NJ Saltwater Registry

NJ Saltwater Fishing Registry
NJ Summer Flounder Quotas To Increase In 2012
Written by Rod Houck   
Saturday, 20 August 2011 04:57

 Summer FlounderIn 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 pounds, respectively.

 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 discards.

 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.

 Black sea 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 added.

 "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 argued.

 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 status quo.

 "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. "

 Donofrio praised 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.

 "Unless Congress 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.

 "The question 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."


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