(from Jersey Coast Anglers
December 1995 / January 1996 Newsletter)
ASA/JCAA HOST 2-DAY PLANNING SESSION IN SEASIDE HEIGHTS by Gary Caputi
At the recent meeting of the Striped Bass Board in Braintree, Massachusetts, the effects of months of intense effort by the recreational fishing community bore fruit. The Board voted unanimously to reverse its original recommendation to the National Marine Fisheries Service to reopen the EEZ to the harvest of striped bass. Just three months ago, if we were asked to place odds on this happening, it would have been considered a "hundred-to-one-shot" at best. Even early reports from this meeting indicated mixed feelings about the reversal and several prominent state directors indicated they would not vote to change their recommendation to NMFS.
Alliance To Save Fisheries lead the battle and was joined in the effort by the JCAA, the American Sportfishing Association, the many chapters of the Coastal Conservation Association, the New York Sportfishing Association, the Maryland Saltwater Sportfishing Association and a host of non-aliened fishing clubs and individuals. A public outcry was heard that, at times, became almost deafening. NMFS public hearings on the proposed rule to reopen the EEZ were attended by large numbers of recreational fishermen, the largest numbers to be seen at any fisheries hearings in decades! In New Jersey, the numbers that attended the three public hearings were staggering, easily over 2,000 people in total. While commercial fishermen were in attendance, their presence was overshadowed by the throngs of recreational fishermen who saw through the smoke to realize that there was nothing to be gained by this move and far too much to be lost. They wanted fisheries managers to under just how important the further recovery of the striped bass was to them and their desire to see this species protected from the ravages of commercial over harvest in the future.
Early reports back from the ASMFC meeting seemed to indicate strong support for maintaining the Boards original recommendation to reopen, but efforts to bring some sanity to the process by a small group of commissioners changed the minds of the remaining few holdouts. The vastness of the outcry to maintain the moratorium in the EEZ by recreational fishermen and the recreational fishing industry played a large role in their decisions. The final vote, to almost everyones amazement, was unanimous. ASMFC has now recommended to NMFS, the continued closure in the EEZ until the Striped Bass Recovery Plan reaches F-max indicating that the fishery is fully restored and fishing at the maximum allowable harvest level will be permitted. This will occur no sooner than 1997, if the stocks continue to show strong recovery. There is great doubt about the advisability of ever going to Fmax, but we now have more time to ascertain the impact of the present increases in harvest quotas and to take action concerning future management decisions.
This remarkable cooperative effort should be a beacon to everyone that came together to accomplish this task without worrying about who would take credit. The goal was the important thing and this should serve as a model for future efforts by the recreational fishing community and industry to gain fair and equitable representation in the fisheries management process and to restore fisheries and protect our public resources. If we can work together on all issues like we have on striped bass in recent months, the coalition of recreational groups and the creation of The Alliance To Save Fisheries can, conceivably turn the tide of poorly developed management plans and unfair allocation schemes in other fisheries. We are capable of having a strong influence on their outcome to the overall betterment of the fisheries in the long-run.
The next step in continuing and strengthening this coalition took place when the American Sportfishing Association and the JCAA hosted a remarkable two day meeting in Seaside Heights, New Jersey on December 1 and 2. It brought together representatives from recreational fishing advocacy groups from Maine to North Carolina to exchange information and plan strategy. The meeting covered the operation of the ASMFC and how their management process works on the first day with a presentation by ASMFC staffers, John Fields and Richard Christenson.
The second day, the group held a planning session to establish some policy objectives for the future management of striped bass and bluefish. ASAs vice president, Mike Nussman, acted as moderator and his staff, including Andy Loftus, helped bring the industry perspective and support to the meeting. A short presentation was also heard from Dick Weber, Chairman of the national Alliance to Save Fisheries, about the continued development process that this new organization is going through. Things are, most definitely, on track.
Congressman James Saxton of New Jersey, the chairman of the House Fisheries Subcommittee addressed the group to discuss a bill he has submitted on our behalf, HR 2566, which addresses our concerns about the striped bass resource, its continued protection and the unwarranted reopening of the EEZ without any management plan or consideration for the legal and inter jurisdictional problems it can cause. The meeting was also attended by Jeanne Fox, the regional administrator for Region II of the Environmental Protection Agency to discuss Barnegat Bays recent addition to the National Estuary Program.
The meeting was particularly productive and brought together many groups that, in the past, have not seen eye-to-eye. Most worked together in a spirit of cooperation because, in this reporters mind, they have finally come to realize that our marine fisheries are in such a dramatic state of decline that they can no longer allow differences to keep them apart. We are at such a critical juncture that the entire recreational fishing community has to stand united or there might not be much to fish for in the very near future. Rest assured that commercial fishing forces are massing for an all out assault on the fisheries management process, the political process and to mount legal challenges in and effort to continue to weaken any fisheries management plan or law that would conserve and protect any fishery they want for themselves, and that is just about all of them. They will fight to usurp as large a portion of the allowable harvest for each and every fishery and the recreational fishing community and the billion dollar industry it feeds can be damned. They have taken a stance that is undeniable and feel recreational fishing groups are simply trying to put them out of business. They own the sea and its inhabitants and the public can take a flying leap as far as they are concerned.
Bravo to everyone who attended this meeting to work with a renewed spirit of cooperation. Please accept our sincere wishes that this is only the beginning.