NMFS sponsored a Recreational Fishing Summit recently--some comments.....
Recreational Fishing at the National Level
by Bruce Freeman
(from Jersey Coast Anglers Association June 2011 Newsletter)
Reacting to mounting criticism that the federal government is ignoring the concerns of recreational fishermen as well as not fully recognizing its economic importance in management decisions, the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA) organized a Recreational Salt Water Fishing Summit. A major goal of the Summit was to find ways to improve the level of communication and cooperation between the federal fisheries agency and the salt water recreational community.
The Summit was hosted by Dr. Jane Lubchenko, Undersecretary of Commerce for Oceans and Atmosphere and Eric Schwab, Assistant Administrator, National Marine Fishery Service (NMFS). Some 120 people attended and represented individual anglers, sport fishing organizations, fishing tournaments, charter and party boat owners, and tackle and boat manufacturers. The Summit was designed to identify key recreational issues and concerns and discussed candidly ways to overcome these impediments. Both Tom Fote and I attended the Summit and were involved in discussions concerning New Jersey and the middle Atlantic coast.
The NMFS discussed several pressing problems that recently faced recreational fishermen. One of these was the pending closure of the sea bass fishery in the middle of the season off New Jersey and other Middle Atlantic States. This situation was caused by a provision in the reauthorization of the Magnuson-Stevens Fishery Conservation and Management Act (ACT) to develop annual catch limits and accountability measures for overfished species by 2010. While the NMFS realized it did not have adequate biological information for the species and understood the disastrous economic consequences that would occur, it was being required to close the fishery to comply with federal law. Another serious problem was occurring for the same reason in the red snapper fishery in the South Atlantic region. In this situation anglers were looking at being prevented from bottom fishing in waters deeper than 98 feet. This would amount to closing 6,000 square miles of ocean water to any bottom fishing due to the fact that a red snapper could be caught!
To the credit of the NMFS it seized the need for a more balanced approach which includes improving catch information and allowing for a transition to the legal requirements of the ACT. It believes that massive, indefinite fishery closures are not responsible management.
Still other pending issues exemplify the low consideration given to recreational fisheries by some federal agencies. In 2009 an Interagency Policy Task Force was created and charged with developing a national policy for managing United States ocean waters and the Great Lakes. The Task Force developed a draft report and framework plan. However, the greatest deficiency in the report was that it did not recognize the economic, social, and conservation contribution of recreational fisheries. In addition, the report was skewed towards a preservation policy of the nation’s marine resources and limiting access to public waters rather than to promote sustainable use such as recreational fishing. While the final report was expected to be issued a year ago, it has yet to be released because of a number of problems, including several states’ rights issues concerning fish and wildlife management.
These examples emphasize the timeliness of the Summit. While there was considerable discussion at the Summit about concerns at the national level, much of the time was devoted to identifying regional issues. I was asked by the Summit organizers to address regional concerns in the New Jersey and mid Atlantic area. Given only a few minutes to address the audience, I had only time enough to quickly touch on five issues as follows:
1.Anglers continue to question the accuracy of recreational survey catch data. While the survey information collected by the NMFS is key to setting annual catch limits for important recreational species such as Fluke, Sea Bass, Bluefish, and Porgies, the small sample size as well as the time of day the survey operates creates major problems.
2.The lack of federal policy for artificial reefs. Although tax revenue paid by anglers is the major source of funds used to construct reefs, fixed fishing gear such as commercial fish and lobster pots placed on and around the reefs make it nearly impossible for anglers to drift their baits over the reefs.
3.Anglers, and specifically party and charter boat operators, are increasingly frustrated over the constantly changing size, season, and bag limits. Because they change each year close to the opening of the season, it is impossible for anglers to plan ahead their fishing activities for the upcoming season. For party and charter boat operators, bait and tackle store owners, and marina operators, this creates a nightmare business situation and has caused some to fail.
4.Anglers see little, if any, economic or social impact analysis concerning recreational fishing when management decisions are being made. This is true even though federal fishery law requires such concerns to be taken into consideration.
5.Growing apprehension over the federal mandate of having each and every fish species at its maximum sustainable level, all at the same time. Based upon historical records available for the middle Atlantic area, some as far back as the late 1700s, it can be seen that various species were in great abundance at certain times. However, none of the species remained at high levels for extending periods of time; the natural population levels waxed and waned over time. This is not to say that recreational fishermen do not support sustainable levels of our fisheries, but it must be asked if our present management goals for all species being maintained at their maximum sustainable level simultaneously is possible. And what level of forage species must be maintained in order to support maximum populations of all predatory species? Is it biologically possible?
At the Rec Fish Summit the NMFS stated it would work to improve the way it operates towards the recreational fishery. As a start it identified general areas of concern it would work on immediately and move ahead to improve, including working to obtain more accurate and timely recreational catch information; more and better economic information; inclusion of recreational interests in the management process at the Fishery Management Councils; and better communication at both the national and regional levels.
In future articles, I will report on steps that the NMFS is taking in recreational fisheries, especially improvements in the recreational fishing survey.
Bruce Freeman was asked to be a member of the Recreational Fisheries Working Group, the purpose of which is to advise the national Marine Fisheries Advisory Committee on issues of importance to the recreational fishery.
Thats great Mike. I appreciate the original posters efforts but I don't think that jane wants to listen to any fishermans opinions just take their comments and file them in the shredder. It is clear and on the record where she stands.