Fisheries Management & Legislative Report

by Tom Fote
(from Jersey Coast Anglers Association June 2019 Newsletter)

Contents:

Striped Bass Update

As you can see in the press release below, there is a new striped bass benchmark stock assessment. There was much discussion about how to proceed and it was decided to do an addendum first. In August there will be further discussion about an amendment to the striped bass bill which will consider many of the states’ concerns.

The addendum will look at whether we do another reduction of the recreational striped bass catch. There will also be consideration of what should be done on the commercial side. Some states proposed doing nothing since they didn’t think they were the problem. They forgot to mention the millions of pounds of fish that are poached with many court cases to prove this is happening.

I will be waiting to see how the board will deal with recreational discards since that makes up 52% of recreational morality. The board cannot ignore this. I find it interesting that New York never discusses their poaching problem even though those of us who fish in Raritan Bay can attest to this problem. New Jersey and Maryland have pursued poachers but it is hard for us to do that for other states. New York needs to get its house in order.

I found it extremely interesting that the 2018 preliminary information about the catch is not included in the information being disseminated. I recommended that we use the 2018 data since it is the most current and it should be finalized before the August meeting. The catch figure is a 25% reduction. It is more than the 17% reduction being considered for the addendum. The states that are looking to be the most conservative are opposed since they said it wasn’t included in the benchmark and want to ignore it. I asked them not to. If we have firm data for 2018, it should be included in any discussion about an addendum. I got little support for this approach and I will bring it up again in August and insist that it be included. Good fisheries management uses the best and the most current data for decisions.

Atlantic Striped Bass Benchmark Stock Assessment Finds Resource Overfished and Overfishing Occurring

Board Initiates Addendum to Reduce Total Fishing Mortality

ASMFC Press Release, May 1 2019

Arlington, VA – The 2018 Atlantic Striped Bass Benchmark Stock Assessment indicates the resource is overfished and experiencing overfishing relative to the updated reference points defined in the assessment. Female spawning stock biomass (SSB) was estimated at 151 million pounds, below the SSB threshold of 202 million pounds. Despite recent declines in SSB, the assessment indicated the stock is still significantly above the SSB levels observed during the moratorium in the mid-1980s. Total fishing mortality (F) was estimated at 0.31, above the F threshold of 0.24. The benchmark assessment and its single-stock statistical catch-at-age model was endorsed by the Peer Review Panel and accepted by the Atlantic Striped Bass Management Board (Board) for management use.

Female Spawning Stock Biomass and Recruitment

Based on these findings and the tripping of Amendment 6’s reference point management triggers relating to F and SSB thresholds (e.g., F in 2017 is above the threshold level and SSB is below the threshold level), the Board initiated the development of a Draft Addendum to consider measures aimed to reduce F to the target level. The Technical Committee estimates it would require roughly a 17% reduction in total removals (commercial and recreational harvest, including dead releases) to reduce F to the target in 2020 relative to 2017 levels. The Draft Addendum will explore a range of management options, including minimum size and slot size limits for the recreational fishery in the Chesapeake Bay and along the coast, as well as a coastwide circle hook requirement when fishing with bait. The Board also provided guidance on how to apply the necessary reductions to both the commercial and recreational sectors. The Draft Addendum will be presented to the Board for its consideration and approval for public comment in August. If approved, it will be released for public comment, with the Board considering its final approval in October for implementation in 2020. Additionally, the Board postponed a motion to initiate the development of an Amendment until its next meeting in August.

Atlantic striped bass experienced a period of strong recruitment (estimated as number of age-1 fish) from 1994-2004, followed by a period of lower recruitment from 2005-2011 (although not as low as the early 1980s, when the stock was considered collapsed). This period of low recruitment contributed to the decline in SSB in recent years. Recruitment was high in 2012, 2015, and 2016 (corresponding to strong 2011, 2014, and 2015 year classes), but recruitment estimates were below the long-term average in 2013, 2014, and 2017. Recruitment in 2017 was estimated at 108.8 million age-1 fish, below the time series average of 140.9 million fish.

A more detailed description of the stock assessment results is available on the Commission’s website at this link. The 2018 Atlantic Striped Bass Benchmark Stock Assessment, Stock Assessment Summary and Peer Review Report can be obtained via the following links:

For more information, please contact Max Appelman, Fishery Management Plan Coordinator, at mappelman@asmfc.org.

ASMFC Coastal Sharks Board Approves Changes to Recreational Measures for Atlantic Shortfin Mako
ASMFC Press Release, May 2 2019

Arlington, VA – The Commission’s Coastal Sharks Management Board approved changes to the recreational size limit for Atlantic shortfin mako sharks in state waters, specifically, a 71-inch straight line fork length (FL) for males and an 83-inch straight line FL for females. These measures are consistent with those required for federal highly migratory species (HMS) permit holders under HMS Amendment 11, which was implemented in response to the 2017 Atlantic shortfin mako stock assessment that found the resource is overfished and experiencing overfishing. Amendment 11 also responds to a recent determination by the International Commission on the Conservation Atlantic Tunas that all member countries need to reduce current shortfin mako landings by approximately 7279% to prevent further declines in the population.

The Board adopted complementary size limits in state waters to provide consistency with federal measures as part of ongoing efforts to rebuild the resource. The states will implement the changes to the recreational minimum size limit for Atlantic shortfin mako by January 1, 2020.

For more information, please contact Kirby Rootes-Murdy, Senior Fishery Management Plan Coordinator, at krootesmurdy@asmfc.org or 703.842.0740. Information on federal HMS shark regulations can be found at this link.

Secretary of Commerce Appoints Three New Committee Members to NOAA’s Marine Fisheries Advisory Committee
NOAA Fisheries, May 1 2019

Secretary of Commerce Wilbur Ross has appointed three new advisors to NOAA’s Marine Fisheries Advisory Committee, bringing the group’s membership to the full complement of 21. Terms for the three members commence immediately. The Marine Fisheries Advisory Committee, or MAFAC, advises the Secretary of Commerce and NOAA on all living marine resource matters that are the responsibility of the Department of Commerce. These three individuals were chosen from a pool of highly qualified applicants who submitted nomination packages during an open, publicly announced process. A nomination process is announced when vacancies occur.

MAFAC members draw on their expertise to evaluate and make recommendations on national living marine resources policies. The members represent a wide spectrum of fishing, aquaculture, protected resources, environmental, academic, tribal, state, consumer, and other related national interests from across the U.S., and ensure the nation’s living marine resource policies and programs meet the needs of these stakeholders.

The three new members are:

MAFAC provides advice and recommendations on NOAA and Department initiatives and programs. MAFAC recently identified priority initiatives for incoming NOAA and Commerce leaders to improve seafood businesses and trade, support recreational opportunities, strengthen science and fishery data, enable adaptive management, and recover protected species.

In recent years, MAFAC has also provided advice and input on:

For more information about the Marine Fisheries Advisory Committee, visit this web page.

Enviros Fault Army Corps’ Plan for Defending
NJ Back Bays from Rising Seas
By Jon Hurdle, NJSpotlight.com, May 9 2019

Groups say nature-based measures should be a bigger part of massive plan to protect communities

Environmental groups faulted some of the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers’ latest ideas for defending New Jersey’s back bays from the devastation of sea-level rise and the bigger storms that are expected to come with climate change.

In March, the Corps proposed measures including sea walls and storm-surge barriers, as well as nature-based programs like building up coastal marshes, as ways of keeping ocean waters out of vulnerable back-bay communities.

The handily titled New Jersey Back Bays Coastal Storm Risk Management Feasibility Study Interim Report invited but did not publish reactions from stakeholders including municipalities, other government agencies, and environmental groups. New Jersey’s Department of Environmental Protection is cooperating in the project and sharing the cost with the Corps.

The comments, obtained from some of the groups individually, welcomed the investigation into ways of protecting the back bays from rising waters but said the plan missed the mark in some important respects.

Crucial role of coastal marshes

The Nature Conservancy in New Jersey, for example, said the proposals did not give enough weight to nature-based measures — called ‘NNBF’ — such as coastal marshes and living shorelines that play a crucial role in absorbing storm surge.

“We were disappointed that NNBF has not been fully integrated into the flood-risk management alternatives,” the conservancy wrote. “We strongly urge the USACE to more comprehensively utilize NNBF as a flood-risk management strategy along the NJ coastline.”

It offered its own research into which coastal habitats are already helping to mitigate sea-level rise; said it was ready to identify which salt marshes in Ocean, Atlantic and Cape May counties would benefit from an increase in sediment, and proposed to share its ideas on building different kinds of living shorelines to defend different parts of the Jersey Shore.

Flood barriers like sea walls “may provide a false sense of security” because they encourage new development and increasing population in low-lying areas, and may distract from the need to encourage people to move away from flood-prone areas, the conservancy said.

While some man-made infrastructure will likely be needed to protect the back bays, features like storm-surge barriers could hurt natural resources, and that isn’t fully recognized by the corps’ report, said Patty Doerr, director of the conservancy’s coastal and marine program in New Jersey.

She said conservancy scientists have found that salt marshes, for example, play an important role in protecting the coast from storms, including superstorm Sandy in 2012 when coastal marshes reduced property damage by $450 million, according to a study by the conservancy and others.

Impact of new barriers on habitat

“We’re going to need some great infrastructure but keeping salt marshes in place and keeping beaches and dunes healthy is going to be key,” she said. “We’re really concerned about the impact of storm-surge barriers and flood walls on those habitats.”

Doerr also said the slow pace of the study — which is not expected to be implemented until 2030 at the earliest, depending on Congressional appropriations — could mean that its conclusions will be out of date by the time it is finalized. “What the coast looks like in 10 years could be different, and does that all make sense in terms of what they are proposing?” she asked.

A spokesman for the Corps said it is working with the conservancy on ways of integrating nature-based measures into the plan. It’s not likely that those measures alone can defend the back bays from rising waters, but they may be able to play a role, he said.

New Jersey Sierra Club director Jeff Tittel also criticized plans for infrastructure like sea walls, saying they just divert rising waters and storm surges into unprotected areas.

“The problem with sea walls and gates is that water goes around them,” he wrote. By preventing tidal movement, such measures stop pollutants flushing out of the system and hurt fisheries, he said.

Focus on buying out rather than building?

Rather than building sea walls, New Jersey should focus on buying out the most vulnerable homeowners, elevating properties in flood-prone areas, and building up dunes, Tittel said. He called the Corps’ report “a recipe for disaster” that does not recognize the realities of sea-level rise.

Responding to Tittel’s criticism, the Corps said it is working to understand how storm-surge barriers affect tidal flows and salinity, and is working with other agencies on a “conceptual ecological model” to evaluate the impacts of the barriers.

According to Rutgers University scientists, the consensus projection for sea-level rise at the Jersey Shore is that seas will be 1-2 feet higher in 2050 than they were in 2000. By 2100, seas will be 2.5 to 5 feet higher, the estimates say.

The Barnegat Bay Partnership, representing federal, state, municipal, academic and business groups working to protect the bay, said it is concerned about impacts to natural features like wetlands from the Corps’ plan.

The partnership commended the Corps for its “substantial undertaking” but said the report had omitted data on issues such as water-quality modeling around storm-surge barriers and so had made some decisions based on “little information and/or a limited understanding.”

It welcomed the Corps’ consideration of managed retreat and relocation as one response to coastal inundation but questioned why that option was not given a higher score in an assessment of feasible approaches, while man-made structures got a higher rating.

Bias toward ‘structural components’

“These inconsistencies appear to bias upwards the rankings of structural components,” the partnership’s submission said.

And it accused the Corps of underestimating how much a 5-10-foot storm-surge barrier would restrict access to coastal waterways for boaters.

“To suggest that the ‘potential effect would require further evaluation to determine the extent of this impact’ is to ignore the obvious fact that the impact may be significant,” it said.

Comments were also submitted by Surfrider Foundation, a nonprofit that represents beach and ocean users. It accused the Corps of not doing enough to include all stakeholders in its discussions.

“Considering the scale of the potential project and the far-reaching impacts to the environment, human uses and coastal communities, outreach for the study requires a slower, more in-depth approach,” it said. “We can say with certainty that the majority of affected stakeholders do not know that the study exists.”

About a quarter of the 112 comments, the biggest proportion, addressed the environmental impacts of structural features like storm-surge barriers, the Corps said in a summary of the responses. Others called for more attention to be paid to sea-level rise projections, and how to manage its risk.

The Corps said it hopes to hold more public meetings in winter this year, and then in spring 2020 to mark the release of a draft feasibility report as the next stage in the massive, multi-year project that covers 3,400 miles of shoreline in five counties.

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