Fishing regulations slowly taking shape

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Fluke regulations floundering. Summer flounder (fluke) regulations are still up in the air as a declining spawning stock biomass and a challenge to the Magnuson’s Stevens Act and NOAA’s authority to manage them is underway.

If you haven’t heard, fluke regulations for 2017 will likely be much more conservative than last year as a 41-percent reduction is needed to achieve a Recreational Harvest Limit (RHL) reduction. The species has been struggling. For six years, the spawning stock biomass has been on the decline and overfishing is occurring relative to biological reference points.

Many fishermen believe, like those attending the Atlantic States Marine Fisheries Commission (ASMFC) summer flounder hearing last month in Rhode Island, that the summer flounder stock was/is in trouble. They believe that conservation measures are necessary and appropriate. Private recreational anglers, RI Saltwater Anglers Association and those active in the charter boat fishing industry, (the RI Party & Charter Boat Association) have taken this position.

They did not like the more conservative regulations, but understood that they are important to implement in order to rebuild. Any of the options supported by these anglers would have achieved the required 41 percent.

Some in the fishing community who are less conservation-minded want to relax fishing regulations. Many are backed by big business interests such as large boat manufacturers, tourism, major fishing and outdoor retailers that have much to gain by allowing all to fish, fish and fish.

The fish are taking a back seat, not at the expense of fishermen, but at the expense of those big businesses that make money off the fish and political leaders that put votes first and the fish second.

Last month, political pressure was openly applied by New York, New Jersey and Connecticut fishing interests, politicians and government officials to force an ASMFC vote that falls short of required Recreational Harvest Limit reductions. The ASMFC vote challenged the National Marine Fisheries Service’s (NOAA’s fishing arm) authority to rebuild fish stocks with conservation measures.

The ASMFC approved an option (Option 5) calculated to achieve only a 28- to 32-percent coastwide reduction, which gave its states greater share of the fish, and states like Rhode Island and Massachusetts took a greater share of reductions. Historically, New York and New Jersey have overfished quotas more than other states.

In a press release last month, Mike Luisi, ASMFC summer flounder board chair, said, “By our action, we struck a balance between the need to reduce harvest, while taking into account the socioeconomic impacts to our stakeholders."

One state, New Jersey, is refusing to make any reductions. Bob Martin, New Jersey DEP Commissioner, has said, “Enough is enough,” and says New Jersey is steadfastly going to maintain status quo and not compromise with requested harvest limit reductions.

At a RI Department of Environmental Management (DEM) regulation workshop held at the URI Bay Campus last week, Jason McNamee, DEM Marine Fisheries Chief, said, “NOAA will decide whether or not it will accept the Commission’s decision, however, for now it looks like we are faced with a coastwide minimum size of 19 inches with a bag limit of four fish/person/day.” Last year in Rhode Island, the minimum size was 18 inches and anglers were allowed to harvest eight fish/person/day.

McNamee said the ASMFC four fish at 19 inches option is out of compliance with the required 41-percent reduction. If NOAA does not allow this option, we will have to revert to a default regulation, which would reduce the bag limit to three 19-inch fish with a much shorter season. So, we will have to wait to see where summer flounder regulations will land in the next week or two.

We need strong national fishing laws that put fish first ahead of financial or local political interests. Under the Magnuson-Stevens Act (MSA), the federal fisheries management law of this nation, 40 species have been rebuilt. They were rebuilt because we put the nation and fish first rather than the self-interests of those that prioritize short-term economic gain over long-term conservation of the resource. Some states often are shortsighted; they want to open up fishing so local tourism and businesses grow at the expense of the fish.

Black sea bass stock status and regulation options were reviewed at a workshop and public hearing. The stock assessment is indicating that we have a healthy black sea bass fishery, however, we did overfish harvest limits last year. An eight-percent reduction in harvest is required. However, the species is not overfished and overfishing is not occurring.

DEM’s McNamee said, “The department (DEM) is advocating for a status quo regulation for black sea bass.” Like last year, we would have a 15-inch minimum size and a split season limit – three fish/person/day between June 24 and Aug. 31 and a seven fish/person/day limit from Sept. 1 to Dec. 31. Some are advocating for an earlier start to the season so anglers can keep some of the sea bass they catch when fishing for fluke in late May and June and doing away with the days in the fall that the Federal black sea bass season is closed.

Scup regulations will likely be status quo, which is 30 fish/angler/day for private anglers with a 10-inch fish with special shore areas (visit www.dem.ri.gove for listing) allowing a nine-inch fish. Character and party boats have different regulation options. Scup is not overfished and overfishing is not occurring.

Tautog reference points have not been approved at this time by the ASMFC. The assumption is that the stock status is poor based on the accepted updated assessment. The tautog technical committee and the ASMFC were scheduled to meet at press time to review the stock again. More conservative regulations are expected. For now, the only option presented at a workshop was status quo from last year, a 16-inch fish with a three fish/person/day limit from April 15 to May 31 and from Aug. 1 to Oct. 21; with a six fish/person/day limit from Oct. 22 to Dec. 15. A 10 fish/vessel limit applies to all periods, which are not applicable for party and charter boats.

Atlantic menhaden is not overfished and overfishing is not occurring. Fishing mortality is below the threshold. The stock is in very good shape. Catch limits increased by 10 percent for the past two years, and this year the total allowable catch (TAC) will increase by 6.45 percent.

One major proposal made by a commercial bait fishery company fishing in Narragansett Bay was to have controlled openings of areas in Greenwich Bay and areas north of Conimicut Point to commercial Atlantic menhaden boats (these areas have been closed to commercial fishing for the past few years). The rationale for opening up these areas was that so many Atlantic menhaden are expected in the upper reaches of the Bay this year that fish kills may occur. This information was not verified by DEM staff at the meeting.

Commercial rod and reel fishermen in the Bay and the Rhode Island Saltwater Anglers Association fought for years to protect the Bay from overfishing by commercial vessels ensuring enough menhaden were left in the water to serve as forage fish for striped bass and other species. Through an aggressive advocacy program, the restricted areas were put in place along with an aggressive Bay Atlantic menhaden fishery management monitoring plan that includes weekly helicopter/airplane biomass assessments in the Bay.

Frank Tameo, a commercial rod & reel fisherman and active member of the West Bay Anglers, said, “Rhode Island Atlantic menhaden fishery management plan in the Bay is a model program. We strongly object to any action that would allow commercial menhaden boats to fish in what are now restricted areas.”

Striped bass stock is not overfished and overfishing is not occurring with mortality below the threshold and target. Management measures implemented in 2015 seem to be working. The proposed recreational management option for 2017 is status quo, with a 28-inch minimum size and one fish/day/person with a year-round season.

However, there is a move underway to liberalize striped bass regulations this year with a new addendum. The Atlantic Striped Bass Management Board of the ASMFC initiated the development of a draft addendum to the Striped Bass Fishery Management Plan (FMP) to consider liberalizing coastwide commercial and recreational regulations. This could mean more than one striped bass/person/day may be considered in the Addendum, however, concerns were raised by Chesapeake Bay jurisdictions regarding continued economic hardship endured by its stakeholders. 

A draft of the addendum will be presented for Board review in May. For more information, please contact Max Appelman, Fishery Management Plan Coordinator, at mappelman@asmfc.org or 703.842.0740.

Final 2017 regulation recommendations

Regulation options at press time are still up in the air. NOAA’s decision on summer flounder, public hearing input and DEM staff recommendations on preferred options are forthcoming.

Then, all goes before the Rhode Island Marine Fisheries Council for its recommendations, with all input going to Janet Coit, DEM director, for the department’s final ruling on 2017 regulations.

Brook trout in a changing environment

Learn about brook trout in a changing environment from DEM biologists Corey Pelletier and Allan Libby Wednesday, Feb. 22, 6:30 p.m. at the Narragansett Chapter of Trout Unlimited (TU225). The presentation will be preceded by a brief membership meeting at the Coventry/West Greenwich Elks Lodge, 42 Nooseneck Hill Road (Rte. 3, Exit 6 off of Rte. 95), West Greenwich.

Trout Unlimited welcomes Corey Pelletier, RIDEM Fish and Wildlife, Fisheries Biologist, Habitat Conservation and Allan Libby, RIDEM Fish and Wildlife, Principal Freshwater Biologist. Corey will be presenting “Brook Trout in a Changing World.” Brook Trout require a certain set of necessities for survival. The presentation will explore the impacts that occur on a local level and range wide scale, including climate change, development, dams and culverts, agriculture, and non-native species, as well as what is being done to monitor and assess Rhode Island’s Brook Trout populations. Also covered will be some online support tools that are available for exploring and better understanding our stream ecosystems.

For additional information, contact Chapter President Glenn Place at 401-225-7712 or email GlennPlace83@gmail.com.

Captain Dave Monti has been fishing and shell fishing for over 40 years. He holds a captain’s master license and a charter fishing license. He is a RISAA board member, a member of the RI Party & Charter Boat Association and a member of the RI Marine Fisheries Council. Contact or forward fishing news and photos to Capt. Dave at dmontifish@verizon.net or visit his website at www.noflukefishing.com.

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