After spending over 50 years on and around the water, I have realized that without strong fisheries laws and effective conservation measures, the future of salt water fishing, and America's living marine resources, is dim. Yet conservation is given short shrift by national angling organizations and the angling press. I hope that this blog will incite, inform and inspire salt water fishermen to reclaim their traditional role as the leading advocates for the conservation of America's fisheries.
Sunday, February 1, 2015
HOW MANAGEMENT DECISIONS ARE MADE
Regular readers of this blog know that I have a lot of
respect for professional fisheries scientists.
On the whole, they are dedicated, underpaid, overworked public servants
who generally try to do the right thing.
On the state level, where there is no Magnuson-Stevens
Fishery Conservation and Management Act to set legal standards and guidance,
fisheries managers often find themselves sandwiched between biological and
political realities, with the former demanding conservative approaches that
assure the long-term health of state fisheries, while the latter demands that
fish stocks be managed for maximum exploitation to assure the short-term profit
of those having the ear of elected officials.
And since one of those elected officials is usually the
fisheries managers’ boss, that means that politics win over science a good part
of the time.
Even so, sometimes we come across management decisions that
are so divorced from the realities that we see on the water that we have to
wonder just how they were made.
Consider “Fish X”.
“Fish X” is a real species that lives in our waters here in
New York. I’m not naming it just yet
because, in this context, it’s more than a fish, but a greater symbol of how
things ought not to be done. Thus, it has
relevance to all of us at one point or another, and I don’t want to turn off
any readers—who are perhaps most of my readers—who fish in those waters where Fish X never swam.
Fish X was once one of the most popular and abundant recreational
fish in New York. Thirty years ago,
anglers took home almost 6.8 million pounds of them. However, Fish X has since fallen on hard times, and
only 0.03 million pounds were landed last year; the recreational harvest has fallen by more than 99 percent.
And that’s because the population has just fallen through
stock structure and migratory behavior of Long Island [Fish X] is crucial to
determine the impacts of local harvest on the sustainability of the species. If
resident [Fish X] represent a separate genetic population, the seasonally more
abundant dispersive population may mask a long-term decline in resident [Fish
X] that once supported Long Island fisheries and may eventually lead to
extirpation of residents. This outcome would require management of each
population separately based on population-specific life history variables. On
the other hand, if resident and dispersive [Fish X] are contingents within a
single genetically distinct population that exhibit partial migration, the
relative impact of harvest on resident and dispersive individuals can be
complex. Management would need to consider the relative abundance of each
contingent through habitat or other conservation efforts aimed at a specific
New York State’s Department of Environmental Conservation
knows that Fish X is in dire straits.
“Nearly all the survey indices are near time-series
lows. The [Technical Committee]
concludes that the [Fish X] biomass remains near time-series low. Young of year indices generally remain low,
although a few indices have improved in recent years. Rebuilding is likely to be slow (if at all)
especially if recruitment remains poor…”
“The status of these species is known and conservation action is urgent in the next ten years.
These species are declining and must receive timely management intervention or they are likely to reach critical population levels in New York. [emphasis added]”
Fish X is a part of that list.
Thus it seems inexplicable that the New York Department of
Environmental Conservation would move to increase the number of Fish X that are
killed by anglers each year, and would open the fishing season in a way that
would directly jeopardize the vulnerable resident fish and increase the
likelihood that they would be extirpated.
Yet that is just what the agency is planning to do.
notice of proposed rulemaking released just last week, the State of New
York announced that it would be extending the fishing season for Fish X, which
currently runs for just 60 days in the spring, to a full 10 months. For much of that added time—perhaps mid-June
through early October—all of the angling pressure would fall on the few remnant
resident fish, since the larger body of migratory individuals would be out of
reach in deep ocean waters.
regulations are necessary for New York to maximize [Fish X] fishing
opportunities for its marine recreational anglers while remaining in compliance
with the Interstate Fishery Management Plan (FMP) adopted by the Atlantic
States Marine Fisheries Commission (ASMFC). The proposed rule will extend the
current 60 day open season (April 1 - May 30) to 306 days (March 1 - December
31) without altering the current 12 inch minimum size limit or the 2 fish
possession limit. This regulatory change will provide New York marine
recreational anglers with similar access to [Fish X] as anglers in NY's
neighboring states of Rhode Island, Connecticut and New Jersey. The proposed
season will provide additional fishing opportunities during periods of the year
when there are few other species to fish for. It is hoped that these relaxed
regulations will increase interest and fishing activity, resulting in economic
benefits to a number of different types of associated businesses.”
You might have noted that the health of the Fish X stock was
never mentioned, not even once. It was
all about business, and fishing opportunities for a species that, in these
times, is not even there. (I can’t go on
without noting that the “when there are few other species to fish for” line is
purest fiction, as the summer and fall months, which account for most of the
extension, are when New York’s anglers enjoy their waters’ greatest abundance.)
The poor health of the stock is considered briefly when the
DEC discusses closing the Fish X season altogether, although it was quickly
dismissed in comments that said
“Some stakeholders have said that the [Fish X] fishery should
be closed or more restrictive than it is currently managed to eliminate fishing
mortality on these fish. However, neighboring states have already decided to
extend the [Fish X] season. This alternative was rejected because such a
closure would deny New York State anglers fishing opportunities made available
to anglers in neighboring states and because a closure may adversely impact the
incomes of New York State recreational fishery businesses.”
No, it doesn’t make any sense, but it is being done
And so it is probably time to end the charade. If you live in New York, if you know me
personally or if you have read this blog for very long—or if you clicked on one
of the hyperlinks above—you know that “Fish X” is New York’s winter
And knowing that, you realize
that the proposal to extend the season makes no sense at all.
Perhaps the best explanation comes from an e-mail that was
forwarded to me soon after the proposed rule became public. It was written by an angler in Moriches Bay (I
won’t mention his name), who may have finally figured out how and why fishery
management decisions such as this one are made.
He noted that
“Now we can catch no flounder for 306 days rather than just
for 60 days. (The last one being caught in Moriches bay in February 1992
by a bayman towing a scallop dredge in an uncertified area. The uncaring lout
carried that fish around to all the local seedy gin mills, comparing himself to
the last of the buffalo hunters and trying to pick up loose women…)
“Anyway, being a master of several manly sports, namely
hunting, I cleverly figured out why fisheries managers would expand a season on
a species of fish nearly extinct on Long Island. Let me slowly explain it to
you so that you may possibly grasp this ingenious management concept.
“Every fall, happy little ducks migrate south from the North
Pole, after saying goodbye to Santa to spend their winters in the relatively
warm southern climes of New England and Long Island. These gullible naive birds
believe they have hit the duck lottery coming to our shores eating everything
in sight. Heck, a flock of geese was seen trying to eat a local golf course the
other day. Their wanton feeding gets them killed off by local hunters. (I
actually got one last week after a season of trying, their numbers really not
much more than flounders but that's not the point.) The ducks are stupid when
they get here, and smarten up as the season progresses as sportsman send lead
projectiles at them and try to shoot their asses off.
“Now take flounder. The fish that sees those flounder rigs in
the early season is young, dumb, and full of milt. Eager to take a bait. This
is dangerous to the species. Sometimes they swarm to the chum slick. During one
tide twenty years ago I spotted three in a span of four hours!
proliferation of party boats on Moriches bay it has been determined with
telemetry studies the biggest threat to flounder is actually not by catching
but by head injury. Frustrated fisherman violently jigging their rods, rumored
to work by flounder fisherman 100 years ago, send lead weights crashing to the
bottom in an effort to get the flounders attention. These inexperienced
flounder swim up to these boats are many are simply knocked unconscious and
eaten by crabs or seals.
“The current sixty day season is too short for the flounders
little brain to register that chums slicks mean missiles of death and flying
corn beads. Now 306 days of pure mayhem, party boats throwing clams, mussels,
corn and thousands of hours of sports pounding the bottom with lead weights
will indoctrinate even the dumbest flounder to equate dancing corn beads and
twister tails with death from above and will most surely save the species from
imminent destruction. A rather brilliant strategy by fisheries managers that
may even convince the most skeptical amongst us…”
I have to admit that it makes more sense than any of the
reasons that I’ve heard coming out of ASMFC, MRAC or the DEC.
Which probably tells us all that
we need to know about the proposal.
If the effort to extend New York’s winter flounder season
disgusts you as much as it does me, please make a comment to the Department of
Environmental Conservation and tell them so.
Comments should be sent to
Stephen W. Heins
205 North Belle Mead Road, Suite 1
East Setauket, NY 11733