For those who are wondering on what transpired at yesterday’s MAFMC - AP webinar, it could be summed up as "the Council has the ability to liberalize on Fluke, Scup and Sea Bass in 2018, but both staff and the Monitoring Committee highly recommends STATUS QUO...." As Captain Joe Huckemeyer of the Helen H so succinctly stated on the Advisory Panel being just another "checking of the box." It once again gets right at the very essence of how the A.P. and its role with the stakeholders within the industry which provides the critical information to fishery management that then figuratively "goes in one ear, and out the other" in making a/any difference on the Council level.
Let's start with fluke.... Landings were notably down through to Wave 4 which most will agree due to the seasonal cooler weather conditions throughout the spring and early summer. As we continued to hear throughout the fluke discussion, 2017 was very 'anomalous' to what estimated harvest did not occur in comparison to 2016...and which Captain Joe Huckemeyer and another stakeholder pointed out on the chart below, is not the case. One can see that 2016 being the anomaly in regional estimated fluke harvest in a group of states. In my notes, Jack Conway (I believe from CT). spoke up and noted that the Long Island Sound fluke fishery is, and has been steadily trending downward as far as harvest, something I have personally heard from a few captains and fishermen (especially when compared to a few years back).
Somehow, and due to high MRIP 'variability' (yes fishery management new MRIP code word in their talking points) worked out where the 2018 proxy (projection) could have provided a 36% RHL liberalization, but the MC recommended a 17% liberalization. It was then highly recommended to essentially leave "fish on the table," but as a number of stakeholders mentioned, this should be left to the states on how to utilize the liberalization in 2018 (ie: either adding days, increasing bag, decreasing minimum size).
I like to make note of comments from AP member Harvey Yenkinson from southern New Jersey who provided some of the finest and what I can sum up as "inside baseball" information on what is happening not only with fishing behavior (effort and catch) in his coastal area, but the negative economic impact to fishing businesses due to the one-two hit of the productivity in the area combined with the regulatory environment.
One point he raised was on the tagging of fluke where it seems that within the first year, 80% of fluke tagged ended up being re-captured much further north...and with a recapture 2 years out in New Hampshire. It is apparent that the southern New Jersey area has the productivity of a spawning/nursery sub-region, and as fluke age over the years, large fish increasingly transition to cooler northern-easterly waters. Harvey by far provided some of the most relevant and detailed information during the discussion, and you can read his comments made last year that I will say should be taken pretty much as gospel by those on the Council (it is more accurate than what is provided by the so-called fishery specialist!): https://static1.squarespace.com/static/ ... -26-17.pdf
Scup...another fishery where we have a very unique spawning/juvenile recruitment in 2015 (sea bass the other) which has entered the fishery. From the charts and discussion, the total biomass is up and as stated with "lots of room based upon projections," but with one notable flag of TL (Total Length) size of harvested fish has retracted slightly. Again, Captain Joe Huckemeyer spoke about the liberalization that can be provided in the scup fishery for 2018 due to such high abundance, and recommended that the possession could be slightly increased during both the regular and bonus season. Another point which a few stakeholders harped upon was on possibly having the northern region state-group, standardize/align the minimum size limit for both shore bound and vessel angler to 9" in order to eliminate the size discrepancy within a state. I believe and most would agree that anglers can then choose "depending on their needs or fishing day" on whether to harvest a 9" scup...and here it is left to the angler to harvest what he needs, legally.
There was mention on how the Council scrambles to provide higher landings/accommodating the commercial sector (open areas during a period), and that such flexibility should be provided to the recreational sector since the most updated 'science' is showing an increase in biomass (at 2.1x (210% as Julia stated) above Target) now gives regulators an opportunity that would have a positive result in the coming year for fishing businesses. Now whether those in the for-hire industry will agree on increasing bag limits, this is up for debate especially when you survey amongst those in different ports in the for-hire industry.
Black Sea Biscuits..... Oh Lordy! Captain Jeff Gutman of the VOYAGER brought up the most relevant facts on the current economic impact due to the overly constrained, high risk averse regulatory environment. His first major question to BSB fishery specialist Brandon Muffley, "how high above the target do we have to be to get any liberalization...please give me a number..." Brandon once again stated he did not know, and mind you, that Captain Jeff has brought this question up at the AP and Council meetings over the last few years and there is still no answer being provided on the most robust (numero uno for those here in NYC) stock under the MAFMC.
Once again, the current data from the latest Monitoring Committee on November 17th meeting is indicating that we may be on the cusp of a major recruitment in BOTH the northern and southern BSB sub-unit (possibly more fish than from the 2011 cohort). Everyone who fishes, and as noted by Captain Paul Forsberg Sr., when trying to target only cod, scup and fluke, and we may be experiencing the greatest amount of BSB that are coming into the federal recreational size in the coming 2018 season and throwing back fish (forced regulatory discard).
This as that during the AP discussion with Brandon presents a big problem since the liberalization should be increased on a stock 2.3x above Target, 4.6x above Threshold and which projections as someone noted during this discussion, could possibly go/be as high as 3x Target come the next NEFSC population assessment in 2019. When fishing under the current ultra-constrained RHL on what is deemed a mega-stock, the implications are of harvest estimate overages in the near future that could "figuratively" shut down this fishery if the MRIP powerball numbers spike up in 2018 and beyond. It was also noted as with all the other species, reported estimated BSB harvest is extremely down for many states (NY as noted in the chart is one of the biggest drops seen in harvest so far in 2017), but the unique and fictitious NJ Wave 3 still haunts us (never happened, but this should be vigorously debated at both the upcoming Council and Commission meeting(s)) which Captain Jeff of the VOYAGER provided the jaw-dropping numbers of private vessels needed on a daily basis to have such an improbably harvest estimate for Wave 3 NJ.
There is so much more that can be mentioned and that I have within the notes I took, but I like to conclude with these last serious talking points....
- Captain Frank Blount brought up the issue during the BSB discussion with the 2016 Wave 6 New York MRIP harvest estimates, in particular with COD.... as I previously wrote about that this was a tabled agenda item for the NE RAP to possibly take action upon, and thankfully they did not at this time, and here again MRIP has really tossed in a devastating codfish harvest that could have resulted in an E.A. (Emergency Action) that would have a very severe impact on recreational fishermen in the southern New England/south shore of Long Island and New Jersey region. The over sampling done in Montauk during Wave 6 which I pointed out at the NYS DEC MRAC which led me to coming close to me physically being dragged out of the May meeting this year. This has to somehow be addressed in the near future....essentially that the 2016 - Wave 6 NY estimates is not to be used or considered for management purposes and stricken/noted in future MRIP data query.
- Greg DiDomenico, Executive Director of the GSSA in New Jersey asked Brandon on an issue he is directly involved with on MRIP estimates now possibly being 4x-6x higher than once thought (I posted that shocking news document previously). Brandon stated, "IT IS TRUE" due to the new collection sampling that MRIP is gravitating towards in the near future. I do not want to get detailed here, but it must be addressed since MRIP is now alluding to a staggering EFFORT COMPONENT, which no one in the for-hire and bait & tackle industry is seeing but yet will severely impact fishing businesses.
-- James Fletcher brought up (besides his total length fluke retention concept) is with the ASMFC rejecting the use of the development/use of a smartphone app. Now, I do not know if this statement is accurate, but I do believe we need MANDATORY private vessel/shore angler reporting on either a smartphone app or catch card. As shown in other states which have tried this sampling method, it provides a more accurate data stream on effort and is a better indicator of the catch (discard + harvest) component.
- Greg Heuth (NJ) brought up some excellent information on the most recent fluke studies which should be used for management purposes along with the issue on the regulatory measures used to constrain harvest to the RHL. There was mention of a 2019 fluke benchmark assessment to be done with a improvised model on and using the changing various biological indices on the fluke resource that fishermen are experiencing.
- Captain Joe Huckemeyer on BSB brought up one of the main talking points on the issue of properly managing a declared rebuilt resource in that "managing a stock with the same restrictions as one in trouble." Again here no one has a good answer to why this fishery continues to be so constrained after the information provided from the most recent benchmark.
Here is where all agreed that the BSB EEZ closure should immediately be lifted in 2018 (regardless of the so-called projected harvest implications), and as noted:
1) In southern New Jersey it becomes a 'de-facto' no fishing period
2) Causing an incredible concentration of effort prior to the closing and worse on the reopening which leads to "what fish are you actually saving with a closure...all you are doing is causing pain to fishermen and the fishing industry."
3) Just stop the highly wasteful practice of the regulatory discard of fish that should be placed into the pail to allow a fishermen to catch enough for a meal or two, instead of being tossed back and counted against the recreational sector.
One take away after listening is that there is a disparity with the needs (season, possession limit and minimum size) amongst for-hire operators in different states and more so regions. One fishery advisor contacted me after the webinar and he said that issues within a state may have to be looked at like 'territories' that require separate management measures. No doubt with 1) New Jersey in particular with their southern and Delaware Bay fishery and inshore-offshore waters, 2) New York with the NY BIGHT, south shore, east end and Long Island Sound, and 3) southern Massachusetts, should try to address management measures unique to these areas. Frank Blount (RI) did raise the point and going back to the EEZ BSB closure, that it "should go away and let the states decide".......and rightly so I might add here! The states should have greater control of what fishermen are allowed to do (access and opportunity) and land in their particular state.
There is so much more, but I believe this is more than enough to go over on what occurred with the AP webinar. Other sensible topics as slot limits were mentioned along with the issue of moving towards regulatory stabilization in a region, were other important points which need further development and pilot programs going forward.
One last note, that during the 3 hours, two individuals with initials M.P. and R.H. should chew on a towel (or something else to keep them busy) as their interruptions, babble and just lack of knowledge in directly dealing with certain fisheries, add little to the discussion and just eat up valuable time. The dog barking in the background at one point, did add some levity to what is a very frustrating discussion which at all to many times had someone annoying breathing extremely heavily into their phone.
Finally I understand this may come off as akin to a 'Unabomber Manifesto' but I just wanted to provide this information due to the regulatory ramifications possibly coming in the near future. Between the calls and texts during the webinar, this is what I had in my notes.
Good luck going through this...and if any questions, I will try to pass along any other information.
These are just a few of the ppt. slides from the AP meeting. There were a number more, but at this point they should give you an idea on the fluke, scup and sea bass discussion. This information will be seen and can possibly be updated for the Joint Council/Commission meeting next month.
By the way, in talking to a noted for-hire owner/operator from NY over the Wave 3 - New Jersey mystery harvest estimates....
To give you an idea on the EFFORT COMPONENT needed to make that type of harvest...
Based on the NJ possession limit, it would equate to 462.5 private vessels fishing each and every day catching a full 4 man limit during the New Jersey Wave 3 opening.
Lose just ONE DAY, you would jump that number up to over 900 private vessels....
Only one day lost...and as mentioned at the AP, the weather was not that dandy this past May and June when you look back to the opportunity for private vessels to fish every day during the 26 day open BSB fishery.