Gone Fishin’ Blues

RIP CUN­NING­HAM

Saltwater Sportsman - - Table Of Contents / Departments - By Rip Cun­ning­ham Pe­ri­od­i­cally re­vis­it­ing al­lo­ca­tions makes sense, but not on a whim.

We, as users of a com­mon-prop­erty re­source, can never stop fight­ing for sen­si­ble man­age­ment. If we do, man­agers will suc­cumb to pres­sure from other users.

As this is be­ing writ­ten, the Mid-at­lantic Fish­ery Man­age­ment Coun­cil and the At­lantic States Marine Fish­eries Com­mis­sion have put out the “Draft Scop­ing and Pub­lic In­for­ma­tion Doc­u­ment for the Blue­fish Al­lo­ca­tion Amend­ment to the Blue­fish Man­age­ment Plan.” They are look­ing for com­ments on sug­gested changes to the plan that man­ages blue­fish along the At­lantic Coast. This is a species that is im­por­tant to the recre­ational fish­ing in­dus­try. The coun­cil and com­mis­sion are seek­ing pub­lic in­put for the de­vel­op­ment of a “Blue­fish Al­lo­ca­tion Amend­ment” to the Blue­fish Fish­ery Man­age­ment Plan (FMP) that will re­view and po­ten­tially re­vise al­lo­ca­tions be­tween the com­mer­cial and recre­ational fish­eries, the com­mer­cial al­lo­ca­tions to the states, the goals and ob­jec­tives, and the trans­fer pro­cesses. We sup­port the con­cept of re­vis­it­ing al­lo­ca­tions on an es­tab­lished pe­ri­odic ba­sis, not just on the whim of the man­agers. We know that our coastal de­mo­graph­ics are con­stantly chang­ing, as are the ocean and coastal en­vi­ron­ments. So, we give this part a thumbs up. What we ques­tion is the rea­son­ing be­hind the po­ten­tial al­lo­ca­tion changes that may be made.

The cur­rent al­lo­ca­tions are based on recre­ational catch his­to­ries from 1981-89. It should be noted that dur­ing these years, striped bass were still in a re­cov­ery phase and blue­fish were in pretty good shape. So, many recre­ational an­glers tar­geted blue­fish and kept a lot of their catch. The Blue­fish FMP has a pro­vi­sion: Amend­ment 1 (1999) in­tro­duced the up­dated al­lo­ca­tions to the recre­ational and com­mer­cial fish­eries as 87 per­cent and 13 per­cent, re­spec­tively. This amend­ment also put in place the state-by-state com­mer­cial al­lo­ca­tions from Maine to Florida’s east coast us­ing catch his­to­ries from 1981-89. States man­age their own com­mer­cial quo­tas and are sub­ject to ac­count­abil­ity mea­sures. Ad­di­tion­ally, Amend­ment 1 al­lows for a trans­fer of up to 10.5 mil­lion con­tin­ued

pounds of quota from the recre­ational to the com­mer­cial fish­ery as long as the recre­ational sec­tor is not pro­jected to land its share of the quota. This is, as they say, the real heart of the po­ten­tial changes.

It should be noted that for the last five years, 2013-17, the ini­tial quota for the com­mer­cial sec­tor has not been caught, and still, dur­ing that time, trans­fers were made from the recre­ational quota to the com­mer­cial. Dur­ing that same pe­riod, the recre­ational land­ings have trended down from 16.5 mil­lion pounds to 9.1 mil­lion. The num­ber of recre­ational fish­ing trips pri­mar­ily tar­get­ing blue­fish has also de­clined. That might be an in­di­ca­tor that sci­en­tists need to take a harder look at the sta­tus of the blue­fish stock. From the per­spec­tive of the recre­ational fish­ery, that may also be a re­sult of other stocks that have re­cov­ered and are now pri­mary tar­gets.

One of the most trou­bling prospects of this amend­ment is the con­cept that the recre­ational catch has to be based on ac­tual land­ings or dead fish on the docks. That does not ac­count for the fact that a lot of recre­ational an­glers to­day re­lease the ma­jor­ity of the blue­fish that they hook up. If the new al­lo­ca­tions are made only on the ac­tual land­ings, then the recre­ational users will be pe­nal­ized for be­ing con­ser­va­tive. Al­lo­ca­tion per­cent­age will in­crease for the com­mer­cial user. Some­thing that as a con­sumer I can­not un­der­stand is the com­mer­cial mar­ket for blue­fish. Yes, I like to eat them, but I al­ways thought that if one stum­bled be­tween the clean­ing ta­ble and the oven, the fish would spoil. They have a shelf life of about half a nanosec­ond, which makes a com­mer­cially han­dled prod­uct mar­ginal at best.

What needs to be done with this amend­ment to the Blue­fish FMP is to give recog­ni­tion to the value of fish re­leased on pur­pose. Those fish are likely re­spon­si­ble for mul­ti­ple en­coun­ters for an­glers. NOAA Fish­eries al­ready keeps track of re­leases, or as it calls them, dis­cards. At a min­i­mum, the recre­ational catch should be cal­cu­lated by adding up land­ings and re­leases (dis­cards). That would give a much fairer pic­ture of what the al­lo­ca­tions be­tween sec­tors should be.

The pub­lic com­ment pe­riod’s tim­ing has not been posted for this, and by the time this is printed, it may be too late to com­ment on the scop­ing doc­u­ment. The process will still be a long way from the fin­ish line. Check with asmfc.org or mafmc.org to see where the process is and make your thoughts known. If recre­ational users do not get credit for be­ing con­ser­va­tive by re­leas­ing blue­fish to catch again an­other day, this will be­gin to de­stroy the ben­e­fi­cial as­pects of catch-and-re­lease fish­ing. And it would set a bad prece­dent.

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