Fisheries Management & Legislative Report

by Tom Fote
(from Jersey Coast Anglers Association January 2017 Newsletter)


Estate Planning

In the President’s column, I noticed that John Toth pointed out that now is the time for you to make your tax deductible donations for 2016. After “Black Friday” we have “Cyber Monday” and then “Giving Tuesday.” I must have received 150 emails that day asking for donations but none from JCAA. JCAA has been good at fighting our battles since 1981, making striped bass a no-sale fish, putting the reduction boats out of state waters or helping to stop the dumping of Agent Orange, sewage or chemicals in the ocean. What we have not been good at is raising money. In the beginning we were all volunteers and even now we only pay an office manager. Our members who attend meetings, including myself, sometimes get expenses but don’t get paid for our time. It has been tough to raise money since the downturn in the economy. At one time our Fluke Tournament generated enough funds to meet all of our obligations but that is no longer true. When original owner of Penn Reels Betty Henze passed away in 2013, she left JCAA a portion of her IRA. This gave us the much needed funds in 2015. When New Jersey’s new estate tax takes effect, some of you may be revisiting your estate planning. This would be a great time to set aside a small amount for JCAA. That is something I have done in my will. I hope you all live long enough that JCAA never collects. In the meantime, consider the charities you give to and include JCAA.

Fighting the Onerous Fluke Quota

NMFS has proposed to reduce the fluke quota to the lowest quota we have ever had. NMFS is doing this because of three stated reasons. The three reasons are poor recruitment, a drop in spawning stock biomass from their all-time highs and overage in New York and Connecticut.

Reason One and Two: Poor Recruitment and a Drop in Spawning Stock Biomass

The last few years we have not seen great recruitment by summer flounder. In his article, Paul Haertel included the table on spawning stock biomass and recruitment. When you look at that table you will notice in the early years the spawning stock biomass was about 2/3 of what it is now. During that period of time, NMFS proposed that we could have a spawning stock biomass 5 times that number. It took us 17 years to get NMFS to lower the targets for the spawning stock biomass to a less onerous number. At the same time, they reduced the expectations for what the reachable quota would ever be. A few years ago they declared the fishery recovered since spawning stock biomass came within the target range. But once we reached a spawning biomass that large, recruitment began to decline. As you can see from the table, we had better recruitment when the spawning stock biomass was much lower. I have contended, and some scientists have agreed with me, that we have reached the top of a bell-shaped curve which coincides with the highest levels of spawning stock biomass ever recorded. The fact that we have exceeded the carrying capacity may be one of the reasons for the poor recruitment. In the last benchmark stock assessment, the peer review stated the summer flounder recruitment is not based on spawning stock biomass. So why is NMFS pushing to implement reductions in the quota which results in maintaining this high spawning stock biomass? If spawning stock biomass has nothing to do with recruitment, why are we lowering the quota? We know the economic hardship that will be caused by this drastic lowering of the quota. ASMFC’s motto is to rebuild sustainable fisheries. A sustainable fishery means able to be harvested at a sustainable rate. Sometimes I feel NMFS is managing the fisheries to get the highest amount of fish in the ocean with no regard for anglers or the businesses they support. ASMFC manages 3 species with the Mid-Atlantic Marine Fisheries Management Council (NMFS can override any Council decision.). If this was just summer flounder it would not be so obvious but the same is true of black sea bass and scup. At the same time NMFS was reducing the summer flounder quota, they were putting in more stringent measures for the recreational community for scup even though scup spawning stock biomass is 2 ½ times the target they set. While they were reducing the recreational quota for scup they were increasing the availability for the commercial harvest for scup with a new addendum. We all know black sea bass has expanded its range to the Gulf of Maine and New Hampshire but still NMFS maintains a low quota. It reminds me of reading about Silas Marner and his hoarded gold. It seems NMFS just wants to hoard the fish.

Reason Three: NMFS Estimation of the Recreational Catch

NMFS is at it again with projections that no one has any faith in. This time Connecticut and New York get the short end of the stick. NMFS estimates that Connecticut and New York were way over their target for summer flounder. The numbers from MRIP suggest that in the July and August wave hundreds of thousands more anglers went fishing in New York and Connecticut than in 2015. In order to accomplish the numbers NMFS is proposing, NY had 425,000 more trips and that come out to an increase of 7,000 more anglers per day for the two months.

And in Connecticut, there were 285,000 more trips and that come out to an increase of 5,500 more anglers per day for the two months. Estimates of trips for Wave 4:

In Connecticut that would mean an increase in anglers fishing in July and August of 68%. In New York the increase for the same period would have been 35%. New York and Connecticut would have been thrilled if this were true. We cannot imagine that it is.

We had the same experience in 2016 with black sea bass and NMFS actually corrected the numbers. NMFS needs to take the same action on summer flounder. In the passage in 2006 of the Magnusson Stevens Act, Congress directed NMFS to correct the way we collect recreational statistics. We are now 10 years later and some of us feel the accuracy of the numbers is just as bad or worse. In my attempt to find an analogy that explains our dilemma, I want to tell you a story about my phone. I get a lot of criticism for still having a flip phone. I am encouraged to update and join the smart phone generation. A flip phone was designed to be a phone, just a phone. In the latest flip phones you can text but it is not an easy task. You can find the internet or take pictures but the outcome is only fair. To go to a smart phone you needed to neglect the original intent, making phone calls, and got to a mini computer that also makes phone calls. I can go to Verizon and still buy a flip phone. It will still make phone calls. But it is still lousy at taking pictures or texting. But it is cheap. I can walk in and buy a smart phone which will make phone calls, collect data and answer all types of questions immediately. But it will cost me a lot more money and be a lot more complicated. In the process of designing a smart phone they added lots of computer chips and many “apps.” When NMFS got the mandate to correct the recreational statistical data gathering methods, did they go into their laboratory and spend the money for “smart phone” of statistical gathering? NMFS “flip phone” was designed to show trends in recreational fishing. It was designed to be the “smart phone” of recreational statistics. In order to do that they would have had to start over again, design a vehicle that can really collect the information they need instead of just inventing add-ons. Instead of getting a new program that would give us the information, we got a vehicle that is giving us worse data than ever before. NMFS solution, just keeps tinkering with the original “flip phone.”

In 2017 we are experiencing a double whammy. First, we are reducing the quota because of poor recruitment and, second, because of NMFS crazy numbers from MRIP. As you can see neither one of these reductions are necessary.

Congressman Frank Pallone and Senator Cory Booker Letter to NOAA Calling for Status Quo on Summer Flounder
Dear Assistant Administrator Sobeck:

We write in regard to a proposal by NOAA Fisheries to reduce the Acceptable Biological Catch (ABC), recreational and commercial quotas for summer flounder in 2017 and 2018. Implementing this proposed rule will have a dramatic impact on the livelihoods of recreational and commercial fishermen, damaging the economies of coastal communities that depend on this important fishery. NOAA Fisheries should reconsider this proposal, specifically by maintaining existing quota levels until it conducts a new summer flounder benchmark assessment.

As you know, the last summer flounder benchmark assessment took place in 2013, and the agency has scheduled a new assessment to take place in 2017. The scale of these reductions is serious, for example, the summer flounder ABC would be reduced 29% in 2017 and a 16% in 2018. The recreational and commercial limits would both be reduced by approximately 30% in 2017 and 16% in 2018 respectively. NOAA Fisheries should make use of the best science available to ensure that it has updated numbers before making any decision of this level.

These proposed reductions would harm many coastal communities along the Jersey Shore, especially those that rely on the recreational and commercial fishing industries. These communities are already struggling. From 2007 to 2014 there was a loss of 2 million fishing trips in New Jersey, and 40% of fishing trips in New Jersey are in pursuit of summer flounder. The damage would not be limited to just fishermen; the tourism and boating industries along the Shore would be impacted as well. That is why we are respectfully requesting that NOAA Fisheries to postpone any decision on summer flounder quotas until it conducts a new benchmark summer flounder assessment. The agency should also maintain the current quotas until that assessment is conducted.

NOAA Fisheries should use the best science and updated data before it makes any decision to implement these dramatic quota cuts.

Sincerely, Frank Pallone, Jr., Member of Congress Cory A. Booker, United States Senator
Proposed Rule for 2017 and 2018 Summer Flounder Specifications
Summer Flounder (million lb.)
Overfishing Limit16.7618.69
Acceptable Biological Catch11.3013.23
Commercial Annual Catch Limit6.577.70
Commercial Annual Catch Target6.577.70
Commercial Quota5.666.63
Recreational Annual Catch Limit4.725.53
Recreational Annual Catch Target4.725.53
Recreational Harvest Limit3.774.42
Reversing Course, EPA Says Fracking Can Contaminate Drinking Water
by Coral Davenport, New York Times, December 13, 2016

WASHINGTON — The Environmental Protection Agency has concluded that hydraulic fracturing, the oil and gas extraction technique also known as fracking, has contaminated drinking water in some circumstances, according to the final version of a comprehensive study first issued in 2015.

The new version is far more worrying than the first, which found “no evidence that fracking systemically contaminates water” supplies. In a significant change, that conclusion was deleted from the final study.

“E.P.A scientists chose not to include that sentence. The scientists concluded it could not be quantitatively supported,” said Thomas A. Burke, the E.P.A.’s science adviser, and deputy assistant administrator of the agency’s Office of Research and Development.

The report, the largest and most comprehensive of its kind to date on the effects of fracking on water supply, comes as President-elect Donald J. Trump has vowed to expand fracking and roll back existing regulations on the process. His choice to run the E.P.A., Scott Pruitt, the attorney general from Oklahoma, has built his career on fighting E.P.A. regulations on energy exploration.

Among Mr. Trump’s key energy policy advisers are Harold Hamm, the chief executive of Continental Resources, an energy firm that has been at the forefront of the fracking boom, and Representative Kevin Cramer, Republican of North Dakota, a state transformed by fracking.

Now that team must contend with scientific findings that urge caution in an energy sector that Mr. Trump wants to untether. Mr. Burke said that the new report found evidence that fracking has contributed to drinking water contamination in all stages of the process: acquiring water to be used for fracking, mixing the water with chemical additives to make fracking fluids, injecting the chemical fluids underground, collecting the wastewater that flows out of fracking wells after injections, and storing the used wastewater.

Still, Mr. Burke said that the report remained “full of gaps and holes,” and that the issue required far more study. He declined to offer policy recommendations based on the study, saying that it will “give a lot of information to help communities and decision makers do better in protecting water supplies.”

What kind of audience the new team of decision makers will be seems clear. In September, Mr. Trump promised a corporate conference of fracking executives in Pittsburgh: “The shale energy revolution will unleash massive wealth for America,” as he vowed to end regulations on fracking.

“I think probably no other business has been affected by regulation than your business,” he told the gas executives. “Federal regulations remain a major restriction to shale production.”

Fracking is subject to only light federal regulations. The Obama administration has put forth one rule intended to protect water from fracking waste. But that rule applies only to fracking on public lands, which hold about 100,000 fracking wells — representing about 10 percent of all fracking in the United States. The vast majority of fracking occurs on state or private land and is governed by state and local regulations.

Environmentalists seized on the new report as evidence that the federal government should strengthen federal protections on fracking.

“This report acknowledges what far too many communities across this country know to be true — fracking is a threat to our clean drinking water,” said Madeleine Foote, the legislative representative for the League of Conservation Voters.

“Given E.P.A. administrator nominee Scott Pruitt’s record of fighting fracking regulations, it will be important during the confirmation process for senators to ask him if he will follow the recommendations of his agency’s scientists, or continue to rely on industry spin,” she said.

Fracking advocates dismissed the report. “Even the new statement is still consistent with the finding that contamination attributable to shale development is neither widespread nor systemic,” Scott H. Segal, a fossil fuel lobbyist with the firm Bracewell Law LLP, wrote in an email. “But evidence of contamination is highly anecdotal and often overblown by the exaggeration often associated with litigation. The vast majority of third-party professional organizations and governmental officials have found shale development to be highly consistent with environmental protection and energy policy objectives.”

The E.P.A has been working on the report since 2010, when it was requested by Congress. Mr. Burke called the study unprecedented in scope and depth, saying it included a review of over 1,000 existing studies as well as new research, modeling and analysis conducted by E.P.A scientists. In the process of completing the study, the E.P.A. produced 13 peer-reviewed reports and published as many studies in scientific journals.

I was EPA Administrator. Advice for the next one: Don’t walk back Environmental Progress.
Opinion by Christine Todd Whitman

Christine Todd Whitman, EPA administrator from 2001 to 2003, is president of the Whitman Strategy Group environmental consulting firm and co-chair of the Clean & Safe Energy Coalition, which advocates for nuclear energy.

President-elect Donald Trump’s nomination of Oklahoma Attorney General Scott Pruitt (R) to head the Environmental Protection Agency has drawn criticism because of Pruitt’s public stances against the agency’s authority and his numerous lawsuits to block agency regulations in his state. Given Pruitt’s obvious dislike for what the agency does, I am disappointed in his selection, but his appointment does not come as a surprise given the professed views of the president-elect and many of his closest aides.

As a former EPA administrator under a Republican president, I recognize that it is easy to hate regulations in general. After all, regulatory action causes people to spend money or change behavior, often to solve problems they do not believe exist. Regulations have certainly gone too far in a number of areas, but it’s important to remember that regulations are meant to be protective, and when it comes to the EPA, that means protecting human health and our world. Pruitt would be wise not to try to walk back the real progress that has been made.

Let’s not forget the atmosphere in which the EPA was created. The nation was experiencing great turmoil in 1969 and 1970, with riots on college campuses and in many cities. The Cuyahoga River in Ohio caught fire, and our air and water sources were being polluted by actors not required by any governing body to protect our citizens. People demanded that Washington protect them, and they got a Republican president to work with a Democratic Congress to establish the EPA and enact the Clean Water Act and the Clean Air Act. To forget that the EPA was borne out of public demand is to invite a real backlash.

So I hope that Pruitt will take time to rethink some of his criticisms of the agency and also recognize the role of science in a regulatory agency such as the EPA. Pruitt has questioned “the degree and extent of global warming and its connection to the actions of mankind.” I have long said that activists have done themselves a disservice by stressing that humans have “caused” climate change. That claim to sole causation results in people like Pruitt dismissing the need to address climate change because they doubt that humans have done all of the damage. The climate has always changed — after all, we’ve had numerous ice ages without human influence — but human activity has undoubtedly exacerbated Earth’s natural trends beyond its capacity to adjust.

The New York-based Regional Plan Association reported last week that by 2050 the sea level along the Atlantic Coast could rise by an entire foot. This means every time there is a bad storm, more land will be susceptible to erosion and more of our coastline at risk for destruction. The cost in human lives and capital rebuilding will reach beyond the capability of any government or institution. The Joint Chiefs of Staff and other military leaders view climate change as a national security issue; hopefully that fact demonstrates, even to those who are most skeptical, the gravity of the situation we are facing. To the extent that we can slow the process, we would be wise to do it.

There are very practical ways that the EPA and federal government can protect our environment, as well as human health and our infrastructure. To slow the rate of climate change, we need to reduce our carbon output; thankfully, there are ways to achieve that goal that have significant economic benefits as well. Promoting energy conservation and reminding people only to use what they actually need benefits household budgets. Building nuclear plants and other clean-energy sources creates good jobs for Americans. The EPA should also work with the Transportation Department to advance mass transit, which will get people out of traffic jams, saving time for them and massively reducing carbon emissions from idling cars.

Between 1990 and 2012, the population grew by 38 percent, and electricity demand increased by 27 percent, but we more than doubled our gross domestic product in real numbers while at the same time reducing pollutants by 67 percent. This is not a zero-sum game. President-elect Trump and EPA Administrator-designate Pruitt should recognize that it is a fallacy to believe we cannot have a healthy, thriving economy and a clean and green environment. The new administration can vigorously pursue its economic goals while allowing the EPA to do what it was created to do: protect the health of the American people and a clean and green environment. The new administration can vigorously pursue its economic goals while allowing the EPA to do what it was created to do: protect the health of the American people and our land.

Rapid Evolution Saved this Fish from Pollution, Study Says
by Joanna Klein, New York Times, December 9, 2016

The State of New Jersey says you can’t eat the fish or shellfish from the Lower Passaic River and Newark Bay. That’s because they’re living in the Diamond Alkali Superfund Site, where toxic leftovers from the manufacture of chemicals like DDT and the infamous Agent Orange oozed into surrounding waterways to be taken up by the animals that inhabited them. It’s an evolutionary miracle some of these animals are even alive. No, seriously. A fish that adapted to survive in this water shows evolution at its finest, according to a study published Thursday in Science.

The Atlantic killifish is a slippery sliver of silver about the size of a fat finger and as common as the minnow. Starting in the late 1990s, researchers became aware that the fish was tolerant of the toxic waters at the Lower Passaic Superfund site and at least three other highly polluted areas along the Atlantic coastline. The new study found that over just a few decades, distinct populations of killifish independently developed similar genetic adaptations that make life possible in the most unlikely environments. The findings show that evolution doesn’t have to start in one place to be repeated.

“It’s these shared changes as well as the unique pattern of changes in these different populations that provide us with a really useful field example of how animals can respond to rapidly changing and extreme environments,” said Diane Nacci, a biologist at the Environmental Protection Agency who worked on the study.

She and other researchers, led by Noah Reid, an evolutionary geneticist at the University of Connecticut, compared the whole genomes of 384 killifish from these areas and nearby, less-polluted waters. They found that in all regions, one particular genetic pathway was the source of the pollution tolerance, although slightly different patterns of genetic changes were responsible in each population.

Normally, toxic chemicals like dioxins and polychlorinated biphenyls, or PCBs, set off a number of changes inside sensitive fish that interfere not just with the survival of adults, but also with the development of their embryos. But in the tolerant fish, the trigger for those changes is turned off, allowing some fish to survive levels of PCBs thousands of times higher than the levels affecting sensitive fish.

Killifish Embryos The killifish embryo on the left developed normally 10 days after fertilization. The embryo on the right was affected by PCBs. Credit Bryan Clark

The mutation occurred rather quickly. This speedy evolution was made possible, the researchers think, by the huge and genetically diverse killifish populations that may have harbored a rare mutation.

“Whenever you have large population sizes, there’s a chance some might actually carry mutations on their genomes that are advantageous in novel environments, like pollution,” said Michael Tobler, an evolutionary ecologist at Kansas State University who was not involved in the study but wrote a complementary paper on the research for the same issue of Science. “Any that didn’t have this lucky mutation didn’t make it.”

Those that did reproduced, and so became the pollutant-tolerant Atlantic killifish. But in smaller populations with less diversity, the chance that a rare mutation like this already exists is slim: Evolution is put on hold until that mutation develops.

This story “adds to the body of literatures suggesting that preserving genetic diversity within species might be important for buffering them against global climate change,” Dr. Reid said.

But it’s not a mop for the pollutants we have imposed on our environment over the past century.

“At first sight this study might tell us, well, it will all be fine,” Dr. Tobler said, addressing the argument that perhaps we need not worry if nature appears to be finding solutions on its own. “These killifish can do it, and there’s probably many species out there that can respond in this particular manner, but there’s probably going to be lots of species out there that can’t.”

Additionally, adaptations typically come at a cost. The story of evolution predicts that once the water becomes clean, a tolerant fish won’t do as well as a sensitive fish. What’s the consequence of turning off this pathway, which is responsible for dealing with toxicity at less extreme levels? Researchers are still looking for answers.

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