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Fisheries Management & Legislative Report

by Tom Fote

(from Jersey Coast Anglers Association October 2010 Newsletter)

 

Contents:

 

I hope you all enjoyed the summer. JCAA is a volunteer organization and some family emergencies prevented us from publishing the mid-summer newspaper. Thank you for your understanding.

 

Striped Bass

On July 22nd ASMFC held a Striped Bass hearing in Toms River. The message I received loud and clear from the audience was no different than the email messages I received from striped bass fishermen from up and down the coast. This message is status quo. There were many concerns with the health of the Chesapeake Bay striped bass stocks which was once considered between 75 – 80% of the coastal migratory stocks. Because of the disease and a lack of forage species in the Chesapeake Bay, many of us believe Chesapeake Bay is not contributing any where near 75%. That could be one of the reasons that we are not seeing large striped bass in Maine, New Hampshire, Rhode Island and certain areas of Massachusetts in the way we did 10 years ago. The Hudson River and Delaware stocks don’t have the same migration patterns as the Chesapeake Bay stock. We have scientific reports that there is a dramatic increase in disease in the Chesapeake Bay stock, that there is a lack of forage species and water quality issues are increasing. Until we deal with these issues and determine how the health of the Chesapeake Bay is impacting the coastal migratory stocks, we should not be loosening regulations on either the recreational or commercial communities.

As I said in June, it will be interesting to see if the public hearing process changes the votes of some of the states that voted yes. Remember, the vote was very close at that time. It surprised me that Connecticut, a state that considers striped bass a gamefish, supported the addendum. It also surprised me that Maryland, Washington, DC and Potomac River, that have expressed their concerns about the Chesapeake Bay stock and disease, also supported the addendum. It also surprised me that the US Fish and Wildlife Service voted to support the addendum when the National Marine Fisheries Service went on the record in opposition. NMFS stated that their concerns about the Chesapeake Bay stock showed this was the wrong time for an increase. There is still time to contact ASMFC since the comment period is still open. The press release is below and the information remains on the ASMFC webpage. Anglers in other states also need to pressure their state directors and commissioners not to vote for the increase. There is also a measure in this addendum to transfer the recreational quota to commercial fisheries. Since we don’t have a state by state striped bass quota, I can’t see how this would happen. But commissioners voted to move forward with this proposal.

 

States Schedule Hearings on Striped Bass Draft Addendum II
Public Comment Accepted Until October.
Note All the Hearing have taken place
ASMFC Release
June 3, 2010, Contact Tina Berger 202-289-6400

Washington, DC – Atlantic coastal states from Maine through North Carolina have scheduled their hearings to gather public comment on Draft Addendum II to Amendment 6 to the Interstate Fishery Management Plan for Atlantic Striped Bass.

The Draft Addendum proposes two changes to the striped bass management program: (1) an increase in the coastal commercial quota, and (2) revising the definition of recruitment failure based on Technical Committee advice.

The proposal to increase the coastal commercial quota is intended to improve equality between the commercial and recreational fishery sectors. Although Amendment 6 established management programs for both fisheries based on the same target fishing mortality rate, the implementation of state-specific quotas for coastal commercial harvest (and not for recreational harvest) has prevented the commercial and recreational fisheries from responding equally to changes in striped bass population size. Since 2003, coastal commercial harvest has decreased by 3.6 percent, while recreational harvest has increased by 13.7 percent. Under the option, the Board would select a percent increase to be applied to the coastal commercial allocations assigned in Amendment 6.

The Management Board voted to include a second issue in the Draft Addendum based on information presented at the meeting. As part of its review of the juvenile abundance indices, the Striped Bass Technical Committee recommended to the Management Board a revision to how striped bass recruitment failure is defined. Juvenile abundance indices are an important component of the striped bass monitoring program and are used to determine periods of recruitment failure which can trigger management action under Amendment 6. Adopting the proposed recommendation would result in a fixed value to determine recruitment failure in each surveyed area rather than a value that changes from year to year. Use of either the Amendment 6 definition or the Technical Committee recommendation for recruitment failure does not result in any necessary changes to the current management program.

Fishermen and other interested groups are encouraged to provide input on the Draft Addendum, either by attending public hearings or providing written comments. The Draft Addendum can be obtained via the Commission’s website at www.asmfc.org under Breaking News or by contacting the Commission at (202) 289-6400. Public comment will be accepted until 5:00 PM (EST) on October 1, 2010 and should be forwarded to Nichola Meserve, FMP Coordinator, 1444 Eye Street, NW, Sixth Floor, Washington, DC 20005; (202) 289-6051 (FAX) or at nmeserve@asmfc.org

(Subject line: Striped Bass Addendum II). For more information, please contact Nichola Meserve, FisheryManagement Plan Coordinator at (202) 289-6400 or nmeserve@asmfc.org.

 

ASMFC Week

I have included the summaries of the important votes from the ASMFC meeting in August. I always learn new lessons when dealing with governing bodies. I am accustomed to dealing with legislative bodies. Every time a law is passed, some interpretations will change the original intent. I have supported bills that were well-intentioned but in the end the problem wasn’t solved or loopholes were discovered by those who didn’t want the legislation in the first place. By the time an addendum to a plan is passed at ASMFC, we generally know what the addendum means. During the August meeting week, I learned that wording is everything. Please read the two articles below about weakfish, shad and river herring. You will then understand that in the future I will read every word and ask for every possible interpretation before making a vote. This may slow the process but I can’t rely on commissioners respecting the original intent and not looking for loopholes.

 

Weakfish

Last year after the weakfish stock assessment was approved through peer review, we decided we needed to take action. By any form of stock assessment, this stock is in dire shape. Even though strong management measures were in place for 15 years, the stock began to reverse itself and go in a negative direction. If this was a stock managed federally, we would be in a moratorium. When we went to public hearings, the recreational community and most of the commercial community (with some southern exceptions) were supporting a moratorium. I voted to include an option to allow one fish recreationally and a 100 pound bycatch. The only reason I did this was all the stock assessments and all the advice from the technical committee suggested that the problem was not fishing pressure. The problem is some unknown natural mortality. I knew recreational anglers would not target weakfish for one fish and commercial fishermen would not direct a trip to return with 100 pounds. The reason I supported this is that it would allow an angler to keep one fish. It also would allow the commercial fishermen who landed weakfish unintentionally while fishing for other species, to keep and sell the bycatch rather than throwing it back with 100% mortality. This was not a percentage reduction. Essentially this vote closed the fishery with the two small exceptions.

To my surprise, at the next weakfish board meeting, North Carolina presented a proposal to use conservation equivalency to allow 10% bycatch up to 1,000 pounds. They justified this proposal by saying it would achieve a similar reduction to the original proposal. I have never seen more voodoo math in my life. Regardless of the math, there was never any discussion about conservation equivalency before the original vote. The original discussion was either a complete moratorium or allow for a minor bycatch fishery. The National Marine Fisheries Service has been unbending on overfishing definitions and on implementing draconian reductions on the recreational community or allowing no increase on stocks that are recovered. I could not believe they would support this North Carolina proposal. But they did. I could not believe several other states that previously supported a moratorium because of the outcry from the commercial and recreational anglers would support this North Carolina proposal. But they did. The North Carolina proposal passed and you can check out the votes below. If you read through the record you will notice that I spoke in opposition to this proposal. New Jersey, Delaware and New York spoke out against this proposal. I was really disappointed that the US Fish and Wildlife Service did not say a word against the proposal even though historically there supported the moratorium. They did vote no but I expected more active opposition. I can only speculate.

I feel I must apologize to the public since I made the original motion. I should have simply supported the moratorium. I got snookered but I have learned from my mistake. What I found most disappointing was that my original motion sought to accommodate North Carolina and Virginia and they bit the hand that fed them. It will be a long time before I am so accommodating again.

 

Shad and River Herring

New Jersey had real concerns about the new addendums to the shad and river herring plans. Because of the way the plan was worded, we realized that many of the river herring runs in New Jersey would be closed and some of the shad runs as well. Because the plan clearly states that if you don’t have a management plan in place that can prove the runs are sustainable, you must have a moratorium. I was surprised again. In some states, a moratorium clearly does not actually mean a moratorium. Instead it means we should allow a bycatch since the fish will be caught any way in a pound net fishery which can release fish alive. Thankfully this decision is not final and will be debated again in Charleston at the annual meeting. If this comes to pass, it would allow a bycatch in pound net fisheries which could be a huge catch, while forcing other states to completely close their recreational catch even though the numbers are negligible. The issue is clearly not “fair and equitable” for everyone, it is “every man (or state) for himself.” This is not what the compact intended. Hopefully, we see a different result than the weakfish travesty.

 

Oil Spill: Out of Sight, Out of Mind

BP, the government, the states of Louisiana, Florida, and Alabama have declared victory. They want us to believe that all is well, we should come enjoy the beaches, go fishing and spend money. Our attention span may have moved on as well. However, those of us who deal with the fishing industry know the impact is just being realized. We don’t know the damage to the bluefin tuna stocks. We don’t know the impact of all that oil will have as it settles to the bottom of the Gulf. We also do not know the effects on the fish who consumed the dispersants. We’re not sure how their reproduction or life span will be affected. We know in Alaska they are still recovering from the Exxon Valdes spill. We need to be vigilant and we need to continue to support a moratorium on offshore drilling off the east coast. Thankfully, our Senators and most of our Congressmen have never wavered in their opposition to offshore drilling. Particular thanks go to Senators Menendez and Lautenberg and Congressmen Pallone and Adler for their public opposition to any offshore drilling along the east coast. New Jersey’s economy is troubled enough without the possibility of oil on our beaches.

 

ASMFC Summer Meeting Week

Weakfish Management Board
August 4, 2010
Meeting Summary

The Weakfish Management Board met to discuss a number of issues related to the implementation of Addendum IV, and also review the state biological sampling plans for 2010.

All states have implemented the requirements of Addendum IV, which include a 100 lb commercial trip limit and bycatch limit and a one fish recreational creel limit. The Management Board discussed the implications of the new commercial trip limit on weakfish discarding, both in the short-term (under low weakfish biomass) and in the long-term (under rebuilding weakfish biomass). An increase in discarding was an anticipated effect of the 100 lb commercial trip limit.

However, under a rebuilding stock, the trip limit has the potential to create excessive discarding, an unwanted outcome for managers and stakeholders alike. Consequently, the Management Board tasked its Technical Committee with developing a set of indicators to monitor the stock and prompt consideration of easing the trip limit.

The Management Board also reviewed a conservation equivalency proposal from North Carolina. The Board approved North Carolina’s request to implement commercial regulations allowing 10 percent bycatch of weakfish up to 1000 lbs, in place of the 100 lb trip limit. Analysis of North Carolina commercial data for 2005-2008 indicated that the alternative regulations would result in an equivalent landings reduction as the 100 lb commercial trip limit. The methods used in the proposal were the same as those used to develop the estimated landings reduction from coastwide implementation of the 100 lb trip limit for Addendum IV. Concern that the bycatch allowance may not reduce landings the same amount as a trip limit under a rebuilding weakfish stock prompted the Management Board to request that the Technical Committee annually review the fishery to ensure that conservation equivalency is maintained. The Management Board reviewed the 2010 Weakfish Biological Sampling Plans. Under Addendum I, states are required to measure the length of six weakfish per commercial metric ton of landings, and collect and age three weakfish otoliths per total metric ton of landings. These biological samples are used to characterize the landings for use in stock assessments. In addition to approving the plans, the Board also supported a recommendation from the Plan Review Team to develop a template to streamline the sampling plans.

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

Motions
Move that the Weakfish Management Board direct the Technical Committee to develop indicators for possible management use as the stock recovers.
Motion made by Mr. Carpenter, second by Dr. Daniel. Motion passes unanimously.

Move to approve the North Carolina request for conservation equivalency with a 10% bycatch allowance up to 1000 pounds, and require an annual review by the Technical Committee and Board to ensure conservation equivalency is maintained.
Motion made by Dr. Daniel, second by Mr. O’Reilly. Motion passes (Roll Call Vote: In favor – MA, RI, CT, MD, PRFC, VA, NC, FL, NMFS; Opposed – NY, NJ, DE, USFWS; Null – SC, GA).

Move to approve the 2010 sampling plans, and support the PRT recommendation to minimize the content of sampling plans.
Motion made by Mr. Augustine, second by Mr. Himchak. Motion passes without opposition.

 

Atlantic Menhaden Management Board
August 3, 2010
Meeting Summary

The Board reviewed state compliance and the FMP Review for 2009 and found all jurisdictions to be in compliance with the plan. Reported coastwide landings for 2009 were 181,674 metric tons (reduction fishery: 143,800 mt + bait fishery: 37,874 mt).

The Technical Committee and Multi-Species Technical Committee presented their initial findings and work plans to address the Board tasks to develop alternative reference points. The Board provided both committees further guidance to refine its tasks. In addition, the Board initiated an addendum to include options for alternative reference points of percent spawning potential ratio (SPR) at the current level (10%), as well as 15%, 25%, and 40%. A draft addendum will be presented to the Board at the Commission’s Annual Meeting in November.

The Board received a presentation from the Virginia Institute of Marine Science regarding a study it conducted to estimate menhaden’s net removal of nitrogen from Chesapeake Bay.

The Board approved the nomination of Donald Swanson (NH) to the Menhaden Advisory Panel.

For more information, please contact Brad Spear, Senior Fishery Management Plan Coordinator for Policy, at (202) 289-6400 or bspear@asmfc.org.

 

ASMFC & MAFMC Joint Meeting

I attended the joint meeting of ASMFC and MAFMC on August 18. There were increases in summer flounder and scup but black sea bass remains status quo for the third year. Because of the lack of data on scup and sea bass for the last 20 years, the SSC was very conservative in their recommendations for the quota on these two stocks. It is really a shame that the recreational and commercial fishing communities continue to suffer the consequences of poor data. With scup and sea bass, this is not a new problem. Along with the council and commission members, I have been calling for improved data since 1993. According to the stock assessment, we could be harvesting these two species at considerably greater levels. It is only NMFS unwillingness to spend money on gathering the necessary data that keeps this from happening.

New Jersey’s representative on the Mid-Atlantic Council and the Atlantic States Marine Fisheries Commission delegation from New Jersey voted against establishing research set-asides for these four species. The reason we voted no is the research set-asides money is not being used as intended. This money has not gone for research on summer flounder, scup, black sea bass or bluefish. Some of the money is used for NEMAP. NEMAP is the trawl survey that NMFS is required to perform for the status of the stocks. I find it discriminatory since NMFS funds NEMAP in the South Atlantic but refuses to do so in the northeast. This is not the first time we have discussed this subject and you can read more in the previous JCAA newspapers. The research set-aside program was designed to fund outside research to gather better data on the stocks using the 3% quota on each of these stocks. The commercial and recreational communities have been willing to give up 3% of our quota to provide the fish for this research, not to give NMFS a slush fund.

I met with the Atlantic States Marine Fisheries Commission's (ASMFC) Summer Flounder, Scup, Black Sea Bass, and Bluefish Boards (Board) to adopt 2011 fishery management measures. The Council and Board recommended a (total allowable catch) TAC of 33.95 million pounds for the 2011 summer flounder fishery. The total allowable landings (TAL) would be 29.48 million pounds, an increase of about 7 million pounds compared to the 2010 level. If approved by NMFS, 17.69 million pounds would be allocated to the commercial fishery as quota and 11.79 million pounds as a recreational harvest limit for the 2011 fishing year.

Both the Council and Board recommended a TAC of 24.10 million pounds for scup. The associated TAL would be 20.00 million pounds, an increase of about 6 million pounds compared to the 2010 TAL. If approved, the scup commercial quota would be 15.60 million pounds and the recreational harvest limit would be 4.40 million pounds for 2011.

In regard to the specifications for the 2011 black sea bass fishery, the Council and Board recommended that the TAC be set at 4.50 million pounds. The associated TAL would be 3.60 million pounds which would result in a commercial quota of 1.76 million pounds and a recreational harvest limit of 1.84 million pounds if approved.

The Council and Board recommended a TAC of 31.74 million pounds for the 2011 bluefish fishery. The corresponding TAL is 27.29 million pounds, which is about a 2 million pound decrease from the 2010 TAL of 29.26 million pounds. Under the bluefish FMP, a transfer of landings from the recreational to the commercial fishery is allowed if there are sufficient landings available in the TAL above the expected landings amount in the recreational fishery. Since this is the case for 2011, the Council recommended a transfer of 4.77 million pounds resulting in a commercial quota of 9.41 million pounds and a recreational harvest limit of 17.88 million pounds. A Research Set-Aside (RSA) of up to 3% of the TAL was also approved for each of the four species considered during the specification meetings. Under the RSA program, these landings would be used to fund research activities.

The Council also approved the 2012 RSA Program Research Priorities List and approved the RSA Committee's Mission Statement which states the goal and core principles of the program.

 



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