In a joint meeting of the Mid-Atlantic Fishery Management Council
(Council) and the Black Sea Bass, Scup and Summer Flounder Management Board of
the Atlantic States Marine Fisheries Commission (Board) in Wilmington, DE on
Wednesday, approval was given to recommendations to increase Summer Flounder and
Scup quotas for the 2012 fishing season by 1.55 million pounds and 21.43 million
¬†The overall black
sea bass quota will be the same for 2012, however, the recreational catch target
will be decreased by nearly a half million pounds to account for increases in
¬†Following the advice
of the Council's Science and Statistical Committee (SSC), monitoring committee
and staff, there was much debate about the summer flounder and scup quotas, but
the final decision to increase the quotas was rendered with overwhelming support
from both the Council and the Board.
bass, however, was far more contentious. Capt. Adam Nowalsky, chairman of the
New Jersey chapter of the Recreational Fishing Alliance (RFA-NJ) and serving as
New Jersey's Legislative Commissioner's Proxy to the ASMFC Board, put forth a
motion with strong
support from New Jersey's other Commissioners and Council members to keep the
2012 recreational catch target the same as for 2011. This motion passed the
Council in a narrow 10-9 role call vote, but was defeated by the Board
6-5. Since the species are jointly managed, both the Council and the Board must
approve any measures, thus resulting in a failed motion.
¬†A motion was then
put forth that would have reduced the black sea bass 2012 catch target by almost
700,000 pounds, but an amendment again put forth by Capt. Nowalsky won favor by
both bodies resulting in a lesser 470,000-pound reduction.
¬†"In making its
recommendation, the monitoring committee cited concerns about increased discards
in the recreational fishery as their basis for lowering the 2012 catch target,"
said Capt. Nowalsky. "Discards are a result of decreased quota and more
restrictive management measures, combined with high abundance of black sea bass.
Further restricting recreational fishermen's access to a stock that is not
overfished and is not experiencing overfishing sends the wrong message," he
¬†"If the discards are
a problem, then they should be addressed through the recreational measures
decided when the Council and Board jointly convene again in December," Nowalsky
¬†The majority of
opposition to the motion for status quo came from representatives from southern
states including Delaware, Virginia and North Carolina, while Maryland's
representatives unanimously supported the status quo measures. Delaware,
Maryland and Virginia were exempted from 2011's 43% decrease in harvest that was
enacted due to lower landings in those states as compared to the northern states
from New Jersey through Massachusetts. Connecticut also opposed the motion for
¬†"Think about the
ridiculousness of our management process, the fisheries service uses flawed
recreational harvest data to show that we are fishing over our allowable limit,
so they cut back that limit to such a draconian level that anglers are catching
sea bass they're not allowed to catch," said RFA executive director Jim
Donofrio. "Anglers can't get away from the sea bass, they're stumbling all over
this fish because of its rebuilt status as a healthy stock, yet a fatally flawed
harvest survey shows anglers are still catching and releasing black sea bass,
which itself is considered overharvest. "
efforts of Nowalsky and other coastal fishing advocates who have continued to
fight for more common sense at the regional level, but he said that
hand-wringing in Congress is truly to blame for the current fisheries mess.
¬†"NOAA Fisheries was
told by Congress to fix the recreational harvest surveys as of 2009, but here it
is our third full fishing season since the mandatory deadline and we're still
being ruined by a hopelessly inadequate survey system," Donofrio said. "Congress
passed a broken fisheries law in 2006 when they passed Magnuson by unanimous
consent, and Congress has failed our coastal fishermen by not fixing the issues
nor holding the federal bureaucracy up to the same standards as our private
citizens," Donofrio added.
¬†RFA said Mid-Atlantic anglers are lucky that some limited
management flexibility was incorporated into the 2006 reauthorization of the
Magnuson Stevens Act, as key lawmakers from New Jersey and New York were
successful in incorporating a provision to extend the rebuilding timeframe for
summer flounder by three years. "We warned Congress and other national fishing
groups that restrictive language written into the law in 2006 coupled with the
public sector's unwillingness to address private sector issues would lead these
continued problems with sea bass, red snapper, scup, grouper and every other
fishery managed under Magnuson," Donofrio said.
steps in now and helps fix this problem, questionable science, inadequate survey
programs, arbitrary deadlines and restrictive management measures are going to
cost more American jobs in the days ahead," he said.
¬†Black sea bass is
scheduled for a peer reviewed stock assessment later this fall, the results of
which will be available in early 2012. If the results of that assessment further
bolster the evidence of a fully rebuilt stock and offers a reduction in the
scientific uncertainty about the stock, a reconsideration of the quota may occur
by the Council's SSC. A revised quota recommendation may result in modifications
to the sector specific catch targets.
everyone is now asking is what this will mean for 2012 recreational size, season
and bag limits for all three species," Nowalsky said, adding "that answer will
not be known until December, when both management bodies will reconvene to
review the performance of 2011's measures."