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August 23, 2013

Striped Bass Gamefish Rationale

A case can be made, but it’s not the one we’re making

In my Aug 8th blog The Straight Dope on Striped Bass I mentioned “Assuming striped bass continues to decline, there is a rationale for gamefish, but thus far the angling community hasn’t picked up on it.  I don’t really have the space to fully explain this here but will certainly do so in a future blog.”  So…  Let me do that now.  If you haven’t read the above referenced blog, stop right here!  Read it, then continue.

Let me be clear that on its face, gamefish doesn’t appear to be about conservation.  It’s about a reallocation of a public resource.  Again, on its face, it’s a policy decision, not a conservation one.

There was a comment following the blog along the lines that, according to my rationale, we should reopen market hunting for terrestrial game.  Sounds silly, and it would be.  But it is true that as long as total mortality is controlled, such populations would remain healthy.  A dead duck is a dead-duck, likewise, a dead fish is a dead fish, regardless of who killed it.  It matters little where the mortality comes from, it’s still mortality.  As Charlie Witek pointed out in the comments section, wildlife managers simply chose broad public access over commercialization.  It’s important to point out that this was not a decision mandated by biological imperatives.  It was a policy decision on how to allocate limited resources.  They chose the greater public rather than a few guys still trying to make a buck off of it.

 

striped bass gamefish rationale
A nice May striped bass – photo by Capt. John McMurray

If the true motivation is conservation, and I believe that at least with most gamefish advocates that’s the case, they could avoid a lot of grief by being very clear in their “conservation” goals.  In other words, stop talking about killing small fish, either by reducing the minimum size or creating  a slot limit, and shift the conversation toward reducing fishing mortality.   Decommercializing the fishery may actually be a good way to do that but no one is taking that track, and frankly, I’m not sure they should be right now.  I’ll explain this later.Managers obviously haven’t done that with striped bass, and I don’t disagree that they should.  I think decommercialization could achieve a number of objectives, yet I also feel like the entire striped bass gamefish issue has blinded people to the total fishing mortality issue, often to the extent that people can talk about killing smaller slot fish for dinner and then promote conservation in the same breath, while few notice that they’re talking out of both sides of their mouth.

I do believe that once we get the 2013 Benchmark assessment, reducing mortality, particularly on older fish, will quickly become a management goal.  And, while the “fairness” issue still exists, decommercialization of striped bass is a realistic means to achieve it, particularly since decreasing recreational harvest is likely to lead to increased catch-and-release mortality.  (Again I want to note here that in 2006, when the recreational fishery peaked, the number of fish killed as recreational discard mortality was double  the total commercial catch).

However, such action would only be justifiable if the former commercial harvest is used as a buffer of sorts, to increase the population, and not merely transferred to recreational landings, as was the case in New Jersey when they went the gamefish route.  I’m certainly not bashing Jersey.  The fact is that, given the amount of fish they took from commercials and gave to anglers, only a small portion are actually killed pursuant to their 3rd “bonus program” fish, which I believe was suspended anyway last summer.  So in reality, there is indeed a conservation benefit there.  Of course that doesn’t translate to decision-makers who see only an unfair reallocation, perpetuated by a movement that, instead of promoting the conservation buffer idea, talks about killing a smaller fish.  Certainly they get an earful about it from commercial striped bass fishermen in their states.

Getting back on point, decommercialization could indeed eliminate some bycatch-prone commercial gear such as gillnets and would stop the practice of discarding smaller, dead fish in favor of larger ones (“highgrading”) in order to maximize profit.  (While I hate to say it, that sort of thing happens on charter/party boats as well.)  Regardless, making striped bass a gamefish would likely quell the rampant illegal harvest along the coast.  Sure there would still be some poaching, but certainly not to the extent that it has existed in the last two decades, since the profit motive would be eliminated.

Striped bass Gamefish Rationale
A nice striper from the Navesink River – photo by Capt. Paul Eidman of Reel Therapy Charters

That said, one could certainly argue that decommercialization is valuable not because it will permit a bigger recreational kill, but because it is a reasonable way to reduce overall striped bass mortality, increase the spawning stock, better assure the long-term health of the striped bass fishery and better represent the long term interests of the general public.  However, simply reallocating the resource without reducing overall mortality fails to achieve any of those goals.  The fact that the gamefish advocates haven’t tried to quell the “more fish for me” impression has really harmed anglers’ credibility with fishery managers and it has dealt commercial interests a winning handAnd then there is the economic argument.  It’s pretty well established that anglers create quite a bit more economic activity than commercial striped bass fishermen.  That’s been demonstrated in more than one academic study, and the argument that we deserve more fish, if not a total allocation, as a result has certainly been made.  Yet, having spent the last five years on one of the regional fisheries management bodies, I can say with certainly that managers simply don’t do allocation based on economic value of the fishery.  If that were the case, just about every dual-component fishery would have had all the fishery resources, except perhaps mackerel, tilefish and bluefin tuna, over to the recreational side.  The economic value of those fisheries are heavily weighted to the commercial side; thus we probably would lose them all together if NMFS were to base allocation on economic impact.  Several years ago, Stripers Forever retained Southwick Associates to prepare an economic study of the fishery, which unsurprisingly determined that economic activity generated by striped bass anglers was, I think, 26 times greater than that produced by the commercial fishery.  But it mattered little.  The ASMFC Committee on Economics and Social Sciences reviewed the study, then rejected it in its entirety.  About a decade ago, the Virginia Institute of Marine Science also produced a study which concluded that allocating the entire striped bass harvest to anglers would yield the best economic result.  It, too, was ignored.

Several years ago, Stripers Forever President Brad Burns told me “If the striped bass were a personal-use-only species, the values of recreational fisherman would control its fate… Sure, a few would be eaten, but a healthy stock and high-quality fishing experience would be the primary values.”  I think he’s right about that when we talk about fly fishermen and even a lot of the surfcasting community, but when you start to look at the party boats and the six-pack charters, along with a significant segment of the private boat community, a lot of bass are being killed.  In those venues, conservation-minded sportsmen can be pretty thin on the ground.

First, Striped bass must be managed in a way that makes biological sense.  Once that is achieved, like terrestrial game, bass should be managed in a way that brings the greatest overall benefit to the general public.  Permitting the continued commercial exploitation of striped bass doesn’t really appear to achieve that objective.  But, we have to keep in mind that this is a historical and culturally significant commercial fishery.  We can’t expect it to just go away.

A nice striper from Capt. Dave Bitters at Baymen Charters

A nice striper from Capt. Dave Bitters at Baymen Charters

Unfortunately, a lot of anglers do think we can just make commercial fishermen disappear.  Such people are still living in the “us vs. them” age.  As I indicated in my Straight Dope column, I get it.  It’s irritating to see one guy kill lots of fish 20 or so yards away from where you are releasing them all.  But at a point in time so critical to the striped bass population, when we have a chance to convince managers to do the right thing, we’ve got to realize that it’s not about what is best for me, it’s about what’s best for the resource (although in the long run that’s usually the same thing).

So, while I do believe gamefish could have benefits for the stock, assuming the fish that had been harvested commercially were all maintained as a conservation buffer and not reallocated to anglers, I also believe that decommercializing striped bass is politically impossible at this time.  Yet, since chasing that impossible goal tends to blind people to the total mortality issue, I can’t say I’m a big advocate anymore.  There are other more important things on the table.

I’ll say it one more time, then I’ll shut up about bass, at least until we get the results of the benchmark: as a community greatly concerned with the future of this precious natural resource, we need to put the blinders on and focus solely on reducing fishing mortality.  Clamoring about gamefish, slot limits etc., isn’t doing us any favors.  There may be a time when there is an opportunity to achieve decommercialization, but that time is not now.  Distracting ourselves from the most important goal of reducing mortality is likely to hurt the bass—and us—in the end.

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August 15, 2013

On LNG… What is RFA Thinking?

Liberty Natural Gas’ “Port Ambrose” just seems bad all around

I had to do a double-take when I opened a New York Times link last week to read an article: Fight Over Plan for Natural Gas Port Off Long Island .  Inset was a photo of the Recreational Fishing Alliance’s Jim Donofrio.  Not unusual really (while I rarely see eye-to-eye with that organization, they usually seem to be on the right page when it comes to things like this) except that the text under the photo read “Jim Donofrio, executive director of the Recreational Fishing Alliance, urges people not to dismiss the idea of a natural gas port.”  Seriously?  Everything I had read up to now has shown that Liberty Natural Gas’ “Port Ambrose” is bad for anglers, or any ocean users. Also from a security standpoint, it appears to be pretty bad for New York Harbor.  Given this is an area I fish pretty hard every single year, it got me a little worried.  So, I’m scratching my head wondering why.

“Port Ambrose” is a proposed liquid natural gas (LNG) port that would consist of two submerged buoys sitting about 30 feet off the seabed, with a radius of about 40 feet.  It would potentially be located about twenty miles due South of Jones Beach in Long Island and 30-miles due east of Monmouth Beach in Jersey, allowing huge ships to directly connect to the region’s natural gas system.

LNG is gas that has been super-chilled to -260 degrees, turning it into a liquid that is 1/600th the original volume of gas, so large volumes can be transported overseas.  The gas is clear, colorless, and extremely explosive.  So much so that Governor Christie vetoed a similar proposal in 2011 and in 2012. According to the Governor’s original veto, it “created a heightened risk in a densely developed region, including potential accidents or sabotage disrupting commerce in the Port of New York and New Jersey.”

According to the permit application, among the environmental impacts, the port would discharge 3.5 million gallons of chemically-treated seawater used for pipe tests.  During construction the project would apparently dredge up over 20-miles of seafloor, which would likely wipe out the fishing in a large area for a long time.  There will most certainly be significant underwater noise pollution during construction as well.  And given the volatility of LNG there will most certainly be a large exclusionary zone where there will be no fishing, or any sort of recreational or commercial activity, both during construction and probably for the life of the port.  It’s hard to see how Port Ambrose wouldn’t affect just about all ocean uses in the area including fishing, diving, boating, and shipping.  And, the possible site, in the middle of a recently proposed offshore wind area, would pretty much stifle what has been significant and recent movement toward wind-power in the area.

Upland, there is concern that construction of such an LNG port could lead to increased shale gas extraction, aka “fracking”.  The port would of course be close to the Marcellus Shale, which lies beneath parts of New York and Pennsylvania and contains natural gas that can be extracted, should a state moratorium on the process known as “hydrofracking” be lifted.  There are certainly those that argue that such fracking would destroy the Delaware River trout fishery, and it likely would.

A LNG Port off Long Island could cause the NY ban on Fracking to be lifted

Liberty Natural Gas contends that the proposed port will be used to import LNG from abroad, not export it, yet there is nothing in the law that would prevent the company, or a future owner of the port, from using it to ship shale gas to foreign countries.

Liberty Natural Gas filed the proposal with the federal Maritime Administration and the Coast Guard last month.  It must go through a rigorous yearlong process, including environmental impact studies and public hearings.   Assuming it clears all the numerous hurdles it faces, in the end none of it would matter if Governor Christie and/or Governor Cuomo veto it.  Given the recent history, I can’t imagine they won’t.

So why on earth is RFA even engaged here?  And seemingly on the “wrong” side to boot.  Certainly there isn’t a way anglers, or the recreational fishing industry could benefit?  Or could it?  While I can’t confirm it, there have been rumors that Liberty Natural Gas would provide more than $20M in mitigation money for the exclusionary zone the facility would require.  A lot of that would likely benefit the party boats from central and Northern New Jersey and of course Long Island.  I’m one of the most cynical guys around, but I can’t believe that this would be a reason RFA would consider supporting this.  I mean come on man… that would be the true definition of “selling out”.  So let’s take that off the table right now.

In the New York Times Article, Donofrio refers to the opposition to the Port Ambrose as “showroom environmentalists”.  I get it! RFA is and has been anti-environmental/anti-conservation for an awful long time.  Because of course everyone knows that environmentalists, even if they are fishermen themselves, are out to end all fishing, right! To simplify it, the RFA folks support the taking of more fish, and the folks that want to keep more fish in the water so we can enjoy healthy more abundant fisheries often stand in the way of them getting what they want.  But to support something that seems so obviously bad for anglers to spite the enviros?  Naaa…  Still not that cynical.

And I should note here that Clean Ocean Action, the folks that seem to be leading the opposition to Port Ambrose, is hardly a “showroom environmentalist” group.  They are about as small, local and grassroots as you can get.  And a good portion of their constituents include commercial and recreational fishermen.

RFA hasn’t come out in outright support of the Port Ambrose proposal.  According to the New York Times article they are “reviewing the proposal”.  But given the photo and the quotes in the article they certainly appear to be leaning that way.  Yes, there may be benefits to such a facility.  It could lower heating costs by increasing supply, create construction-related jobs and generate in state and federal tax revenue, but at what cost?  I can’t see how such a port wouldn’t adversely affect fishermen.  Like I said, I’m scratching my head on this one.  I sure would like to see an explanation.

That said, I don’t expect to get a reasonable one.  I expect the usual personal attacks for just putting the question out there.  More of the same, about how I’m a radical or some crap like that because after all, in addition to generating a significant amount of my income from my charter fishing business, I also run the grants program for a foundation that funds equipment for organizations working to protect natural resources (e.g. CCA, Trout Unlimited, RiverKeeper, etc.).  But I’d have to think that the large majority of anglers think like I do on this one.

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August 13, 2013

MRIP- Getting there!

Marine Recreational Information Program collects information about recreational catch and participation

Marine Recreational Information Program (MRIP) provides data for fisheries management

Ok, you say. What the heck is MRIP. It stands for Marine Recreational Information Program and it is the process whereby NOAA Fisheries collects all the information about recreational catch and participation. MRIP is one of those fisheries management acronyms of which there are too many. What comes out of MRIP forms the basis for managing recreational fisheries. So it is important, damn important. Is it the best? Well, it is the best that we currently have, and a great deal of energy is being expended to make it even better.

MRIP is the new version of MRFSS, another acronym that stands for Marine Recreational Fisheries Statistics Survey. MRFSS was found to be flawed by the National Academy of Sciences and since then a dedicated staff has been working to correct the problems that were pointed out. The improvements have not been a speedy process, but little that is done by our government ever is. But it has been a thorough and relentless effort to improve the data flow into the system. Part of the data stream comes from the salt water license requirement, something that I supported way back when and still support today. No, I am not a tax and spend kinda guy. I tend to lean toward the fiscally conservative side, but think that well-run user fee programs that have benefits being returned to the users are good. I know that drives the Tea Partiers nuts, but that’s just the way it is.

I do think that some of the data collection projects make a lot of sense. They are moving outside the old box of intercept survey data toward angler-participation driven data. I have supported cooperative research in the commercial fisheries and think that the same concept will work in the recreational fisheries. These programs are not easy to develop, but they should generate a better data stream in the long run.

One of the projects is looking at a way to identify fish that are released by the recreational fishery. The project calls released fish recreational discards. That is a term that makes me cringe. We’ll have to see what can be done about that, but I digress. This project is using free disposable cameras handed out at launch ramps for anglers to use when releasing fish. The photos will be used for identification and form the basis for statistical projections of release composition.

Another program is developing internet-based angler logs as a source of fishery dependent data.  We know how prevalent smart phones are today and using their extensive capability is just plain smart. This project will focus on using an application callediAngler, but there are others out there and expanding this should be relatively easy. Could the day that there is almost real-time data available for the recreational fishing sector be getting closer. I hope so.

Another project is testing the use of video cameras to establish a recreational fishing boat count or essentially fishing activity in a port that has historically been un-surveyed. This will assess if the video combined with traditional shore-side intercept surveys can be used to estimate catch and effort.

These are all interesting efforts to try to improve the data stream that is used to estimate the recreational fishing effort, catch, and also composition of released fish. During 2013, there will be eight other projects around the country to also improve recreational data. A lot of people think that the government should leave anglers alone and I tend to agree with the sentiment. However, with fish, we are dealing with a public trust resource and the public has a right to know what is being caught and killed. Fishery managers need this information to make the best decisions on how these fish should be managed, so that we have a few left for the future.

STRANGE CATCH- This past week an angler riding his bike along the shore of the Cape Cod Canal saw a bunch of fishing activity on the bank of the Canal. He pedaled home and grabbed a rod. Upon returning he saw what it was all about. The sickle-like tail fin of what he though was a white marlin clipped along in the current. He cast in the fishes direction and hooked up. Yup, it was a white marlin all right! He fought it to the bank and along with other anglers tried to revive the fish for a successful release. Unfortunately, they could not revive the fish. That would be an unusual catch on Cape Cod’s outer beaches, but in the Canal. Wow!

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August 7, 2013

The Straight Dope on Striped Bass

Captain John McMurray with a large striped bass

Forget about slot limits and gamefish… address fishing mortality!

 

Having served on the ASMFC Striped Bass Advisory Panel for 6 years (not to mention having pretty much built a business on striped bass) I read Lou Tabory’s recent Striper Report 2013 piece in Fly Fishing in Saltwaters Magazine with interest. I have great respect for Tabory. He was a pioneer. His piece provides an interesting historical, albeit anecdotal, perspective on striped bass from the point of view of someone that has fished for them hard over the course of three decades.  Yet, I’d have to say that it reflects a general misunderstand most anglers have on the issue.

I’m guessing very few readers of this column would disagree that stripers appear to be headed for trouble.  Sure there are still fish around. In fact I’ve had some epic days in the last few years. I’ve seen more 40’s and 50’s in the space of a few days than I’ve seen in my entire life. But it generally lasts no more than a few days as bodies of large fish move through. Gone are the days of consistent schoolie action, with the occasional large fish, which I built a business on. The new pattern seems to be that I’m on them for a few days, then there’s a precipitous lack of fish, sometimes for long stretches. Years ago, getting skunked was rare for me. I can’t say that’s the case anymore. I’m certainly not alone in such observations.

When you look at the recent science this sort of thing makes sense really. Each year, young-of-the year seine surveys are taken in various spots in the Chesapeake Bay. Given the bulk of the striped bass resource is produced in the Chesapeake watershed it’s a pretty good indicator of what we can expect to see in the fishery moving forward. During the last 8 years such surveys have shown average to well-below average young-of-the-year numbers, with the anomalous exception of 2011 which was quite good. This trend is much different from the prior decade where we had several banner year classes.  All of this coincides with what guys like me are seeing on the water. Good, albeit very limited runs of larger older striped bass – those fish that are generally older than 9 or 10 years. As these fish grow older we continue to hammer on them while they become larger, yet few and fewer, and there isn’t much behind them.

Why are we having these poor young-of-the-year indices? There is some pretty good science out there suggesting it’s climate-related. NOAA scientists have documented what they’re calling an “Atlantic Multidecadal Oscillation” (AMO), a combination of wind and ocean currents in the North Atlantic that seems to change every 35 years or so. When such a shift happens, it affects local weather along the Atlantic Coast, providing deliberate temperature and precipitation shifts, and subsequently river flow and salinity changes. During a warm phase springtime along the East Coast tends to be wet and cool — more rain, more water, and more food for just-hatched stripers. And during such trends we’ve had good young of the year indices, and subsequently striper numbers go up. Then, 35 years or so later the AMO flips and we have drier springs, less rain, less food. After a lag, striper numbers start to decline. This appears to be where we’re at right now.  And guess what… A prior AMO flip coincided with the poor young-of-the-year indices that contributed to the striper crash in the 1980s. When that cycle ended, stripers recovered, not just because of the moratorium, but likely because conditions for their success became more favorable.

So yes, there are likely natural factors at work here, which managers of course have no control over. But… they do have control over fishing mortality, and regardless of the cause, given the decline both anecdotally and on paper, they should be reducing mortality! Just about everyone and their mothers are asking them to do something! But they aren’t… Because technically, striped bass are not overfished, and overfishing isn’t occurring.

Striped bass are managed by fishing mortality and spawning stock biomass thresholds for management action.  These are parameters that ASMFC scientists have put on the stock, that if exceeded, trigger corrective action such as reducing fishing mortality. Thus far, fishing mortality has remained below the threshold and spawning stock biomass above it. ASMFC is generally not compelled to take action until such thresholds have been crossed. It is, in fact, very rare the ASMFC would take management action unless the science indicated it was necessary. In this case it hasn’t.

While certainly Commissioners hear from their constituents, it’s difficult for a lot of them to comprehend there’s a real problem with striped bass when a.) A number of the fish they manage are technically overfished, and/or overfishing is occurring (e.g. winter flounder, weakfish, tautog etc.), b.) There are still pockets of very good stripe bass fishing even as the stock contract, and c.) Most Commissioners simply don’t spend the time on the water that we do. Believe it or not, there are still those managers who frequently say stupid things like “striped bass are eating everything” when discussing species they have failed to properly manage like winter flounder, or river herring. Such assertions are ridiculous give the historical abundance of such species side-by-side in the same environment.

But I’m getting into too much detail here. Given the abundant evidence of a decline and the importance of the striped bass stock to the recreational fishing industry, a good case for precautionary action can certainly have been made. Unfortunately, despite the clear fact that the majority of stakeholders wanted to see a reduction in fishing mortality, ASMFC punted with Addendum 3 (their 2011 chance to reduce fishing mortality), and we’ll now have to wait for the results of the 2012 benchmark, which is being peer-reviewed right now, and 2014 (if we’re lucky) for new regulations, assuming ASMFC wises up and opts to reduce fishing mortality.

And simply reducing fishing mortality is all we need ASMFC to do! Yet the point of this blog is that the fishing public (even well respected guys like Tabory) seem to keep talking about things like slot-limits (a fish in-between a certain size limit) and game fish status (making the species recreational only) as if these two things are the antidote to the striped bass decline. They aren’t!

A striped bass coastal slot limit, unless it’s crafted in a way that distributes mortality (which is actually very hard to do), is unwise.  For one, such slot limits tend to place a lot of pressure on very specific year classes. By implementing a slot limit we’d run the risk of severely depleting a weak year class that happens to fall within a slot limit’s bounds. Given the average to well-below-average young-of-the-year indices during the last 8 years (with the exception of 2011) one can see how a coastal slot limit may be problematic in the striped bass fishery.

Because smaller fish (e.g. 24 to 28”) are generally easier for the fishing public to catch, fishing mortality would go through the roof. In other words, a lot more fish are killed with such a slot than if the size limit had remained at 28” (or in a perfect world 36”), and a lot more are killed before they have had a chance to spawn! Allowing a fish to spawn at least once before it’s killed is fisheries management 101, and that’s essentially what a 28” size-limit seeks to do. With a species like striped bass, the key to effective management is allowing enough older, larger and more fecund fish, representing a number of age classes, to survive, in order to assure that there is adequate spawning stock in reserve to make up for the poor or missing year classes. That is best done by reducing mortality, not by imposing a slot limit.

The answer to the striped bass problem isn’t a slot limit, it’s actually much simpler. Managers just need to reduce fishing mortality. Whether that’s done with a higher size limit, smaller bag limit, or a shorter seasons is irrelevant. But you generally can’t reduce fishing mortality using slot limits.

Now let’s talk about the popular “gamefish” fix, which a lot of people mistakenly think is the magic bullet. Yes it’s easy to point the finger at commercial fishermen. I’m the first one to admit that it’s incredibly irritating when the boat next to you is bailing fish he intends to sell, either legally or illegally. But assuming the problem is fishing mortality anglers are definitely the largest perpetrators.  The commercial fishery is controlled through quotas, so commercial fishermen cannot go over the “harvest cap” set by the state (at least not legally). The recreational fishery, on the other hand, is managed through bag and size limits. The growing popularity of fishing for stripers and the lack of any sort of recreational harvest cap has allowed a large increase in recreational mortality over the years while commercial mortality has remained virtually static. In 2006, the year the recreational striper fishery peaked, recreational dead discards alone (those fish that didn’t survive the release) were around double the total commercial catch. Pretty startling right?

I’m not saying commercial fishermen are not part of the problem. They certainly are. It was hard to miss all the photos and videos of acres of dead discards from North Carolina trawlers a couple of years ago. Equally disturbing were the tens of thousands of pounds of dead stripers caught in illegal gill-nets found in Chesapeake tributaries. This is likely just the tip of the iceberg when it comes to discards and poaching. But let’s be honest. Such dead fish, while an inexcusable waste of the resource, still pale in comparison to recreational mortality. Couple this with the fact that some coastal states who were able to get gamefish status after the last crash ended up giving their commercial quota to anglers, and it’s hard to argue for game-fish with a straight face. Until we get recreational mortality under control, “wealthy anglers taking fish away from hard-working commercial fishermen” doesn’t play well with decision-makers. “Gamefish” is empowering, and of course I support the theory, but these are the realities of the situation.

Assuming striped bass continue to decline, there is a rationale for gamefish, but thus far the angling community hasn’t picked up on it. I don’t really have the space to fully explain this here but will certainly do so in a future blog (perhaps the next one if nothing pressing comes up). Regardless, the reality is that gamefish is politically very difficult right now, and in my mind a nonstarter.

If the recreational fishing community continues to perpetuate the myth that it’s commercial fishing that’s causing the decline or, that a slot limit is the answer, it will just strengthen the idea that many, if not most, Commissioners harbor– that the recreational community doesn’t really get it.  And so, they can just disregard us. I’ve had personal conversations with such Commissioners who have told me, in so many words, that this is the case. This is essentially what’s been happening over the last several years as Commissioners fail to listen to constituent pleas for precautionary management action.

We need be clear on what we, as a community of stakeholders, want. A reduction in fishing mortality.  So that we can enjoy the abundance of fish we had just five years ago and so recreational fishing business can continue to thrive and so that anglers can continue to enjoy a rebuilt, abundant fishery. I don’t see any reason for a two-fish coastal limit. And really, the size limit should probably be higher. But how it gets done doesn’t really matter to me, and it shouldn’t to you. Reduce fishing mortality! That’s what our message should be!

At this point, whether ASMFC does reduce fishing mortality is really contingent on what the 2012 benchmark stock assessment reveals, and of course how much noise those of us who fish for this amazing animal (and those of who depend on this fishery make a living) make.

The 2012 assessment is currently being peer-reviewed, yet I suspect it will be released very soon. I will let readers know what it says just as soon as we have it. Stay tuned!

 

About Captain John McMurray

After obtaining an undergraduate degree in Political Science from Loyola College in Maryland, Captain John McMurray served in the US Coast Guard for four years as a small-boat coxswain and marine-fisheries law enforcement officer. He was then recruited to become the first Executive Director of the Coastal Conservation Association New York. He is currently the Director of Grants Programs at the Norcross Wildlife Foundation in New York. He is the owner and primary operator of “One More Cast” Charters. John is a well known and well published outdoor writer, specializing in fisheries conservation issues. In 2006 John was awarded the Coastal Conservation Association New York Friend of Fisheries Conservation Award.

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posted in: TRCP Marine

August 6, 2013

Knock Them Down

A couple of weeks ago I had to go to Washington, DC to testify in a Senate Hearing on the reauthorization of the Magnuson-Stevens Act, which is the federal law that governs fisheries in our Exclusive Economic Zone (EEZ) or from 3 to 200 miles. While I don’t mind the process, and it is a process, of having to testify, I hate going to DC in the summer. I really hate it when I have to miss an event right in my back yard that I want to attend.

That event was the breaching of the Veazie Dam on the Penobscot River just upstream from Bangor, ME. A lot of folks would think that this event only benefits Atlantic salmon and has little to do with many of the other fish that we like to catch. Wrong! This was an historic event that opened up one of the biggest rivers in the New England area that has been essentially closed to fish passage for over 150 years. Yes, it will benefit the Atlantic salmon, but it will do much more. It is one more step in an effort to restore the greater Gulf of Maine ecosystem.

 Photo courtesy of The Nature Conservancy.

This dam removal was the culmination of 15 years of concerted effort by a very diverse group pulled together by a common thread. The Atlantic Salmon Federation, American Rivers, Maine Audubon, Natural Resources Council of Maine, The Nature Conservancy, Trout Unlimited and the Penobscot Indian Nation all worked together to raise $62 million to begin a new chapter in the rivers restoration. One of the most encouraging aspects of this event is that many of those who worked to get this project done were fighting each other back in the 1990’s over the relicensing of this and other dams. So it was a complete turnaround from fighting each other to trusting each other and working together for a common cause. This is fantastic stuff.

Once the dam is fully removed, it will open up almost a thousand miles of river to a variety of species. Yes, it will benefit Atlantic salmon, but there are a number of species that are important to the overall ecosystem in the Gulf of Maine, such as river herring, shad and rainbow smelt. It will also benefit striped bass, Atlantic sturgeon and tomcod. River herring are an important component of the forage base and could help with the restoration of Eastern Main cod populations. The salmon numbers over the past three years have ranged from 374 (2013) to over 3000 (2011). It is thought that about 2,000 Atlantic salmon have passed over the dam and predictions are that this could rise to an annual run of 20,000. The annual run of river herring could increase a thousand fold and reach a run of 2 million fish.

Hopefully, we are realizing that free flowing rivers are important to the health of our marine ecosystems and hopefully we are not too late. As fish populations move North and East, this will likely be the southern-most range of the Atlantic salmon in North America, but it can and will be an important part of the life cycle to countless other fish. It is proof positive that we can accomplish substantial goals when we work collectively. And, yes, it seems counter intuitive to be eliminating clean energy, but the reality is that this dam produced very little and is easily replaced. As part of the Veazie Dam project, Black Bear Hydro Partners is completing improvements at six dams that means hydropower production will be maintained and likely increased with support of the project partners.

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