT

Arlington, VA – The Commission’s Atlantic Menhaden Management Board has approved sending forward for public comment Draft Addendum III to Amendment 1 to the Interstate Fishery Management Plan for Atlantic Menhaden. The Addendum proposes the establishment a five-year annual cap on reduction fishery harvests in Chesapeake Bay of 109,020 metric tons, based on the mean harvests for 2001 – 2005.  The cap would be implemented beginning in 2006 and extend through 2010. Harvest for reduction purposes would be prohibited in the Chesapeake Bay when 100% of the cap is landed. Overharvest in any given year would be deducted from the next year’s quota. The Draft Addendum also proposes an option to allow under-harvest in one year to be credited to the following year’s harvest, not to exceed 122,740 metric tons.

 

This action responds to a proposal submitted by the Commonwealth of Virginia that essentially mirrors the intent and provisions of Addendum II but allows for a possible slight increase in annual harvest, and proposes the transfer of under-harvest to the following year’s harvest.

 

“Draft Addendum III is a product of the combined efforts of Virginia and Maryland, working in consultation with their diverse stakeholders, to seek a solution that will meet the needs of the Bay’s resources and fishing constituents,” stated Menhaden Board Chair A.C. Carpenter of the Potomac River Fisheries Commission. “The Management Board carefully considered Governor Kaine’s proposal as presented by Secretary Preston Bryant before it agreed to accept the proposal in the form of the Draft Addendum. Notably, no states voted against sending the Draft Addendum forward for public comment.”    

 

The Commonwealth of Virginia and Omega Protein have also entered into Memorandum of Agreement to conduct a research program to determine the status of menhaden in the Bay and assess whether localized depletion is occurring. The research program will address the following research priorities: (1) determine menhaden abundance in the Chesapeake Bay; (2) determine estimates of menhaden removal by predators;

(3) evaluate the rate of exchange of menhaden between the Bay and coastal systems; and (4) conduct larval studies to determine recruitment to the Bay. These priorities mirror those contained in Addendum

 

II. The Commonwealth of Virginia and Omega Protein will work together to secure funding for menhaden research.

 

Copies of the Draft Addendum will be available by August 31 and can be obtained by contacting the Commission at (202) 289-6400 or via the Commission’s website at www.asmfc.org  under Breaking News. Public comment will be accepted until 5:00 PM on October 6, 2006 and should be forwarded to Braddock Spear, Fisheries Management Plan Coordinator, 1444 ‘Eye’ Street, NW, Sixth Floor, Washington, DC 20005; (202) 289-6051 (FAX) or at comments@asmfc.org  (Subject line: Menhaden Draft Addendum III).  The Board will meet in October at the Commission’s Annual Meeting in Atlantic Beach, North Carolina to review public comment and consider final approval of the Addendum.

 

WEAKFISH MANAGEMENT BOARD
(August 17, 2006)

 

Meeting Summary

The Weakfish Management Board met with two main goals: (1) receiving new information from the Weakfish Technical Committee and (2) determining the next steps for advancing Draft Addendum II to Amendment 4 of the Interstate Fishery Management Plan for Weakfish. 

 

The Weakfish Technical Committee provided the Board with an updated characterization of the current recreational and commercial fisheries for weakfish, as well as the Committee’s response to several tasks assigned by the Board at its last meeting in May 2006. An overview of the new information along with the presentation by Technical Committee staff will be made available on the Commission’s website. 

 

The Board decided to include the updated stock information in a revised Addendum II, to be reopened for public comment during the fall of 2006.  The Board is expected to take final action on Addendum II at the Annual Meeting in October 2006. 

The Commission welcomes Thomas L. Lewis, a commercial pound netter from Virginia, to the Weakfish Advisory Panel. The Board approved Mr. Lewis’s nomination at the meeting. 

 

For more information, please contact Nichola Meserve, Fisheries Management Plan Coordinator, at (202) 289-6400 or nmeserve@asmgfc.org .

CONGRESS OF THE UNITED STATES
WASHINGTON, DC 20515
August 1, 2006

Mr. Ronald W. Smith

Chairman
Mid-Atlantic Fisher Management Council
Suite 2115 Federal Bldg.
300 S. New St.
Dover, DE 19904-6726

Mr. Preston P. Pate, Jr.
Chairman
Atlantic States Marine Fisheries Commission
1444 Eye St., NW 6th Floor
Washington, DC 2005

Dear Chairman Smith and Chairman Pate:

As you prepare to jointly finalize management measures for the 2007 summer flounder fishery, we are writing to express our concerns about potentially drastic cuts that could have dramatic impacts on New Jersey’s fishermen.

By most measurable standards, the rebuilding plan for summer flounder has been a resounding success.  Under rebuilding, the biomass has more than doubled and the spawning stock biomass has nearly tripled.  Management measures seem to be working and the biomass has reached a level that all stakeholders acknowledge is quite healthy.  In spite of this, following a few years of low recruitment, the fishery is facing a virtual shutdown.

It is our understanding that the initial recommendation to the Mid-Atlantic Fishery Management Council’s (MAFMC) Summer Flounder Monitoring Committee was to reduce the current total allowable landings (TAL) of 23.6 million pounds compared with 2006.  This TAL would actually represent the smallest annual TAL since the summer flounder management plan was implemented. 

We also understand that the National Marine Fisheries Service has proposed an exceptionally low TAL of 5.2 million pounds.  This would be a cut of nearly 80% from the 2006 TAL and an even greater reduction when compared with the 2005 quota of 30.3 million pounds.  Moreover, it would effectively shut down the recreational summer flounder fishery, which is a critical part of the recreational fishing industry in our state. 

We have heard numerous times from the National Marine Fisheries Service (NMFS), as well as from representatives of your respective organizations, that the NRDC v. Daley decision from 2000 ties managers’ hands with respect to the need to rebuild the summer flounder stock.  While we recognize that the case did require management measures to have at least a 50% probability of achieving a target maximum fishing mortality rate to rebuild the stock to a target, the decision did not set a specific biomass target.

We join those who question whether the current rebuilding biomass target of 204 million pounds is achievable given prevailing environmental conditions.  It is not clear that this level has ever existed in nature.  We understand that the target is based on an estimate of the stock size around 1930, but there is no viable data from that era that would confirm such an estimate.  Moreover, the marine environment has changed dramatically over the past century, including a significant increase in human activity and pollution and a serious loss of coastal wetlands.

We urge you to carefully consider the current biomass target figure and the harsh cuts that may result from using it as you make your decision this week on the summer flounder quota.  Please do what you can to avoid drastic cuts that would seriously impact New Jersey’s fishermen.

Sincerely,

Frank Pallone, Jr.
Member of Congress

Jim Saxton
Member of Congress

Frank Lautenberg
United States Senator

Robert Menendez
United States Senator

Saxton Letter to: Dr. William T. Hogarth
United States Department of Commerce

August 9, 2006

Dr. William T. Hogarth
United States Department of Commerce
National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration
1315 East-West Highway
Silver Spring, MD 20910

Dear Dr. Hogarth,

I am writing to respectfully request NOAA Fisheries undertake a Magnuson-Stevens Act Section 304(e)(7) review of the summer flounder management plan and recommend any needed changes identified by the review to the Mid-Atlantic Fishery Management Council.

By most measurable standards, the rebuilding plan for summer flounder has been a resounding success.  Under rebuilding, the biomass has more than doubled and the spawning stock biomass has nearly tripled.  Management measures seem to be working and the biomass has reached a level that all stakeholders acknowledge is quite healthy.  In spite of this, following a few years of low recruitment, the fishery is facing a virtual shutdown.

Many knowledgeable participants question whether the current rebuilding biomass target of 204 million pounds is achievable given prevailing environmental conditions.  I understand that the target is based on an estimate of the stock size around 1930, but there is no viable data from that era that would confirm such an estimate.  Moreover, the marine environment has changed substantially over the past century, including a significant increase in human activity and pollution and a serious loss of coastal wetlands habitat.

Current law includes a provision that is intended to address situations where rebuilding plans may not be progressing as planned.  Specifically, section 304(e)(7) of the Magnuson-Stevens Act requires periodic reviews of rebuilding plans and their regulations.  Certainly, summer flounder presents a case where it is reasonable to question whether the 204 million pound target is achievable in the required time frame under the Magnuson-Stevens Act, and therefore it may be necessary to make some course corrections to accomplish the overall goals of the Act.

This action would have two important results.  First, it would allow current rebuilding management measures to remain in place for the time being while this review is undertaken.  Second, it would allow the Council proper time to review the data, perhaps including an external peer review, and complete a thorough analysis of what actions may be necessary to adequately rebuild summer flounder to the desired target.  This public process would allow participation by affected fishery participants and the public generally.  In sum, this action under 304(e)(7) would allow for an orderly, thoughtful, public process that should produce new management options that are based both in sound science and rational decision-making.

I am hopeful you will undertake the requested review and that needed course adjustments will be recommended and implemented so we can have a healthy fishery.

Thank you for your consideration.  Please feel free to contact Andy Oliver of my staff at (202)225-4765 if you have any questions or need any clarification.

Sincerely,

Congressman Jim Saxton
Member of Congress

 

JCAA Report on the Joint Meeting of the MAFMC & ASMFC To Set 2007 Specifications for Summer Flounder, Sea Bass, Scup, Bluefish

By Tom Fote
August 3, 2006

The question of the summer flounder quota for next year was not really decided at the joint meetings of Atlantic States Marine Fisheries Commission (ASMFC) and the Mid-Atlantic Fishery Management Council (MAFMC) Management Board at the Sheraton Society Hill Hotel in Philadelphia.

The MAFMC voted for a quota reduction of 3.7 million pounds from this year’s quota of 23.6 million pounds.  This was not the 13.9 million pounds Total Allowable Catch (TAL) that the Monitoring Committee voted for or the 5.2 million pounds TAL that National Marine Fisheries Service (NMFS) wants to impose.  The Council voted 18-2 for a 19.9 million pound quota for 2007, a figure that had been recommended by the staff. 

John Boreman from NMFS voiced his concerns about the stock assessment.  He believes that with this huge spawning stock biomass we should be realizing higher recruitment.  According to the tables the recruitment is worse now than when the stock was collapsed.  If you look at striped bass, the larger the spawning stock biomass, the better the recruitment has been.  With summer flounder the tables suggest just the opposite is true.  When you look at the tables the age class distribution is right on target for the rebuilt stock.  Mr. John Boreman was not comfortable with the stock assessment which the Monitoring Committee, ASMFC and MAFMC were using for decision making.  He suggested that there be a complete review of the figures over the next few months.  Pat Kurkul, the Northeast Regional Director for NMFS, voiced her concerns and said the ASMFC Technical Committee should review the stock assessment and the target.  She said it makes no sense to have the same people review their own figures.  She also suggested an outside peer review of their finding.  However, she did not repudiate the NMFS commitment to 5.2 million pounds.  I sense a “let’s wait and see” attitude. 

There was no clear message sent to ASMFC so they voted to take no action at this time and to revisit this issue at the annual meeting in October.  ASMFC and MAFMC will hold a joint meeting in December and I hope a decision will be made at that time.  NMFS will not set the specifications until there is a review of the stock assessment in relationship to the actions taken by MAFMC.  This means the specifications might not be set until January or February.  It is difficult for the fishing industry to plan for the upcoming year with all this indecision.  I voiced my disgust with the entire process and the 3.7 million pound reduction proposed by MAFMC.  With the status of the stocks observed by those of us who are actually on the water, I cannot understand why we can’t reap some of the benefit.  JCAA supports status quo.  To put this in perspective, we will have a lower quota in 2007 than we did in 1993 and 1994 when the stocks were collapsed.  This is also below the 14 year average of 21.93 TAL. We will have to wait and see and JCAA will keep you informed.  JCAA had nine representatives at this hearing (almost half of the recreational anglers present) and will continue to represent your interests at upcoming meetings. 

New Jersey's congressional delegation came through for New Jersey’s commercial and recreational fishing industry and recreational anglers who want to harvest summer flounder.  Since the Monitor Committee meeting I have spent a lot of time in discussions with the staffs of Senators Lautenberg and Menendez and Congressmen Saxton and Pallone.  The day I came back from Las Vegas I met with Congressman Saxton to share our concerns over the quota.  I know Congressman Saxton had a meeting with Dr. Holgarth on July 27th to discuss summer flounder.  At the striped bass hearing on 7/27, Congressmen Saxton, Pallone and Gilchrest (Maryland) questioned Dr. Holgarth and other panel members at length about summer flounder issues.  Congressman Frank Pallone, ranking minority member on the Subcommittee on Fisheries, appeared in person at yesterday's meeting and made a statement.  He brought a letter from Senators Lautenberg and Menendez, Congressman Saxton and himself.  In the letter the New Jersey delegation laid out their concerns about the dramatic negative economic impact on the recreational and commercial fishing industry of any reduction in the summer flounder quota.  The letter discussed the quality of life issues and the importance of summer flounder to the tourism industry.  It makes me proud to be from New Jersey when our Congressional delegation steps up to the plate in a big way.  They have always supported conservation of the marine resource.  But they understand when proposed quotas are unjust and they are willing to speak up on our behalf.  I was impressed that this letter laid out the facts in an intelligent and coherent way.  Congressman Pallone made a statement to ASMFC and MAFMC.  He did an excellent job of laying out the facts and his concerns while still respecting the difficult work of the council and commission members.  He demonstrated his extraordinary knowledge of the issues and the facts.  This is the first time I remember a congressman attending a MAFMC and ASMFC meeting and taking a stand.  New Jersey anglers should thank Senators Lautenberg and Menendez and Congressmen Pallone and Saxton for their hard work on our behalf.  If it were not for their effort I do not believe NMFS would be undertaking a review of the data. 

The quota for sea bass voted on by ASMFC and MAFMC was reduced by 1.5 million pounds to 6.5 million pounds.  For the last two years the actual catch of sea bass was under 5 million pounds so this change should not have much of an impact.  The scup quota was reduced by about 3 million pounds.  But again, this should have little impact on New Jersey’s recreational fishery. 

There was a long discussion about the transfer of over 4 million pounds from the unused recreational quota of bluefish.  The North Carolina representative wanted a quota or transfer of over 4 million pounds.  Tony Bogan, at his last MAFMC meeting as a council member, made a motion to cut the transferable quota by half (about 2 million pounds).  With the possible reduction in summer flounder and the reduction in sea bass and scup, he expressed some concern that the effort on bluefish would increase.  He also pointed out that there has been a dramatic increase in the recreational harvest in bluefish in the last five years.  A transfer of over 4 million pounds could result in the recreational community overfishing its target.  There was much discussion and the recreational anglers in the audience spoke in favor of Mr. Bogan’s motion.  Because of the influence of the commercial community, the councils defeated Mr. Bogan’s motion and voted for the higher quota.  Last year NMFS rejected the council’s recommendation for a bluefish transfer and opted for a smaller transfer.  We can hope that will happen again.  The ASMFC did not have a quorum for the Bluefish Management Board in attendance so they did not vote.  I was disturbed to discover that we were actually fishing on two quotas last year.  NMFS reduced the quota on the commercial sector to 8 million pounds while ASMFC stayed at the higher quota first voted on by the council.  I did not hear the outcry from NMFS that they would shut down the Federal waters if ASMFC did not come in line.  I guess it was a moot point because the quota was never reached.  But NMFS is adamant that this will not happen with summer flounder.  If you care about bluefish you should ask that the ASMFC have a meeting to vote on the bluefish quota and write your commissioners asking them to support the smaller quota transfer.

This was Tony Bogan’s last meeting as a council member on the MAFMC.  Tony decided not to submit his name for reappointment at this time because of the time it requires and the responsibilities of work and family.  Tony worked extremely hard as council member.  There is an incredible amount of time spent just reading the materials before each meeting, not to mention the actual meeting time.  You could always tell that Tony read every word before the meeting began.  We will sorely miss Tony’s insight and all his hard work.  

 JCAA & NJSFSC COMMENTS ON SUMMER FLOUNDER QUOTA FOR 2007

Dear Council Members and Commissioners.

I could not believe my ears when I was told that NMFS is proposing a reduction of the summer flounder quota to 5.2 million pounds for 2007.  This all stems from a target that was set when the plan was first put in place.  That original target was based on poor science and little understanding of ecosystem management.  I have been told by scientists that the original target of 204 million pounds for the biomass was an estimate of what the biomass was in the 1930’s.  We already recognize how poor the data collection is now.  I cannot imagine data collection in the 1930’s.  We know for sure that it was considerably less reliable than the miserable information we are collecting now in the recreational sector.  In the 1930’s we know that much of the commercial catch went unreported.  The same was true in the 1960’s.  Using base years from the 1930’s is absolutely beyond comprehension. 

Recreational anglers are absolutely convinced that the target is based on little or no science.  But there are bigger problems.  Even if the 1930’s data were somehow reliable, the target set by NMFS ignores completely the changing realities of ecosystem management.  I sit on the Policy Committee of the Barnegat Bay Estuary Program and in that capacity have access to current, reliable information about the loss of wetlands and other ecosystem problems.  Based on a variety of scientific estimates, we believe that we have conservatively lost about 50% of our wetlands since the 1950’s.  There was even greater loss between 1930 and 1950 during the war.  Anyone who knows anything about summer flounder knows that the bays and estuaries are the nurseries for summer flounder.  With this decline in habitat, there is no way to reach the same biomass estimated for the 1930’s.  The degradation in the water quality in the past 80 years and the negative impact of the power plants and discharge from sewage treatment plants has destroyed much of the carrying capacity of the bays and estuaries.  The other factor in ecosystem management that must be considered is the status of all the stocks that are competing for the same forage species.  When the target was mystically computed, there was no recognition of the relationship between the biomass of summer flounder and the biomass of striped bass, weakfish, croakers, spots, scup, bluefish and others.  We have no information about the numbers of each species in relationship to the other.  Did anyone ask the question: was this a high point for summer flounder and a low point for all other species?  Without that information we can’t compare current stocks in any useful or meaningful way.  That is the problem inherent in using single-species plans.  In ten years NMFS is proposing that we build every species to an all time high even though each species is competing for dwindling habitat and same forage species. 

If the target was lower, we could reasonably assume that we were on the right path to meet that target.  All you have to do is look at the figures included from NMFS documents to see how much the population of summer flounder has increased.  We would have a quota in the mid-thirty million pound range not less than twenty million pounds. I have included excerpts from my recent testimony before Congress. 

TESTIMONY: Congressional Hearing July 27: 

“In 2004 ASMFC and NMFS set quotas for 30 million pounds in 2005 and 33 million pounds in 2006.  Both of those quotas were vetted, approved and endorsed by both organizations.  In 2005 they changed their mind and reduced the quota from 33 million pounds to 23.6 million pounds for 2006.  This recommendation seemed absurd to almost every state director, council and commission member, commercial and recreational angler that I spoke with.  The proposal of 5.2 million pounds for 2007 will basically shut down the fishery and destroy the industries that depend on the commercial and recreational harvest.  They may as well decide the quota is zero pounds.  The excuse that NMFS provides is they are abiding by the law.  The intent of the law was to rebuild the stocks and to promote a healthy fishery for both the recreational and commercial anglers.  It is my belief that NMFS is interpreting the law, not following either the letter or the intent of the law”. 

 

These numbers were pulled from NMFS' SARC Documents (all numbers in pounds):

  1993  2000  2005
Spawning Stock Biomass: 20,460,000 42,680,000  67,320,000
Total Biomass 46,860,000  61,380,000 104,060,000

Why the years picked? 

  • 1993 was first year of management under current allocation system
  • 2000 was first year under SFA requirements (the 10 year clock started)
  • 2005 is the most recent year for which we have data

 Since 1993 the stock's SSB has gone up a multiple of:  3.29; and, its biomass has gone up a multiple of:  2.22

 Although overfishing is occurring given our F target rate of 0.276, the stock is not overfished as it's more than one half the current Bmsy target of 204,000,000. 

 

During the recent Congressional hearing, Dr Bill Holgarth was asked if he could reach the current goal with a little flexibility.  He said if we went to 2012 instead of 2010 we could reach the goal of 204 million pounds.  I have considerable respect for Dr. Holgarth but I cannot support that assumption.  All you have to do is look at the figures I have included to know the date is almost irrelevant.  The problem is the target.  I think summer flounder fishermen are being used as pawns in NMFS ongoing attempts to have more flexibility built into the Magnusson Act for the 10 year rebuilding period.  Instead of playing political games, NMFS should revisit the target and set one that is attainable and relevant for 2010 based on the best data currently available on all the variables. 

 

Sincerely,

Tom Fote

Legislative Chairman for JCAA and the NJ Federation of Sportsmen Clubs

Landings to be further reduced in 2007

Press Release

Jan Saunders, Executive Assistant
Mid-Atlantic Fishery Management Council
300 South New St, Suite 2115
Dover, DE 19904-6790
Tel. 302-674-2331  Ext 18
E-mail: jsaunders@mafmc.org

 

During their meeting last week in Philadelphia to adopt 2007 fishery management measures, the Mid-Atlantic Fishery Management Council and the Atlantic States Marine Fisheries Commission's (ASMFC) Summer Flounder, Scup and Black Sea Bass and Bluefish Boards (Board) heard concerns from Congressman Frank Pallone on behalf of himself, Congressman Jim Saxton and Senators Frank Lautenberg and Robert Menendez regarding the "possibility of a drastic cut in the summer flounder quota" and the resulting "impact to the local economy that would be devastating".  Following his comments and those from numerous members of the public, for a second year in a row the Council and the Board recommended decreases in the total allowable landing levels (TAL) for summer flounder, scup, and black sea bass.  Bluefish was the single bright spot as its quota was increased by nearly three million pounds.

            The table below summarizes the recommended fishery management measures for 2007:

  

 

Total Allowable Landings

(millions of pounds)

 

Com-mercial

Quota

 

Minimum

Fish Size

(TL)

 

Recre-ational

Harvest

Limit

 Research

Set-Aside

Quota

(in pounds)

Summer Flounder*

 

19.90

 

11.94

 

14"

 

7.96

 

up to 3%

 

Scup

 

 

16.00

 

12.30

 

9"

 

3.70

 

up to 3%

Black Sea Bass

 

  6.50

3.19

11"

3.31

up to 3%

Bluefish

27.76

9.50

---

18.26

363,677

The total allowable landings and associated quotas and harvest limits recommended for summer flounder reflect Council action only.  The ASMFC will determine its summer flounder position during its annual meeting (October 22-26).

Based on the most recent National Marine Fisheries Service (NMFS) Status of U.S. Fisheries Report, two of the above four stocks are classified as overfished (scup and black sea bass), but only one is experiencing overfishing (summer flounder). 

When the Council took action last year for the 2006 fishing year it proposed reducing the 2005 TAL of 30.3 million pounds for summer flounder by 4.3 million pounds anticipating that the 14% reduction would allow for appropriate rebuilding.  However, the ASFMC and NMFS adopted a TAL of 23.59 million pounds for 2006.  Hence, if the Council's 19.9 million pound TAL recommendation is accepted by NMFS for 2007, it will effectively implement a reduction of over 34% in a two year period.  Reductions of this magnitude are the reason for concern expressed by Congressman Pallone on behalf of himself and many members of Congress.  The 19.9 million pounds does have a 50% likelihood of achieving the target fishing mortality.

For the scup fishery both the Council and the Board recommended a TAL of 16.00 million pounds.  This is a slight reduction from the current year landing level of 16.27 million pounds.  Discards in the directed scup fishery together with a lack of recent stock assessment information continue to create uncertainty.  The lack of a current assessment led both management authorities to take a precautionary approach in establishing the 2007 TAL for scup.  Although the stock is currently categorized as overfished, its overfishing status is unknown.  The recommended TAL for scup is within the range of long-term potential catches associated with a stock at approximately ½ Bmsy.

For black sea bass it was recommended that TAL be reduced from 8.0 million pounds in 2006 to 6.5 million pounds in 2007.  In addition, beginning on January 1, 2007, circular vent size for black sea bass pots must be increased to 2-1/2", and 2 escape vents must be installed in the parlor portion of the trap.  Given the uncertainty of the survey estimates and the June stock assessment review comments which questioned the current biological reference points and their soundness for management purposes, the Council and the Board established a TAL of 6.5 million pounds.

Based on a recent stock assessment update, the Council and Board adopted a TAL of 27.76 million pounds for bluefish of which 9.5 million would be allocated to the commercial fishery and 18.26 million pounds would be allocated to the recreational sector.  Possession limits would not change in the recreational sector, i.e. the bag limit would remain at 15 fish.  In recent years neither sector has landed its allocation, nor has either sector landed enough fish to achieve the 2007 recommended allocations.

The Council and Commission also reviewed the proposed rebuilding plan for scup [Amendment 14 to the Summer Flounder, Scup, and Black Sea Bass Fishery Management Plan (FMP)] and provided staff guidance for purposes of completing the public hearing document (PHD).  It is anticipated that the PHD will be approved at the next Council meeting (October 10-12).

The Council and Commission likewise reviewed comments received during the scoping period for Amendment 15 to the Summer Flounder, Scup, and Black Sea Bass FMP.  Twenty-eight potential issues were provided to the public during scoping and, based on feedback and written comments, the Council and Commission reduced the number of issues for further consideration to sixteen.  Issues that warranted further consideration and action include: user allocations for summer flounder and scup; commercial allocations by state for all three species; review of biological reference points for all three species; for-hire management for all three species; management of the summer flounder and scup recreational fisheries; data collection requirements and protocols; rollover of unused quota; and, limitation on vessel replacement upgrades.

It was also moved and approved by the Council that letters be sent to Congress providing the Council's position regarding reauthorization of the Magnuson-Stevens Act.  Letters are also to be sent to the NMFS requesting research be initiated to study the effectiveness of circle hooks in reducing bycatch mortality in summer flounder, scup, black sea bass, bluefish, and tilefish; and, expressing support for the convening of a Northeast region workshop for recreational anglers to discuss the use of circle hooks and handling techniques to reduce bycatch mortality.

 

Oral Congressional Testimony

On the Opening of the EEZ,

July 27, 2006

I would like to thank Congressmen Gilchrest, Saxton and Pallone for an opportunity to discuss this important species.  I have been before this committee a number of times in the past to talk about this issue and many other issues.  I have been involved as a commissioner and proxy for a commissioner on the ASMFC from 1990 until 2005 and probably have the longest involvement of anyone on this panel in the management of striped bass.  It has been over 30 years. 

Striped bass is one of the few great success stories when it comes to fisheries management.  Two years ago I would have included summer flounder.  While summer flounder is clearly a success when we consider the rebuilding of the stocks, the current actions proposed by NMFS makes summer flounder anything but a success story as far as fisheries management goes.  The constant raising of size limits has almost eliminated the inshore anglers from this fishery and other fisheries.  Just ask the people who fish the Chesapeake Bay, Hudson River, Delaware Bay and the Raritan Bay to name a few of the inshore fisheries that have been greatly affected.

            Striped bass has always been predominantly an inshore fishery.  When we closed the EEZ we guaranteed that striped bass would remain the most available inshore fishery for all user groups.  This includes anglers who fish from bulkheads, in the rivers, on piers and in the bays and estuaries.  These are precisely the anglers who would be shortchanged if striped bass becomes primarily an offshore fishery.  Striped bass is truly the “everyman” fishery.  That’s why striped bass has been called the poor man’s gamefish.  JCAA will oppose any action that changes this availability to all anglers. 

            The overriding concern is the huge economic importance striped bass is to the states within its path of migration.  In the Maryland part of Chesapeake Bay striped bass is the only finfish available to both recreational and commercial fishermen.  The charter boat and party boat fleets in the Chesapeake Bay depend on striped bass for their very existence.  So do all the businesses that depend on striped bass recreational anglers for their livelihood.  The same is true for the Hudson River. Raritan Bay and Delaware Bay charter and party boat fleets.  While summer flounder and weakfish are sometimes available in the Hudson and Delaware Rivers, striped bass remains the “money fish” all year round.  Opening the EEZ is not worth the potential economic and quality of life costs. 

            The reason that we have so much concern is that we are very close to the point at which we will have to consider reducing the harvest of striped bass.  In three of the last six years reductions have been considered by the Atlantic States Marine Fisheries Commission.  Most of those concerns center on the number of older fish and age class distribution.  Opening the EEZ would target those older year classes that are of most concern and increase the overall harvest. 

            This is not a recreational vs. commercial issue.  The commercial fishery is capped on the coastal stocks and therefore landings would not increase.  However, the bycatch and discard rate could increase dramatically.  This proposal by NMFS would allow commercial fishermen who were not a major part of the historical fishery and have not harvested in the EEZ in many years to begin harvesting striped bass in the EEZ.  The numbers of commercial fishermen targeting this fishery would rise.  With the rise in the number of commercial fishermen, the number of nets and other gear targeting striped bass would increase as well.  In order to accommodate this increase for the commercial fishery without violating the existing caps, trip limits would become necessary and discards would increase.  We can only imagine the escalating enforcement problems and cost. 

The prospect of an expanded recreational fishery in the EEZ is a nightmare.  This Congress and Senate have been considering Marine Protected Areas (MPAs) for some time.  What we have here is an MPA for striped bass that has over a 15-year history – all positive.  The closure protects the large striped bass (spawners) when they are in the EEZ and allows the historical recreational and commercial fisheries to grow and survive while they fish on other species. 

If we open the EEZ, I predict that within 3 years we will exceed the targets, the biomass will decrease and the ASMFC will be asking for further restrictions on the recreational sector.  The only way to accommodate this increase will be to raise the size limit and cut the bag limit.  This will serve to further damage the inshore fishery and have dramatic economic consequences. 

At the current time, recreational anglers have absolutely no trust in the management of any species that is jointly managed by ASMFC and NMFS.  All we have to do is look at what is happening with summer flounder.  NMFS is proposing a reduction of the summer flounder quota to 5.2 million pounds.  In 2004 ASMFC and NMFS set quotas for 30 million pounds in 2005 and 33 million pounds in 2006.  Both of those quotas were vetted, approved and endorsed by both organizations.  In 2005 they changed their mind and reduced the quota from 33 million pounds to 23.6 million pounds for 2006.  This recommendation seemed absurd to almost every state director, council and commission member, commercial and recreational angler that I spoke with.  The proposal of 5.2 million pounds for 2007 will basically shut down the fishery and destroy the industries that depend on the commercial and recreational harvest.  They may as well decide the quota is zero pounds.  The excuse that NMFS provides is they are abiding by the law.  The intent of the law was to rebuild the stocks and to promote a healthy fishery for both the recreational and commercial anglers.  It is my belief that NMFS is interpreting the law, not following either the letter or the intent of the law. 

We need to keep reminding ourselves that striped bass is an economic and management success.  We need to keep it that way.  Remember when this came up for a vote under Amendment 6 a majority of the states did not vote for it. It was the NMFS and US Fish and Wildlife agencies that cast the deciding votes.  If we look at their history, no one wants NMFS to be involved with striped bass.  And the way to guarantee they don’t have an opportunity to ruin another fishery is to keep the EEZ closed and keep their hands off striped bass. 

Sincerely,

Tom Fote

Legislative Chairman for JCAA and the NJ Federation of Sportsmen Clubs

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