FISHERIES MANAGEMENT & LEGISLATIVE REPORT
by Tom Fote
(from Jersey Coast Anglers Association February 1999 Newsletter)
In the DECEMBER 1996 JCAA Newspaper, I wrote an article entitled "Time For a New Direction in Fisheries Management." This article is available at the JCAA website. The main idea of this article is that historically, we were all subsistence or recreational fishermen. It is only in modern times, when some anglers could catch more than they would consume, that we began to have a commercial fishery. Yet recreational anglers and subsistence fishermen are often treated like the new guys in town, not the historical users. I suggested as a model for discussion the New Zealand Plan, a plan that puts recreational use first and then distributes any additional catch allowed under a comprehensive fisheries management plan to the commercial side. A comprehensive management plan protects the resource, allows for a healthy and renewable stock and preserves the recreational and subsistence fishery.
Was anyone paying attention? After looking at the newest round of decisions on the management plans for highly migratory species, billfish, bluefish and summer flounder, I have to believe the answer is no. And if we were to give an award to the agency that pays the least attention to the needs of the recreational angler, the unanimous winner would be the National Marine Fisheries Service. They have systematically manipulated the quotas in favor of the commercial interests by selectively choosing the years from which they take their data. While they claim to be scientific, they are choosing the base years when the commercial interests have the highest landings and ignoring the historical nature of the recreational fishery. What this does is continue to reward commercial interests for overfishing a species to collapse. And who can blame them, NMFS is always there to bail them out by restricting the recreational catch. In case there are any undecided votes, lets look at their recent decisions. As Al Ristori points out in his article, NMFS took a recreational fishery (sharks), decided it was underutilized, and promoted a commercial fishery for fins. Once this fishery collapsed, due to the pressure of the commercial catch, NMFS "solved" the problem by placing the most restrictions on the recreational angler.
This is typical NMFS behavior. For example, under the new shark management proposal recreational anglers are eliminated from the harvest. We of course can catch and release while commercial interests are allowed to harvest and sell their catch. Additionally, NMFS for years threatened a restrictive bag limit on bluefish claiming overfishing by recreational anglers. Finally they have recognized that the bluefish stocks, while down, are not endangered. In fact, they have admitted that we have fished under quota for the last three years and should have a larger quota. When an increase in bag limit was requested by a recreational group, NMFS turned them down. They were able, however, to transfer the unused recreational quota to the commercial sector to maintain a higher commercial quota. Although the quota is on the books as an 80/20 split, in reality it is closer to a 50/50 harvest. As another example, when the summer flounder fishery collapsed because of overharvesting by the commercial sector, they were rewarded with a 60/40 split. Historically, the quota should be 70/30 with the recreational anglers allowed the 70% catch.
Unless we get to work, we will enter the new millennium with NMFS firmly in charge and continuing to create havoc for recreational anglers. It doesnt take any genius to predict what will happen in the next five years if we dont get our act together. We will have only hook and release for sharks. We will have a 3 fish bag limit at 20 inches for summer flounder. We will still be fighting about whether we can take home a safe striped bass to eat. And we will be at a 2 yellow fin limit per boat and 2 dolphin per man. NMFS will have succeeded in cutting recreational participation by 50% and destroying the entire industry. If this seems far fetched, just remember that in 1990 we had a 13 inch no bag limit on fluke, no bag limit on blue fish, four small blue fins per man, and no recreational limits on sharks.
Right now, you must get involved and support the organizations that represent your interests. You must let your elected representatives know that your vote is based on their actions to preserve recreational fishing and the resource. You must put pressure on state and federal agencies and insist that they listen to the recreational sector. Attend meetings when you can, respond to our requests for letters, emails and faxes, and support the existing organizations with your time and money. What is recreational fishing worth to you? Think of all the money you spend on tackle, boats, etc. Take the time to list every expense associated with recreational fishing. Then write a check for 2% of the total. Send that check to JCAA. We cannot represent you without an increase in our budget.
Senate Bill S1267
Nothing has changed since last month. Please read the following and contact the legislators listed below.
Since our last newspaper, I spoke at the Senate Health Committee on Bill S1267 representing JCAA and the NJ Federation of Sportsmens Clubs and Dave Pringle represented the NJ Environmental Federation. We were the only ones speaking in support of this legislation. Speaking against the bill were the Restaurant Owners Association, the Agriculture Board, and numerous commercial fishing organizations. Fortunately,
Bill S1267 was moved out of the Senate Health Committee with vote of four to two. The Republican members all voted yes and the Democratic members all voted no. The Democratic members stated that a lack of support from the medical community influenced their vote. Since that meeting, we are gathering a list of doctors who will be available to testify in favor of this bill. In addition, we are in contact with groups representing learning disabled children and have their support.
Now it goes to the Senate Budget Committee. I cant help but wonder why this bill is headed there. This will be a more difficult committee to convince. I cannot understand why the public should not have the same information we do about health advisories. I have reprinted my testimony for you information. You need to write your senators now. If your senator is on the budget committee, write, call, fax, email and generally let him or her know how important this is. If you are aware of someone with information or personal concerns about this issue, please send their names to us. In particular, I need letters and testimony from members of the medical/scientific community.
This is once again a repeat of the article from last months newspaper. The information hasnt changed but it is even more important that you do something right away. The State Senate Environmental Committee canceled its January 14 meeting, it is being rescheduled for some time in February. The Menhaden Bill will be posted for hearing at that time.. JCAA and other organizations have worked hard to get this bill to this point but we need your help. To get this bill passed, we need you to start doing your part. I know you have heard us say this before but some of you have not done it. Now is the time to write letters, phone, fax, and call legislators and tell them to move this bill and vote YES. It is important to contact you local senator and the senators on the committee and tell them you want this bill posted and moved out of committee. You should also write a letter to Governor Whitman and Senate President Donald T. DiFrancesco and tell them you want this bill to be voted on and passed. Just use the same letter. I have included some of the addresses you need at the end of this article. You can find your local legislators addresses in phone book. I have also included a draft letter to use as a guide. If you have any questions, give us a call. We need your help to protect the menhaden resource from collapse. If this resource collapses it will have a serious impact on many of the species we catch in New Jersey. We need to get this done before next season. We have had some of the best surf fishing for stripers and blue in years in New Jersey. Why? Because there are baby menhaden in the surf. No Menhaden, no bass or blues! It is up to you.
We will try to notify you when the hearing is scheduled. If you are interested in attending, send me your email address so you can receive any last minute information. Keep checking the outdoor columns in your local newspaper and our website at www.jcaa.org.
Senate President Donald T. DiFrancesco,
Legislative District 22
1816 Front St., Scotch Plains, NJ 07076
Phone Number (908)-322-5500
Senate Environment Group 1
Henry P McNamara. - Chair R
Legislative District 40
P.O. Box 68, Wyckoff, NJ 07481
PHONE NUMBER: (201) 848-9600
FAX NUMBER: (201) 891-4859
Diane Allen, - Vice-Chair R
Legislative District 7
2313 Burlington-Mt. Holly Rd.,
Burlington, NJ 08016
PHONE NUMBER: (609) 239-2800
FAX NUMBER (609) 239-2673
John H Adler,. D
Legislative District 6
231 Route 70 East, Cherry Hill, NJ 08034-2421
PHONE NUMBER: (609) 428-3343
FAX NUMBER (609) 428-1358
Andrew R Ciesla R
Legislative District 10
852 Hwy. 70, Brick, NJ 08724
PHONE NUMBER: (732) 840-9028
FAX (732) 8409447
Joseph F Vitale D
Legislative District 19
87 Main Street, Woodbridge, NJ 07095
PHONE NUMBER: (732) 855-7441
FAX NUMBER (732) 855-7558
E-MAIL : email@example.com
Though recreational fishing for sharks has been going on since before the century in various southern areas, the first substantial fishery was started by Capt. Frank Mundus out of Montauk during the post-WWII years. The sport developed rapidly from there, and by the early 1960s there was an intense fishery along the south shore of Long Island.
The first Bay Shore Mako Tournament drew a huge field which caught so many blue sharks that boats had to wait hours to weigh in. The organizers learned their lesson from that fiasco and instituted minimum sizes, though killing sharks wasn't looked down on at the time. It was a man versus man-eater sport at the time, and there was no change in that attitude until Jack Casey, who headed shark research first at the U.S. Fish & Wildlife Service facility on Sandy Hook and then at the NMFS Narragansett Lab, convinced anglers to tag and release the sharks they had no use for. Before long it became a virtual disgrace to land a blue shark, except in tournaments or as a potential record, and the same ethic applied to all other species except mako and threshers which are desired as food. NMFS claims anglers are landing large quanties of sandbar (brown) sharks, but I can't remember the last time I saw even one of those sharks on the dock as they're rarely large enough to be considered in a tournament. Indeed, all shark tournaments now have minimum sizes in the 100-to-125-pound range and all but one in North Jersey limit the species to mako only or makos and threshers.
The popularity of Jaws spurred even more interest in sharks and the sport spread north and south from New York. Big money shark tournaments started in New Jersey, and during the 1980s it was necessary to sign up months in advance in order get in under the contest's limit which was usually 150 boats. Sport sharking became a big factor in the economy, especially for charter skippers who had a solid big game fishery in June and July before the tuna arrived.
Mako sharks were relatively abundant in those days and multiple catches were often made. While recreational fishing for sharks was big business from the 1960s through the 1980s, relatively few sharks were landed by commercial fishermen. Most shark sales were of makos caught recreationally and sold directly to restaurants.
Sharks were of so little concern to NMFS at that time that I had a hard time as a member of the first Mid-Atlantic Fishery Management Council in getting any interest in starting a management plan for them. I was finally appointed chairman of a committee to investigate that plan which was never instituted until the destruction of stocks was well underway. Indeed, that destruction was sanctioned by NMFS which issued the death penalty for sharks, as they did for several other species, by declaring them "underexploited".
NMFS encouraged the commercial shark fishery despite the fact that every concentrated shark fishery throughout the world has collapsed local stocks within a few years. Even a rudimentary knowledge of shark biology is sufficient to understand that such a collapse is inevitable since sharks are long-lived but very slow-growing and take many years to achieve maturity before producing only from a few to a dozen or so offspring. Even a complete halt to commercial sharking will not result in any quick turnarounds of overexploited fisheries such as we've seen with bony species such as striped bass, weakfish and summer flounder.
The death knell for sharks was sounded when netters and longliners found a bonanza in the Chinese market for shark fins at very high prices. Though there was some market for shark meat, it wasn't enough to bother with for many commercials and they simply cut the fins off sharks and dumped them back. The public uproar over that finally forced NMFS to require that shark bodies must be landed to equal the number of fins aboard. That hasn't stopped the carnage as was demonstrated this summer at Point Pleasant where a dumpster full of shark bodies was spotted. In accordance with the law, the fishermen had killed the sharks to justify the fins retained -- and was under no obligation to make use of those carcasses.
NMFS landing figures show that in 1983, recreational shark catches were 746, 600 while the commercial catch was 17,500. Yet, by 1994 the commercial figure was up to 228,000 while the sportfishing catch was down to 160,900. The draft plan also notes that pelagic sportfishing catches have decreased from about 93,000 fish in 1985 to about 6,000 in 1994. There's considerable question about the accuracy of NMFS statistics, but I doubt if any veteran charter skipper would dispute the fact that the recreational catch is only 1/4 to 1/5 of what it was the previous decade. Indeed, it's only that high because blue sharks remain fairly abundant.
Though makos have always been the prime sharking target in the Mid-Atlantic and Northeast, sandbar (brown) sharks provided a steady source of action (though almost all were released) during the summer months when makos were harder to come by than during the June to mid-July northern migration. Being more of an inshore species which spawns in large bays, sandbars are particularly vulnerable to overfishing as they're readily available to the smallest commercial craft, their fins are highly desired by the Chinese market, and their meat rates highly among the sharks. As a result, that formerly abundant species has become almost a rare catch as has the similar but much larger dusky.
Hundreds of makos used to be landed in North Jersey ports during the prime month of June when there were tournaments every weekend. As saltwater editor of the Newark Star-Ledger I keep close track of everything being caught in that area from Sandy Hook to Barnegat Inlet, and each of the last two years I've been unable to document even a dozen mako landings for the entire month despite thousands of very expensive boat days spent in their pursuit. Many of the tournaments have been cancelled, and none of the remaining contests fill up 150-boat fields even if the weekend weather breaks perfectly and there are a lot of last minute entries. Indeed, the two biggest tournaments ran concurrently during the prime mid-June weekend last year and despite perfect weather and ideal water temperatures there wasn't a single mako over the minimum size landed with the result that all prizes had to be drawn out of a hat. The effect of the mako decline on charter fishing has been dramatic. From dozens of shark charters a decade ago, most skippers are now lucky to get a few.
Though I've been pounding NMFS with pleas to do something about the destruction of mako stocks by longlining, which is now often directed toward the few remaining concentrations (such as off Hatteras in the winter), that agency has totally ignored the problem. While they worry about large coastal sharks, there is no concern about pelagics because that commercial quota is never filled. It just doesn't get through to NMFS that the reason the quota isn't filled is because there aren't enough makos left to fill it with!
When NMFS first devised a shark management plan, anglers urged a 6-foot minimum length for makos which was written into the draft. However, when the plan went to hearings there was an adjustment to that minimum as NMFS provided that longliners could retain any makos smaller than the minimum if they were dead. It's incredible that any bureaucrat could be so ignorant as to write in such a provision that would mean every mako caught on a longline would be "dead". In actuality, observer coverage aboard Japanese longliners showed that about 70% of sharks did come up alive. As the Mid-Atlantic Council's representative to the Billfish Committee then run by the South Atlantic Council which had authority over foreign longlining (allowed at that time for tuna, though other species couldn't be retained) before NMFS took it away, I was able to get a provision written into the rules that sharks and billfish must be released by cutting the leader rather than dragging them up on deck and killing them to get a hook back. Fellow committee members kidded me about the "Ristori Amendment", but I'm sure it saved many sharks and billfish -- at least when observers were aboard.
Further exposing NMFS prejudice, there was no such provision for dead mako retention by recreational fishermen. Of course, the sportfishing community blasted that proposal and no minimum was instituted for makos.
The pelagic shark quota would be quickly filled if longliners retained the blue sharks which plague them. A few years ago they thought there was a possibility of developing a low price market for blues based on large volume, but they'd need a separate quota in order not to fill up the quota and be unable to retain valuable makos. During a meeting at which they tried to gain support for that concept, I brought up the question of a minimum size for makos. It turned out that the longliners would go no higher than 25 pounds -- and only then because makos under that size aren't worth much!
Now that even NMFS recognizes the damage done to shark populations by the commercial fisheries they encouraged despite the common knowledge that it would quickly devastate the stocks, there is a chance to rectify the situation in the new shark plan. The obvious solution is to ban directed commercial shark fishing. Instead, NMFS continues the commercial slaughter while reducing recreational bag limits 50% on pelagics and prohibiting the public from retaining even a single large or small coastal shark.
If there was ever any question but that NMFS hasn't changed one iota from its origin as the Bureau of Commercial Fisheries, this obscene plan will clear up all doubts that the agency has little concern about conservation and is in the pockets of commercial interests. In the draft plan's section on Economics of the Atlantic Shark Fishery, 12 paragraphs are devoted to the commercial fishery and one to the recreational fishery. To ban the public from utilizing a public resource so special interests may fill their pockets with cash from fins sent to the Chinese market is a disgrace that can not be tolerated!
Anglers who were the traditional users of this resource did not cause this problem. The blame lies squarely on commercial fishermen and NMFS, and they can't be allowed to virtually destroy what remains of the shark sportfishery in order to achieve a cosmetic management plan that will achieve nothing and is designed merely to "hold the fort" while keeping commercial interests satisfied. The draft plan concedes that closing the commercial fishery will result in much faster recovery of the stock, but that won't be done because of the social-economic effects on commercials. Of course, the socio-economic effects on recreational fishermen and the business' dependent on them is ignored in this equation. They'll have to get along with whatever pittance is thrown at them.
Naturally, the sportfishing community must fight this inequitable plan to the end at public hearings. I doubt if that will make any difference, and it will almost surely be necessary to use political power in order to come up with a plan which will achieve conservation without destroying the traditional sportfishery. Failing that, there will be no choice but to take legal action against a plan which obviously doesn't meet the standards of fairness set forth in the Magnuson Act. Sportsmen have stood by too long while taking a beating from NMFS. This plan is the final straw and even those who have no interest in sharks at all must rally against it in order to prevent NMFS from eliminating one recreational fishery after another in order to provide easy and cozy management of those fisheries for special interests.
Accurate statistics on the recreational catch and effort are the cornerstone of good fisheries management. Because there are over 17 million saltwater recreational anglers nationwide, it is not usually possible for agencies to survey each individual angler (except possibly in small fisheries). So, management agencies have to rely on a variety of methods to try to accurately sample a cross-section of anglers.
The current system of counting catch and effort relies on a survey called MRFSS (for short) conducted by the National Marine Fisheries Service. While this survey may be good for looking at the big picture - catch and effort along the entire coast or regions of the coast - it often falls short when statistics for a single state are needed.
So, the states and federal government have come together through a program called the Atlantic Coastal Cooperative Statistics Program (ACCSP) to develop better statistics. But, they cannot develop a program alone- they need the help and input of the recreational fishing community to collect ideas of how to best sample fishermen.
The ACCSP has turned to 3 professionals to help them - all who have been active in recreational fishing for a number of years: Gil Radonski, former president of the Sport Fishing Institute and past member of the Mid-Atlantic Fishery Management Council; Dick Stone, former head of the Highly Migratory Species Division of the National Marine Fisheries Service and, before that, head of the Office of Recreational Fisheries for NMFS; and Andy Loftus, past Director of Science for the Sport Fishing Institute/American Sportfishing Association and former striped bass biologist for the state of Maryland.
These folks will be hosting 3-4 public roundtables to gather your input into this process. They are not from any agency - but people who will take the ideas generated in the roundtables and make sure that the right people will here them. The one day roundtables are scheduled for February in northern New Jersey, southern Florida, and the Virginia Beach area. If you would like to make sure you are included in these forums, contact any of them (e-mail works best if you have it):
Andrew J. Loftus
3116-A Munz Drive
Annapolis, MD 21403
Richard B. Stone
4071 Honey Locust Way SE
Southport, NC 28461
Gilbert C. Radonski
133 Sutton Drive
Swansboro, NC 28584
Thirty miles off Cape Cod, Dr. Carl Safina of the National Audubon Societys Living Oceans Program and pilot Charlie Horton circle desert-like stretches of blue water in a single-engine Super Cub. Their object: to locate schools of bluefin tuna, 500- to 700-pound fish that are highly prized by commercial fishermen. As Horton spots a probable bluefin school, he also sees something else: fishermen. In addition to a small air force of fish locator "scout" planes, there are several harpoon boats, rod-and-reel vessels and a net seiner. The boats are alive with crackling electronic devices. The fishermen are using VHF radio reports, thermal sensors, sonar and other gadgetry to tell them exactly where the tuna are. In all, 10 boats had invaded the tunas territory, and according toSafina, "The fish had been found out."
Super-efficient and high-tech fishing operations like this have taken their toll on the charismatic megafauna of the deep ocean. Migratory species like swordfish, sharks, marlins, sailfish and tuna are becoming dangerously depleted, and fishermen are reporting smaller and smaller catches of younger and younger fish. The highly competitive fishing industry also disrupts the entire oceanic food chain by indiscriminately catching and discarding billions of very young fish, sea birds, porpoises and other marine animals.
New York Citys sumptuous Felidia restaurant would seem an odd location to launch a campaign to save the oceans top predators. But last January, marine researchers joined a group ranging from top chefs to food critics and journalists to celebrate the swordfish by not including it on the menu. The "Give Swordfish A Break" campaign was convened by 38 pledge-taking chefs to draw consumer attention to the evocative Atlantic fish, which, according to the National Marine Fisheries Service, could be commercially extinct in 10 years.
Nora Pouillon, chef of Washington, D.C.s Nora and Asia Nora, says, "My fish purveyor was starting to offer me smaller and smaller swordfish from the North Atlantic, and I realized that we had already fished out the adults and were now consuming the teenagers." The Natural Resources Defense Council (NRDC) reports that the average swordfish caught in the 1960s weighed 266 pounds; today, theyre lucky to top 90.
The chefs campaign, sponsored by SeaWeb and the NRDC, centers on the use of 30- to 40-mile-long monofilament fishing lines that bristle with hundreds of baited hooks. Designed to float at the water depth which swordfish feed, the hooks inadvertently snagged over 40,000 juvenile swordfish last year (out of a total catch of 100,000), as well as thousands of sharks, endangered sea turtles and other imperiled species. While vessels are required to discard undersized swordfish and endangered species, most die after hours on these hooksand are not counted in fishing quotas. "One of the central issues here is the catching of large numbers of fish before they can reproduce," says NRDC Chief Policy Analyst Lisa Speer.
Its these "longlines," as well as fishing in nursery areas and using indiscriminate gear, that has one coalitionthe Ocean Wildlife Campaign (OWC)--targeting commercial fishermen. Made up of the NRDC, World Wildlife Fund, National Coalition for Marine Conservation (NCMC) and Audubon, the OWC is urging the Fisheries Service to prohibit longline fishing in swordfish nursery areas, limit the size of longlines to 10 miles, count dead discards as part of the allowed quota, and emphasize non-lethal gear like "circle-hooks," which are less lethal since fish dont swallow them.
Despite the evidence, Nelson Beideman, executive director of the longliners Blue Water Fishermens Association, emphatically denies that longlines are the cause of the problem. "Atlantic fishermen are not overfishing swordfish," he says bluntly. "What is happening here is a direct attack against commercial harvesters by the environmental community. The fact is that weve been reducing our catch of juveniles." Beideman says that two-thirds of the 30 million pounds of swordfish consumed annually in the U.S. actually come from "relatively healthy" Pacific stocks. Beideman points a finger at sport fishermen, but Jim Donofrio of the Recreational Fishing Alliance says that accusation is misplaced. "This fishery existed for over 150 years with sustainable gear like rods, reels and harpoons," he says. "It wasnt until 1963 when longlining was introduced that we saw a rapid decline in not just swordfish, but all our other migratory marine species."
The good news, reports Ken Hinman of NCMC, is that if left alone, the swordfish will come back. "If you can take conservation measures that will protect the juveniles and reduce quotas by a sufficient amount, we can have recovery within 10 years. Recovery is possible for these fish. Theyre relatively resilient."
The swordfish, which can grow to over 1,200 pounds, live for more than 25 years and pierce wooden boat hulls with its saberish bill, is finally getting some much-needed attention. But the OWC stresses that sharks, tunas, marlins and sailfish are also flagrantly overfished and discarded overboard as "bycatch." Each year, says Safina, fishing boats take in "an estimated 27 million metric tons of marine life that, dying or dead, are thrown overboarda quarter of the whole global catch." OWC Campaign Manager David Wilmot says, "Some populations of bluefin tuna have plummeted nearly 90 percent since the 1970s, and blue and white marlin have declined 60 to 80 percent. Several shark populations have declined 80 to 90 percent in U.S. waters during the past decade alone."
Another problem is the lucrative market for some fisheries. An adult bluefin tuna may be the most valuable animal, pound for pound, on the planet. Stanford University marine biologist Barbara Block likens catching a bluefin to the risky and high-priced cocaine tradeif delivered to Tokyos sashimi market, a single fish can fetch up to $80,000, and lure fishermen to trail one for weeks. According to Safina, Japan is the largest consumer of bluefins, where most of the population passes through the wet floors of the 65-year-old Tsukiji Central Wholesale Market en route to sushi establishments.
So which seafood is safe to choose at the market? The World Wildlife Fund, along with the Unilever Corporation (the largest seafood distributor in Europe), has started the Marine Stewardship Council to certify fisheries products which are sustainable, and inform consumers with seal-of-approval labeling. SeaWeb Executive Director Vikki Spruill says, "We see this project as a way to get consumers directly involved in the overfishing crisis, and to begin to make food choices based on environmental reasons, not just health ones."
Ocean Wildlife Campaign
1901 Pennsylvania Avenue NW, Suite 1100
Washington, DC 20006
Tel. (202) 861-2242
© 1998, Earth Action Network
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Environmental Research Foundation
P.O. Box 5036, Annapolis, MD 21403.
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