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September 30, 2013

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September 27, 2013

CCA MC Has It Right on Stripers

Photo courtesy of John McMurray

I’m in Montauk this week and next.  So being that I’ll be writing blogs in-between 8-plus-hour stints of chasing unusually sparse pods of albies and stripers, expect uncharacteristically brief pieces for these two weeks (unfortunately, as regular readers of this column have likely noticed, I don’t really have the gift of saying something meaningful in under 1000 words).

But, here goes…  Earlier this week, Tony Friedrich, CCA MD’s Executive Director, sent me their comments on the 2012 Benchmark Striped Bass Stock Assessment.  Yes, the benchmark was released a few weeks ago, but I’ve avoided writing about it because the 2012 numbers still need to be added (presumably that will happen in Oct), and because, well, I’ve been too darn busy fishing to read and digest the whole thing.  But getting back on point, Tony forced me to give it a look this week.   I think CCA MD pretty much has it right.  CCA MD Comments on 2013 Striped Bass Stock Assessment.

I will note here that it’s good to see that at least one CCA state still believes in one of the founding principles of that organization…  That is, the needs of the fish must come before the needs of any user group (I’m paraphrasing of course).  That doesn’t appear to apply to any of the CCA chapters down south right now, but that’s an entirely different blog.  I suspect this is an indication that the Mid Atlantic and New England CCA states will take a solid conservation position on striped bass.  Indeed that’s a good thing.

As I understand it, the old striped bass stock assessment was kind of a mishmash.  In assessing the appropriate fishing mortality and spawning stock biomass levels, it averaged out two “Ricker models” and two “statistical catch-at-age models”, and it came to a conclusion that was neither fish nor fowl (all pun intended).  The Ricker model for striped bass probably wasn’t appropriate in the first place.  I’m told that such models are generally used for species such as salmon, where overcrowding in limited nursery habitat actually reduces recruitment (not the case with a species like striped bass where there appears to be plenty of spawning habitat), and where a reduction in the population, within reason, leads to higher recruitment.  The Ricker Model is one of those things that gets hauled out every time someone wants to kill more fish (e.g. RFA was pushing it for fluke back around 2004 or 2005).Getting back to the stock assessment itself, as expected, it shows that stripers are not overfished, and overfishing still isn’t occurring.  Before you throw your hands up, let me explain.  This does not necessarily mean more of the same.  Clearly the stock is in trouble, and there is some acknowledgement of that in the assessment itself.  And I think even those managers prone to avoid any tough decisions are beginning to see the writing on the wall.

The new assessment is strictly “statistical catch-at-age”, and comes to the conclusion that you’d expect once the less appropriate model is off the table.  That is, the fishing mortality reference points are too high. The stock assessment concluded that we need to reduce fishing mortality pretty significantly if we are to avoid big problems in the future.  As mentioned, the final 2012 numbers will be added to the assessment at the October ASMFC meeting.  Until then, it is difficult to put a number on the percentage of reduction recommended.  But it will probably somewhere around 40 or 50%.  Which is entirely reasonable, and a worthwhile sacrifice if it will stop the decline and get the stock back to abundant levels.

Without any change in fishing mortality, overfishing is a virtual certainty in 2014, and there is an increased chance of an overfished stock by 2015/2016, although that begins to decline thereafter when that anomalous strong 2011 year class (amongst 8 years of average to below-average year classes) begins to recruit into the fishery.  That’s of course assuming that a significant number of 2011 fish do indeed recruit into the fishery.   Given the lack of much before or behind them, and the pressure they will likely face, I have my doubts.

As the CCA comments point out, there’s no doubt that reductions are needed.  Where the real doubt lies is whether ASMFC has sufficient guts or integrity to make such real and likely painful reductions.  If I had to make a guess, given the rumblings I’ve heard, I’d have to say that ASMFC will approve some sort of reduction in fishing mortality.  Yet, given the management body’s reluctance to make the real hard choices, and its constant proclivity to “meet half-way” (e.g. invoking half-measures), I’m not confident it will be the 50% reduction in F we really need.  Yet, as mentioned in other blogs.  I’m perpetually cynical, which is likely the result of being around this stuff too long.

Now might be a good time to contact your commissioners and ask them to reduce fishing mortality significantly, and to do it now!  So that we can stop what is so obviously a decline in what has become perhaps the most important fish to the Mid-Atlantic and New England recreational fishing community. Here’s the link to your Commissioner’s contact info:  ASMFC Commissioners.

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The F-word Again

Signing the reauthorization of the Magnusson Stevens Act in 2006 — Compliments of NatGeo

 

The penalty for using the F-word when growing up was worse than having to wash one’s mouth out with soap. It usually meant getting grounded for some period of time and that meant no fishing expeditions to local ponds and rivers. These trips were executed on bicycles outfitted with rod holders and tackle box containers. In those days, most did not get cars until well past the driver license age. Losing fishing privileges was a big penalty.

Today’s F-word and fisheries are far different. Some think that not believing in the F-word as it applies to fisheries should get a punishment far worse than oral soap or getting grounded. They think that if one is not for the F-word, then one is against recreational fishing and the industry it supports.

What is today’s F-word? Well, it is “flexibility” and seems to be the central concept being pushed for the current Re-authorization of the Magnusson Stevens Act (MSA), also know as the Sustainable Fisheries Act (SFA), so named after its re-authorization in 2006. I am hoping that this reauthorization does not become the “Flexible Fisheries Act.”

What’s the problem with making fisheries more flexible to help accommodate the needs of the resource users. Nothing really. But do we need to make a change to do that? A lot of folks do not think so.

Last week, one of my fellow bloggers, Capt. John McMurray, wrote a good piece on the current efforts to Re-authorize the MSA/SFA, whichever you’d like to call it. He gave a good look at all the major issues. If you want a refresher give it a read. I am going to focus in on one issue that continues to give me heartburn. This issue is also getting some traction after a recent report was released by the National Research Council, which is an arm of the US National Academy of Sciences. Several former members of Congress requested the report. I cannot criticize the report as I have felt that the arbitrary re-building timeline mandated in MSA was just that. Arbitrary. But the mandated timeline does hold managers feet to the fire as well as tying their hands on some species.

The report does say that the existing law works. It noted that a good percentage of the stocks examined were now rebuilt or rebuilding. This is all good news. What the report points out is that current science capability is not good enough to precisely manage to a specified biomass level. Given that constraining element, they suggested that managing to a mortality level rather than an arbitrary timeline “might” be a better way to go. Note they said “might” not “would be.” From a managers standpoint, managing to a mortality level is very attractive because it is fairly straight forward. Set it and forget it!

In a discussion with John Pappalardo, CEO of the Cape Cod Commercial Fisherman’s Alliance, he made a very good observation about this report. “This report is an intellectual debate that will unfortunately be used to inform a policy decision.” Spot on.

With some of the problematic stocks, the allowed mortality (landings + discards + natural mortality) would be set at a low level with no rebuilding timeline. That may work for the commercial industry as it avoids the huge swings in quota currently being experienced and gives some level of stability. I doubt that it will be much help to the struggling groundfish industry in New England.

However, my strong sense is that this type of management strategy will absolutely cream the recreational users that share resources with the commercial users. What drives the recreational industry? Fishing trips. What drives fishing trips? Abundance of fish. This has been proven time and again. People want to catch fish and since recreational users have the least efficient gear, they need lots of fish. Keeping them at low levels until the stars align to cause a lot of high recruitment events will not help the recreational industry. I think that a lot of the push from the recreational industry for the F-word is due to one or two specific fisheries. Ya, ya, red snapper is one. There may be other ways to address these specific fisheries and it appears that the Gulf is working on one.

I do not think that there needs to be a complete remake of MSA to solve some specific issues. Rick Methot, Chief assessment Scientist for NOAA Fisheries supported that idea, “the agency is investigating how it can revise its national management guidelines to provide more flexibility, while still preventing overfishing and rebuilding fish stocks. We are interested in finding the right balance of flexibility and firmness.”

If there are ways to improve MSA that make the managers jobs simpler and more effective, I am all for it. However, allowing stocks to remain at low levels for prolonged periods will do nothing to rebuild and sustain the recreational fishing industry. I’m pretty sure of that.

 

For More Information

  1. The Bottom Line
  2. Report shows gains in many fish stocks

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Tegan’s Trout

The fish pulls; she swings the pole back, lifting the line out of the water, the fish flops on the bank.  Excited at the catch, she smiles and releases the trout.  Moments such as this last a lifetime for a child.

For many of us, these childhood memories are enough to get us hooked on fishing for the long haul. But these days we are seeing fewer children spending time outdoors; we need to get our kids playing again.

The future of our fish and wildlife depends on teaching our children how to respect the resources. Passion for a sport starts with the parents and if we don’t encourage our children to fish or pursue outdoor activities then we lose the next generation of conservationists.

When kids play outside, they connect with the resources and develop an appreciation for the environment – something that is often lost on children who never get out of the house.

Take an opportunity this Saturday, Sept. 28, on National Public Lands Day and National Hunting and Fishing Day, to introduce a newcomer to our rich outdoor traditions.

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September 26, 2013

Guns Up! Top U.S. Retrievers Meet in Kansas

“GUNS UP…DOG TO THE LINE.”  Those simple words may not mean much for many folks, but if you own a retriever breed of dog – whether they be Labrador, Chesapeake, Golden, Flat- or Curly-coat retrievers, Irish water or Boykin spaniels, even standard poodles – and you run hunting tests, these words mean you and your dog are about to have some fun.

Hunting tests were born from field trials where handlers and retrievers are tested on their ability to mark and retrieve live shot birds or thrown dead birds (sometimes out to 400 yards!) and handling their dog on blind retrieves. In a blind retrieve, the handler guides the dog to a bird it has not seen by with a system of whistles and hand signals

Field trial dogs compete for first, second, third and fourth places in the event. Trial placements accumulate points toward a dog receiving the title of Field Trial Champion or Amateur Field Trial Champion.

Ed Arnett, TRCP’s Director of the Center for Responsible Energy Development, with his dog Rip at an AKC Master National event. Photo courtesy of Ed Arnett.

Several decades ago, some avid hunters that trained their retrievers for hunting and field trials conjured up the idea of a program where trained retrievers were tested under various hunting situations and scored against a standard of performance, rather than a competition among dogs. Live birds are shot or dead birds thrown in similar ways to field trials but at shorter distances and in scenarios more resembling that of true hunting situations for either waterfowl or upland birds.

Today, the North American Hunting Retriever Club, the United Kennel Club, and American Kennel Club all administer hunting retriever tests. All have different levels for young dogs, those at a middle stage of their training, and the most advanced dogs that can do it all – triple or quadruple marked retrieves, complex blind retrieves, honoring (sitting still and watching while another dog is working), sitting still to a flushing bird – the polished hunting companion. For the AKC program, dogs are awarded a Junior, Senior or Master Hunting Retriever title after qualifying the appropriate numbers of tests.

The pinnacle of the AKC hunting test program is the Master National, where each year the best of the Master Hunting Retrievers gather to run a week-long event to see who is at the top of their game. A dog must pass at least six Master tests in the 12 months after the preceding years’ Master National in order to qualify to attend that years’ event.

Master Hunting Retrievers are tested to the maximum of the standard set by the AKC. To obtain this high standard, judges use terrain, wind direction and other factors when placing birds for marked and blind retrieves so as to provide a significant challenge for the dogs.

I have been running and judging AKC hunting retriever events since 1992. I started my life with retrievers in 1991 with the goal of having a good hunting companion. After reading several books and articles on training, I discovered the hunting test programs and once my new puppy was of age to run tests, I was hooked!

This year, I was honored with the opportunity to judge the prestigious Master National event, along with seven other retriever enthusiasts and dedicated judges. The popularity of the program and quality of dogs has increased dramatically and the number of Master Hunters qualifying for the National event has more than doubled in recent years. In 2013, the number of qualifying dogs exceeded 830.

We will test these dogs on land, in the water, and land/water combination. If a dog gets through a total of all the series of tests we throw at them, they will receive a qualifying score, a big orange ribbon and a silver plate. If a dog can pass the Master National at least three times, they will enter the Master National Hall of Fame.

The author’s dog, 2-time Master National Qualifier Merganser’s Classic Rip-N-Tear MH (1996-2007) Photo courtesy of Ed Arnett.

Why does any of this matter to the average sportsman andwhy is it important to conservation? Most hunters will tell you they just want a good huntin’ dog and don’t need to run trials. Running field trials or hunting tests no doubt takes time and money, and titles for the dog may not mean anything to most hunters – but it’s the training that is the most critical piece.

What represents “good” is in the eye of the beholder, but a well-trained retriever in the field is an extension of a good sportsman-conservationist. The ability for a retriever to mark birds and be handled to a crippled bird quickly is critically important for recovering all shot game.

While there are no valid statistics on the amount of lost game when hunters don’t use a dog, use a poorly trained dog, or one that is well-trained, my experience has been that having a well-trained retriever conserves game. I am far more likely to find a downed bird and retrieve all of my shot game when I have a well-trained retrieving machine with me in the field. I suspect if surveyed, most waterfowl and upland hunters would agree.

The 2013 AKC Master National runs from September 21st to the 29th in Fall River, Kan.  If you are nearby, come watch the best of the best retrievers in the country, or follow the action on the Master National website and blogWatch a little of this event, join a retriever club, and train for and run these tests – and you just might good hooked like I did!

HOW YOU CAN HELP

CHEERS TO CONSERVATION

Theodore Roosevelt’s experiences hunting and fishing certainly fueled his passion for conservation, but it seems that a passion for coffee may have powered his mornings. In fact, Roosevelt’s son once said that his father’s coffee cup was “more in the nature of a bathtub.” TRCP has partnered with Afuera Coffee Co. to bring together his two loves: a strong morning brew and a dedication to conservation. With your purchase, you’ll not only enjoy waking up to the rich aroma of this bolder roast—you’ll be supporting the important work of preserving hunting and fishing opportunities for all.

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