Fisheries Management & Legislative Report
by Tom Fote
(from Jersey Coast Anglers Association June 2012 Newsletter)
Hooked on Fishing not on Drugs moves in Senate and Assembly
Nothing has happened since I ran the update below last month. The Legislature has begun having committee hearings again and we are hoping this legislation is moved for a vote quickly. The information about letter writing is posted at the JCAA website in the May JCAA Newspaper.
Pots Off the Reefs
Because of the budget hearings, there has also been no action on this legislation. In the May JCAA Newspaper there were sample letters to send to your legislators. If you have not done so, get your letters out quickly.
Howard Lab Closing
Senator Lautenberg, Senator Menendez and Congressman Pallone continue to work to keep the Howard Lab open. Senator Lautenberg was able to get important language included in the appropriations bill and we are hoping for the same action in the House. We will keep you posted.
ASMFC Spring Meeting
Menhaden - There was a review of the comments of the public hearing and discussion about changes in the document. Many things are on hold until the benchmark stock assessment in June. The Technical Committee met after the ASMFC spring meeting. I received some complaints that the scientists hired by Iomega to attend this meeting became active participants rather than observers and dominated the meeting while other groups were unable to participate. Scientists hired to do stock assessment are expected to provide data and analysis but not to advocate for a particular company’s point of view. That is a fine line to walk since the company pays for the science but we expect as much neutrality as possible. I will need to check on these complaints. At the August meeting the document on menhaden should be completed and ready for public hearing.
Striped Bass - TThe main discussion at this board meeting was how to deal with illegal poaching of striped bass. There was discussion about tagging and an addendum to address illegal commercial striped bass fishing was created. I’m not sure if any states will have hearings on this issue. New Jersey has a system in place to keep track of the bonus tag program and this program has not been a problem. This makes it unlikely that New Jersey will have a public hearing. It is important that you read the addendum and send in your comments. The information is contained in the excerpts.
Eels - The report on the status of eel stocks was extremely disappointing. I am assuming that we will soon be preparing an addendum to address this problem. There has also been pressure to list eels either as threatened or endangered. To further complicate matters, the price for glass eels (elvers) has gone through the roof again. This has created a poaching problem in states where the eel fishery is closed. I have included an article from the Cape Cod Times that discusses the problem in Massachusetts. There are only two states that legally allow for the harvest of glass eels which provides access for the illegal fishery to sell their catch. When this crisis happened 15 years ago there was discussion about closing the glass eel fishery completely. Given the status of the glass eel stocks and the poaching, it might be time to revisit a discussion about a total closing of the glass eel fishery.
Excerpts of Atlantic States Marine Fisheries Commission
2012 Spring Meeting Summary
Press Release: May 1, 2012
Alexandria, VA – The Commission’s Atlantic Striped Bass Management Board has approved for public comment Draft Addendum III to Amendment 6 to the Interstate Fishery Management Plan for Atlantic Striped Bass. The Draft Addendum proposes implementing a mandatory commercial tagging program for all states and jurisdictions with commercial striped bass fisheries and increasing penalties for illegally harvested fish. These options are intended to prevent commercial striped bass quota overages and the illegal harvest of striped bass. Both undermine the sustainability of striped bass populations, as well as reduce the economic opportunities of law abiding commercial fishermen. Options include increased accounting of unused tags, timely reporting of catch, the point at which tagging must occur, standardization of tag type, and development of biological metrics for determining state/jurisdiction tag quantity.
The Draft Addendum responds to recommendations of the Interstate Watershed Task Force (IWTF). The IWTF conducted a multi-year, multi-jurisdictional investigation on illegal commercial striped bass harvest within Chesapeake Bay, resulting in over $1.6 million dollars in fines against 19 individuals and three corporations for more than one million pounds of striped bass harvested illegally. The investigation revealed some current control measures for regulating the harvest of striped bass were ineffective or inadequately designed to maximize compliance. The investigation also found that greater accountability of wholesalers would be difficult to achieve without uniform tags (colors, design) and tagging requirements, valid year and size limits inscribed on tags, and increased dealer compliance education. Several states will be conducting public hearings on the Draft Addendum; information on those hearings will be released when they are finalized. Fishermen and other interested groups are encouraged to provide input on the Draft Addendum either by attending state public hearings or providing written comment. The Draft Addendum will be available on the Commission website (wwww.asmfc.org) under Breaking News or by contacting the Commission at 703.842.0740 by May 11, 2012. Public comment will be accepted until 5:00 PM (EST) on July 13, 2012 and should be forwarded to Kate Taylor, Fishery Management Plan Coordinator, at 1050 N. Highland St., Suite 200 A-N, Arlington, VA 22201; 703.842.0741 (FAX) or firstname.lastname@example.org (Subject line: Atlantic Striped Bass Draft Addendum III).
Alexandria, VA – The Commission’s Atlantic Herring Section has approved for public comment Draft Addendum V to Amendment 2 to the Interstate Fishery Management Plan for Atlantic Herring. The Draft Addendum proposes measures to refine and consolidate Atlantic herring spawning regulations as recommended by the Atlantic Herring Technical Committee.
These include (1) refining sampling protocols; (2) providing flexibility to change spawning boundaries based on Technical Committee input through Section action; and (3) consolidating all spawning regulations into one document. The Draft Addendum responds to observed changes in Atlantic herring spawning behavior (size of spawning fish and extent of spawning area) as well as the need to clarify spawning regulations so that they are interpreted and applied consistently among the implementing states. Fishermen and other interested groups are encouraged to provide input on the Draft Addendum. The Draft Addendum will be available on the Commission website (wwww.asmfc.org) under Breaking News or by contacting the Commission at 703.842.0740 by May 11, 2012. Public comment will be accepted until 5:00 PM (EST) on June 15, 2012 and should be forwarded to Christopher Vonderweidt, Fishery Management Plan Coordinator, 1050 N. Highland St., Suite 200 A-N, Arlington, VA 22201; 703.842.0741 (FAX) or at email@example.com (Subject line: Atlantic Herring Draft Addendum V).
Press Release: May 1, 2012
Alexandria, VA – In its report to the Commission’s American Eel Management Board, an independent panel of scientists endorsed the findings of the 2012 benchmark stock assessment, which concluded the American eel population is depleted in U.S. waters. The stock is at or near historically low levels due to a combination of historical overfishing, habitat loss, food web alterations, predation, turbine mortality, environmental changes, toxins and contaminants, and disease. The panel urged the Board to examine alternative reference points to provide more protection to the spawning stock biomass.
Both trend and model analyses results indicate the American eel stock has declined in recent decades and the prevalence of significant downward trends in multiple surveys across the coast is cause for concern. Based on these findings, the stock is considered depleted. No overfishing determination can be made at this time. However, the Commission’s American Eel Technical Committee and Stock Assessment Subcommittee caution that although commercial fishery landings and effort in recent times have declined in most regions (with the possible exception of the glass eel fishery), current levels of fishing effort may still be too high given the additional stressors affecting the stock such as habitat loss, passage mortality, and disease. Fishing on all life stages of eels, particularly young-of-the-year and in-river silver eels migrating to the spawning grounds, could be particularly detrimental to the stock, especially if other sources of mortality (e.g., turbine mortality, changing oceanographic conditions) cannot be readily controlled. Management efforts to reduce mortality on American eels in the U.S. are warranted.
In response to the findings, the Board tasked the American Eel Technical Committee with developing potential management actions for Board consideration at its next meeting. A more detailed overview of the American eel stock assessment is available on the Commission website at http://www.asmfc.org/speciesDocuments/eel/AmericanEelStockAssessmentOverview_May2012.pdf. It was developed with the intent of aiding media and interested stakeholders in better understanding the Commission’s stock assessment results and process. The American Eel Stock Assessment Report and Assessment Peer Review Report will be posted to the Commission website under Breaking News on May 7. For more information, please contact Kate Taylor, Fishery Management Coordinator, at firstname.lastname@example.org or at 703.842.0740.
Alexandria, VA – The Executive Committee of the Atlantic States Marine Fisheries Commission met yesterday afternoon to consider the future direction of the Commission. After lengthy discussion, the Executive Committee approved an action to move forward with new leadership in the near future. The approved change includes appointment of a new Executive Director, thus replacing the current Executive Director, John V. O'Shea, who has served in the position for the past ten years. Paul Diodati, the Chairman of the Commission said, "The Commission has prospered under Executive Director O'Shea's administrative oversight. His professionalism and conservation ideals set a high standard for the Commission that will guide us in making a new appointment. We will work closely with Mr. O'Shea over the next few months to help make a successful transition in leadership." Last evening as part of its Annual Awards of Excellence, the Commission honored Mr. O’Shea’s 10 years of contributions to Atlantic coastal fisheries management.
Eels face Poaching Threat
by Doug Frazer, Cape Code Times, 5/7/2012
HARWICH — On April 11 at 2:30 in the morning, Sgt. Bob Brackett bumped down a long dirt road bordered by cranberry bogs and woods and pulled into the dirt parking lot of the Bells Neck Conservation Area. There were no other vehicles in the lot, but Brackett noticed two men standing alongside the concrete fish ladder that helps alewives climb upstream from the Herring River into the West Reservoir.
These were not high school revelers or even a couple of guys poaching alewives. The two men had dip nets and battery powered bubbling aerators pumping oxygen into water-filled buckets. The tiny transparent eels, known as glass eels or elvers, which they were catching illegally, have recently become one of the most expensive delicacies in the world, with fish dealers paying more than $2,000 a pound.
With prices that high, state fisheries regulators, enforcement officers and local eel monitors worry that poaching may further deplete American eel populations. Last week, the Atlantic States Marine Fisheries Commission, which regulates fishing in state waters on interstate fish stocks, endorsed a report showing the American eel is at or near historically low levels from a multitude of causes, including overfishing, habitat loss, food web changes, predation, hydroelectric turbines, environmental changes, water pollution and disease.
The commission's eel board urged that, given those environmental factors, fishing be limited throughout all stages of the eel's life cycle, but particularly for the glass eel and elver phase, and the adult stage when they are migrating back to the Sargasso Sea to spawn for the one and only time in their lives.
Explosion in poaching
Harvest levels of glass eels and elvers more than doubled between 2010 and 2011 as the average price went from $185 to $891 per pound. "This year, the (poaching) activity exploded," Massachusetts Division of Marine Fisheries eel scientist Brad Chase said. Elvers don't have the swimming ability of the river herring and the fisheries division and others have been building special eel runs to get them past the swift flowing waters in herring runs, or over dams. Generally, the eels ascend a pipe into a locked collection box that is checked and emptied into the lake or pond daily by volunteers. Those boxes also have become the object of poachers, said one local volunteer, who noticed the pipe pulled off and the box cleaned out on two consecutive weekends on the run she monitors. She did not want to be identified to protect the run. The price spike stems from a surge in demand from aquaculturists in Asian countries who purchase the wild juvenile elvers, raise them until they reach a half-pound then sell them in the sushi market, explained Mitchell Feigenbaum, principal of Delaware Valley Fish Co. of Portland, Maine. A significant drop in recent years in the number of wild Asian glass eels, combined with a European ban on exporting their own wild stock, meant the U.S. elvers suddenly commanded high prices. Feigenbaum said the price increase really isn't that large when you consider the profit farmers make selling the adult eels on the high-end sushi market. A good farmer, he said, could turn $2,000 worth of glass eels into $20,000 in sales.
A dozen years ago, the price for glass eels was $25 a pound. In recent years, it climbed to $325 and last year reached $900. Now at more than $2,000, the tiny translucent eels, less than 6 inches long, newly arrived in the Cape's rivers and streams from the Sargasso Sea this spring, were particularly inviting to poachers. Harwich police Sgt. Brackett had no way of knowing, but the 2 pounds of elvers swimming in those unpretentious buckets could have fetche $4,000 to $5,000 when sold in Maine, one of only two states where it is legal to harvest and sell them. With prices that high, competition for prime spots on Maine's waterways has been fierce and the yields are nowhere near what fishermen get in Massachusetts, where the elver fishery is banned and the competition virtually nonexistent.
"I hear stories of someone coming in (to dealers) with 50 pounds of eels and I think, they must have been to Massachusetts," said Gail Wippelhauser, a Maine Department of Marine Resources scientist specializing in eels. "There's no place in Maine where you can get that many eels in one night."
The poachers are well-organized, said Massachusetts Environmental Police Lt. Col. Christopher Baker. With investigations and other enforcement actions still under way to catch poachers, Baker said he couldn't discuss the measures his department is taking. The environmental police are short-staffed, having lost 33 percent of their force in the past five years, Baker added.
One source said the federal and state authorities know those in the poaching rings, which have been operating for decades. Many come from Maine, the only nearby state where you can sell them legally as long as you are among the 407 allowed to have elver licenses. Often, poachers will be dropped off in pairs to work a stream and then picked up when they are finished. It's a good strategy, since Massachusetts law allows for the confiscation of all equipment, including vehicles, associated with the poaching operation. Poachers can also be fined $100 per eel. Transporting them across state lines is also a federal offense.
No jail time, no fine
The two men Brackett and the other officers caught April 11 told officers they were dropped off at the Harwich run that night. Christopher Baxter, who gave a Michigan address but a Maine phone number, and Michael Knowlton, from Union, Maine, fled into the surrounding woods and marshes and surrendered to police after an hours-long search by Harwich, Dennis and state police officers. With between 2,500 and 4,000 eels per pound, the pair could have faced a half-million dollars or more in fines and up to 30 days in jail. Instead, when they pleaded guilty at their arraignment in Orleans District Court on April 11, they were released after paying only $50 in court costs.
The Division of Marine Fisheries' Chase, who is also chairman of the Atlantic States Marine Fisheries Commission's Eel Management Board, thinks ending the elver fishery in Maine could cut back on poaching and help the species recover.
"There's a very good reason why most states have banned it," Chase said. The eel board met in Virginia last week and considered a petition to list the American eel as a threatened species under the federal Endangered Species Act.
Wippelhauser countered that the threat to eels does not come from the juvenile fishery but from the catching of adults, which tends to focus on large adult females. Maine banned the weir fishery for eels a decade ago while allowing glass eels to be caught. Adults can live for 40 years, mate only once, offshore in the Sargasso Sea, then die.
In its petition to the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service, the Council for Endangered Species Act Reliability noted a steep population dropoff for American eels beginning in the mid-1980s. It contended that overharvesting, significant loss of habitat mostly due to dams both large and small, a deadly parasite from imported eels that scientists believe may have infested at least half the adult population, and inadequate protection and planning by the Atlantic States Marine Fisheries Commission and other regulatory agencies.
Top Five Foes of Fishing
Courtesy of the U.S. Sportsmen's Alliance
While spring means warmer waters, active fish, and anglers making casts across America, take note that there are groups working to prevent you from ever making another cast-or from catching any fish, anywhere. Here are the U.S. Sportsmen's Alliance's Top Five Foes of Fishing:
Keep the "Top Five Foes of Fishing" on your mind and tell other anglers in your boat, and in your local tackle shop, about these groups that work against anglers everywhere.
JCAA received this article for the U.S. Sportsmen’s Alliance and it is the first list of kind I have seen. If you made a list, who would you put on it?
Atlantic Coastal Cooperative Statistics Program
Atlantic Coast Fisheries Data Collection Standards
For Immediate Release: May 10, 2012
Contact Ann McElhatton
Arlington, VA (May 10, 2012) - The Atlantic Coastal Cooperative Statistics Program (ACCSP) is proud to release the latest edition of the Atlantic Coast Fisheries Data Collection Standards. This document is considered the blueprint for the Program, as well as partners, and will be used to direct partner data collection over the next several years.
Major highlights of this document include a call for more timely data, specifically:
Mark Alexander, Chair of the ACCSP Coordinating Council, states that these standards “are significant because they’ve been compiled by very knowledgeable professionals from all the Atlantic coast federal, state, and regional partners of the ACCSP. The breadth and detail of this collaboration makes it an essential resource that we expect all data collectors will come to rely on. Using this guide for sound and effective data collection will no doubt inform sound and effective fisheries management decisions”.
If you would like to learn more about the Atlantic Coast Fisheries Data Collection Standards the ACCSP is conducting a webinar on Thursday, June 7 at 10am EST. Please contact Ann McElhatton, Program Manager with ACCSP, at email@example.com or 703.842.0780 for more information on registration. The Atlantic Coast Fisheries Data Collection Standards can be downloaded from this link.
ACCSP is a cooperative state-federal program to design, implement, and conduct marine fisheries statistics data collection programs and to integrate those data into a single data management system that will meet the needs of fishery managers, scientists, and fishermen. It is composed of representatives from natural resource management agencies coastwide, including the Atlantic States Marine Fisheries Commission, the three Atlantic fishery management councils, the 15 Atlantic states, the Potomac River Fisheries Commission, the D.C. Fisheries and Wildlife Division, NOAA – National Marine Fisheries.
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