‘keep em in the water bunch’ never can explain
One does wonder with all the regulatory battles within the MAFMC and NEFMC management region over the past few years that one of the biggest for 2018 just happens to be over bluefish.
Few fishermen in the New York and New Jersey fishing nexus once noted for having the largest directed recreational fishing, knew that there would be a number of scoping hearings with roughly a dozen spread amongst the states, and then ending in July with a webinar at the end of the scoping process.
Well that was until two of the “usual suspects” started spreading a number of fallacies which have no grounding in fact, and is defied by the latest actual data that has been supplied within the documents for the MAFMC – A.P. Bluefish meeting in Maryland this week. This online campaign actually back-fired since it drew the attention of some within the commercial and for-hire industry which would be impacted by the changes that the “usual suspects” are advocating for.
The most notable issue and the primary issue of contention in the development of the new Bluefish Allocation Amendment is with the recreational to commercial rollover where the unused recreational quota is transferred to those states where commercial quota is needed. Due to past historical landings between the two sectors, the ACL (annual catch limit) has the recreational sector receiving 83% of the quota with much of it going unused (harvested) during the calendar year as recreational fishery behavior and the latest effort data clearly indicates that fewer anglers are targeting and harvesting bluefish along the coast. In fact, and as noted within the scoping document on page 12, based upon the most recent MRIP estimates over the past five years (from 2013 through 2017), the trend in harvest has gone down each and every year (more on this later and why recreational harvest has gone down).
In returning to the rollover of bluefish from the recreational to commercial sector, over a number of years these state to state transfers amongst the 14 states have gone smoothly and which have been written into the specifications which is noted, “State quota allocations have generally kept the proportion of total landings stable over time.”
These days, the word “stability” in single-stock fishery management is not to commonly seen within fishery documents, but here with the recreational to commercial bluefish rollover the trend has been for states from Florida northward along with the state of New Jersey, do not catch their recreational quota, and what essentially is a shifting from one column to the other - ‘on paper transfer’ is made to the commercial sector to the traditionally high bluefish landing-states of New York, Rhode Island and Massachusetts. Without this rollover, the commercial sector (in the states that request and now require extra quota), would result in wasteful regulatory discards, as well as prematurely create in-season closures in the bluefish fishery in order to prevent over harvest in that sector.
To quickly sum up:
- Unused recreational quota is redistributed to the commercial sector and has been done over the decades and as noted: “Transfers from the recreational to commercial sector have occurred in every year since 2001” without any serious issues arising from this program
- Quota is accounted for and there to be used where necessary
- There is no scientifically verified data that the recreational to commercial rollover lessens recreational angling behavior or impacts the stock itself
There is also one other factual nugget that the “usual suspects” fail to point out, and it is within the summary from the last bluefish Benchmark:
“Results from the most recent benchmark stock assessment indicate that the bluefish stock is not overfished and overfishing was not occurring in 2014 relative to the biological reference points (BRPs) from the 2015 SAW/SARC 60.”
The other salient issue which the “usual suspects” manufactured to whip up their minions was on advocating for a reduction from the current 15 fish possession down to 5 fish - or what is essentially a 2/3rds ‘bag limit’ cut. The propaganda used here relied upon tales told from decades ago on wasteful fishery practices, with the most notable being in the discarding of large amounts of either bluefish or snappers after a day’s fishing along the docks, marinas or highways. The kicker in these few stories circled back or the well-worn line about “fishermen do not need to take that many ‘X’ or in this case with the current possession limit of 15 bluefish home.”
One only has to look back to the golden era of party boat blue fishing during the period from the 1970’s to the late 1980’s when aluminum supercruisers were commonly carrying 40, 50, 60 and more fishermen, both day and night for roughly six months of the season and with unlimited possession limits. Does anyone remember down seasons or the bluefish ‘cycling out’ during this period? Of course, lulls in the fishing did occur with the fish showing up later than expected on the calendar, but there was a very consistent – uninterrupted year by year unlimited harvest from one season to the next with no one ever indicating that the amount of bluefish available to anglers was contracting..
The current recreational bluefish fishery as far as being measured in ‘participants,’ has extremely contracted since the recreational peak of the fishery, especially when compared to a quarter century ago in the 1990’s, with noticeably less angler participation in ‘targeted bluefish fishing’ especially during the period of 2000 to 2010. Much of this was due to the resurgence and popularity of striped bass in the Mid-Atlantic as well as other gamefish species being available in southern-region waters for all three recreational fishing modes (party/charter, private vessel and shorebound).
What is more notable for the recreational sector is that the greatest cause for not harvesting bluefish nearshore or within the local bays and harbors has been due to nature and the eco-system itself, and is well documented with the lack of various white/stick bait, higher than normal seasonal water temperatures as well as the more or what we all can say is most serious issues with water quality deteriorating along our shoreline. Nonetheless there has been a distinct pattern for migrating bluefish to travel further offshore, lessening access from the traditional fishing ports along this coast, and so far this season this trend of massive schools of bluefish coming through and passing our local canyons continues.
What the “two usual suspects” have done here with the bluefish scoping hearings is to create exaggerated hyperbole to first draw attention, then to use baseless rhetoric as far as the latest scientific data indicates. It is nothing more than their continued stirring of the pot to create further division amongst user groups, with one of the most fictitious points on this being a ‘zero-sum’ strategy being used by the commercial fishing industry and party boats of taking away “their fish”…. and I put that statement within quotes because this is the messaging that they are using on this issue.
Just remember going into this evenings meeting at the NYS DEC Bunker, that here is another of the “much ado about nothing” fishery issues which everyone who either reads the documents or regularly targets bluefish can clearly and honestly state about bluefish.