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Fisheries Management & Legislative Report

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

Contents:

Summer Flounder

This has been the spring and summer of the never-ending summer flounder story. As this paper goes to press on Tuesday, I will be on a conference call later that afternoon with NOAA defending New Jersey’s position that the summer flounder regulations in place are consistent with the requirements of the Amendment. Yes, we took a novel way to meet those requirements by trying to reduce hook and release mortality through education and smaller size limits. We are killing more summer founder in New Jersey because of high size limits through hook and release mortality than we are taking home. We have also reduced the number of fish that the recreational community takes home in New Jersey by over 75%. How have we done this? Every time you increase the size, you increase the weight which means anglers are taking home less fish but larger fish. With a size limit of 19 inches we would probably be less than 20% of what we were on a quota of equal size than when we did with smaller size limits. The stocks are 1/3 larger than they were when we started the rebuilding process, but comparing a quota of 16 million pounds with the size limits then and the size limits now, anglers would be taking home less than 20% of what they did at the beginning of rebuilding.

With all that said, I have a hard time understanding how New Jersey and other states in the Mid-Atlantic region are catching as many fish as they are. We keep landing more summer flounder and other species in New Jersey with at least 50,000 boats less than in 2007 – 2014. We are also landing more fish with 2 million fewer recreational trips for the same period of time. I don’t have the figures for 2016 but I don’t imagine there will be an increase. In fact, I would not be surprised if there is a decrease. With all the changes we have made to the recreational survey data, no matter what name you give it, it still is not working and we are still getting crazy numbers like the NY sea bass catch for 2016.

Hopefully, what has transpired in the last few months, with New Jersey leading this discussion, will encourage other states, the Mid-Atlantic Council and NOAA to reevaluate the way we are managing summer flounder. They need to look at the way we manage recovered stocks and the impact of discard mortality. Stay tuned.

Black Sea Bass

It is my experience that the longer the meeting day, the more likely we are to make decisions that we eventually regret. The black sea bass decision at the May ASMFC meeting is a good example. There were reasons this happened. First, we were looking at a stock that is 230% above where it is supposed to be and still have not figured out how to deal with increasing the quota. Second, there was fear that NMFS would act in the federal waters on black sea bass even though we are fishing on a quota below where it should be. Finally, people were looking at the clock as we passed 6:00 knowing there would still be a couple of hour discussion about summer flounder. For these reasons, a hasty motion was made and passed without looking at the consequence of the motion or considering which states would feel the greatest impact. New Jersey would feel the most significant negative impact with this motion even though New Jersey was not the major contributor to the problem. One of the states from the north supporting the motion would see no impact at all since they would be closed for the winter fishery for black sea bass. Other states in the northern region that would have an open fishery would experience only minor cutbacks. New Jersey’s winter fishery is one of the most important for black sea bass and fills the gap when there is no other fishery open. We went from a 15 fish bag limit to 5 fish where other states in our region took a 2 fish cutback, no cutback at all or a 5 fish cutback. Without any input from the technical committee, we have no clue on how these possible regulation changes would accomplish the goal. The southern states voted for this just because they didn’t want NMFS to change the regulations in federal waters. We need to schedule time at the August meeting to adequately discuss the problem and come up with a new motion that does not unfairly impact one state. I know this decision was not intentional but we need to fix it. I am sure commissioners will realize this was an unfair outcome and not what was intended.

NJ Division of Fish & Wildlife Web Page

The New Jersey Division of Fish and Wildlife web page is a valuable of information for any fresh water or saltwater angler and the hunters of New Jersey. You can find out all the current regulations and a wealth of other information like the alert on the temporary closure of an area to Mobile Sport Fishing Vehicles on IBSP. That alert is below. You can also sign up to get alerts when new things are posted on the web page. The state of New Jersey is helping to reduce the hook and release mortality of summer flounder and all other species. They are tackling the summer flounder problem through pamphlets, stories and releases. They will also be posting YouTube videos. NMFS and the American Sportfishing Association has committed to assist New Jersey with resources in this effort. Below are two articles that are posted on the web page. Over the years, I get a lot of questions on how the intercepts work. One of these articles is a good explanation on what the interceptor is doing. The other article begins the discussion on how we begin to reduce the hook and release mortality. If you have suggestions, please forward them to New Jersey Bureau of Marine Fisheries. I know as good conservation anglers we are always looking for ways to release fish unharmed. I suggest you sign up for the alerts or just go to the web page on a regular basis.

Draft Amendment 1 to the Interstate Fishery Management Plan (FMP) for Tautog

The notice for the NJ ASMFC Tautog hearing is below. There are some interesting changes proposed so please read them and make your comments. The hearing is at 6:30PM which is the same night as the JCAA general meeting at our office in Toms River. If you are a JCAA Club representatives stop by before you go to the meeting so you can discuss it at the meeting.

States Schedule Hearings on ASMFC Tautog Draft Amendment 1

Arlington, VA – The states of Massachusetts through Virginia have scheduled hearings to gather public comment on Draft Amendment 1 to the Interstate Fishery Management Plan (FMP) for Tautog. The details of those hearings follow.

New Jersey Division of Fish and Wildlife Tuesday, June 27, 2017 from 6:30 – 9:30 p.m. Ocean County Administration Building Public Hearing Room 119 101 Hooper Avenue Toms River, New Jersey Contact: Russ Allen at 609.748.2020

The Draft Amendment proposes a fundamental change in tautog management, moving away from management on a coastwide basis towards regional management. In addition, Draft Amendment 1 proposes the establishment of a commercial harvest tagging program, as well as new goals and objectives, biological reference points and fishing mortality targets, and a stock rebuilding schedule.

Specifically, Draft Amendment 1 proposes delineating the stock into four regions due to differences in biology and fishery characteristics, as well as limited coastwide movement.

Table 1: Four-Region Management Approach

  1. Massachusetts – Rhode Island
  2. Long Island Sound (CT and NY LIS)
  3. New Jersey – New York Bight
  4. Delaware – Maryland – Virginia

Management options by region have been developed in response to the 2016 stock assessment update. Long Island Sound and New Jersey-New York Bight would be required to take harvest reductions due to the regional overfishing stock status, while Massachusetts-Rhode Island and Delaware-Maryland-Virginia would not have to take harvest reductions, but are proposing regional measures.

A commercial harvest tagging program is being proposed to address an illegal, unreported and undocumented fishery that has persisted for more than a decade. Reports of illegally harvested fish have been documented in cases against fishermen, fish houses, and at retail markets and restaurants. The tagging program, which would accommodate both the live and dead commercial markets, was recommended by the Commission’s Law Enforcement Committee to increase accountability in the fishery and curb illegal harvest. A tautog tag trial was conducted to investigate the impact of the tags on the resource and found no mortality or degradation to fish health.

The Draft Amendment is available here or on the Commission website, www.asmfc.org (under Public Input). Fishermen and other interested groups are encouraged to provide input on the Draft Amendment either by attending state public hearings or providing written comment. Public comment will be accepted until 5:00 PM (EST) on July 14, 2017 and should be forwarded to Ashton Harp, FMP Coordinator, 1050 N. Highland St, Suite A-N, Arlington, VA 22201; 703.842.0741 (FAX) or at aharp@asmfc.org (Subject line: Tautog Draft Amendment 1).

Final action on the Amendment is scheduled to occur in August. For more information, please contact Ashton Harp, Fishery Management Plan Coordinator, at aharp@asmfc.org or 703.842.0740.

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