Thursday, March 12, 2015
In the fourteen-plus months since I’ve started this blog, I’ve opined and reported, lamented and raved. But today, it’s time to simply give thanks to the people inside and outside of government who have taken the management process and shaped it to do the right thing.
On Tuesday, at a meeting of New York’s Marine Resources Advisory Council, Jim Gilmore, Director of the Department of Environmental Conservation’s Marine Bureau, announced that New York would adopt a one-fish bag limit and 28-inch minimum size for striped bass caught in the state’s Marine District.
In order to protect spawning bass in the Hudson River, the start of the season will be moved back 17 days, from March 15 to April 1. A slot size limit will protect some of the spawning females; anglers may now take one fish between 18 and 28 inches (most of that size are males) or one over 40 inches in length.
On the same day, similar news was announced in Connecticut.
A week or so earlier, Massachusetts made 1 @ 28 inches the law in that state as well.
Today, unless Rhode Island chooses to give in to the tantrums of its for-hire fleet and allows party and charter boat anglers to kill two 32-inch striped bass, the striper will enjoy a one-fish bag limit in every state between New York and Maine and, with one possible exception—Maine may adopt a 24-26 inch slot and prohibit the harvest of bigger fish—the same 28-inch minimum size.
On its face, that does not seem remarkable, as it merely echoes a decision made at the Atlantic States Marine Fisheries Commission last October. But efforts to undercut ASMFC’s actions threatened to frustrate its efforts to rebuild striped bass, and it took a heroic effort on the part of anglers and state fisheries managers to hold the line at one 28-inch fish.
I live in New York, so when it comes to saying thanks, I’ll start with the people I know.
The first of them must be Jim Gilmore, who is not only Director of the Marine Bureau, but a native son of Great South Bay and no stranger to the striped bass.
He worked hard from the start to do the right thing, conferring with his counterparts in other states and listening to concerns of the stakeholders here in New York.
Throughout the process, he always seemed focused on the stripers’ best interests and the long-term health of the fishery.
It wasn’t easy, as anglers seeking a reduced harvest and for-hires trying to maintain their kill flooded his office with calls and e-mails, each promoting their side. At one point, e-mail traffic grew so heavy that he had to have additional memory added to his computer in order to archive it all.
Gilmore could have taken the easy route, adopting the 2-fish “slot and trophy” recommended by the Marine Resources Advisory Council. But he did not, and his brief explanation of why he supported 1 @ 28” demonstrates the sort of logic a fisheries manager should use when considering such questions.
As he told the Advisory Council on Tuesday,
1) 1 @ 28” only provided a 50% chance of attaining the needed harvest reductions, and that was already a risky approach;
2) Reducing commercial quotas, rather than actual landings, by 25% amounted to only a 16% reduction in real-world mortality, which added to the chances of failure;
3) Conservation equivalency should be used to address particular problems that arise from time to time in particular states, and should not be seen as a way for everyone to evade the intent of management board actions;
4) The various conservation equivalency options being presented turned the process into a kind of mathematical exercise, rather than a real effort to manage the stock;
5) With a new stock assessment coming up in 2017, it is better to impose some relatively mild restrictions on harvest now, and begin to rebuild the stock, rather than have the next assessment find that the stock is in need of far more restrictive regulation;
6) ASMFC’s Law Enforcement Committee recommended uniform regional regulations; and
7) A one-fish bag limit will still support a robust for-hire fishery.
I may have missed a point or two, but you get the drift. The guy knows just how fisheries management ought to be done.
I can’t mention Jim Gilmore without mentioning a few other folks on his team. Steve Heins, who runs the Bureau’s Finfish and Shellfish unit, did plenty of work on the bass rules and intercepted his share of the complaints and the calls. And biologists Carol Hoffman in the Marine District and Kathy Hatala up on the Hudson, assembled and analyzed the data needed to make the decisions, took part in the Technical Committee discussions and had to endure plenty of inquiries from myself and others. They were always wonderfully responsive despite their significant workloads.
There were certainly others in the Marine Bureau and at higher management levels within the DEC--reaching up to the Commissioner and very probably to the Governor himself—who had input on this issue. They, too, deserve thanks from us all.
In the other states, there were other folks, including Paul Diodati of the Massachusetts Division of Marine Fisheries, who had been calling for ASMFC’s Striped Bass Management Board to reduce harvest for years. He was the first fisheries director of a major northeastern striped bass state to support a limit of one 28-inch bass for every angler.
David Simpson of Connecticut’s Department of Energy and Environmental Protection was another consistent advocate for conservative management.
And we can’t forget Pat Kelliher of Maine’s Department of Marine Resources or Doug Grout of New Hampshire’s Fish and Game Department—in fact, the entire Maine and New Hampshire ASMFC delegations—who never stopped urging the Management Board to do the right thing.
Yet conservation is always controversial and, as a purely political matter, managers often find it difficult to do the right thing unless it’s clear that the public supports them. Money talks, and when faced with strong opposition from the for-hires or other elements of the fishing industry, managers can find it difficult to make the right policy decisions without a clear public mandate.
Thus, thanks have to go out to the hundreds of New York anglers—along with other states’ anglers, numbering into the thousands coastwide—who came out to hearings or sent in their comments in support of striped bass conservation.
New York’s fishermen can take special pride in the fact that the largest hearing held anywhere on the coast occurred when close to two hundred souls filled the auditorium at Stony Brook University.
But whether a hearing was big or small, everyone who showed up deserves thanks, just because they were there.
Particular recognition should go to the people who worked at the grassroots level to keep volunteers informed and active. Ross Squire, founder of the 1 @ 32” Pledge, took it upon himself to organize and mobilize fishermen not only here in New York, but elsewhere on the coast. Willie Young and the New York Coalition for Recreational Fishing also did an outstanding job; and we should be grateful that the New York Sportfishing Federation clearly called for a one-fish bag.
Farther afield, Capt. Dave Pecci and his “Save Our Stripers” folks came all the way from Maine to the ASMFC meeting in Mystic, Connecticut, while to our south, Coastal Conservation Association Maryland’s “My Limit Is One” campaign set a standard for the entire coast to follow.
Thank you one and all.
And thanks to a couple of outspoken captains. Capt. John McMurray of One More Cast Charters serves as New York’s recreational representative to ASMFC’s Striped Bass Advisory Panel. He fought hard to make 1 @ 28 inches happen, so hard that when the Chairman of the Advisory Panel gave his report at the October Management Board meeting, he repeatedly referred to John’s constant fight for strong conservation measures.
And Capt. Steve Witthuhn, of Top Hook Charters in Montauk, demonstrated leadership—and cojones—when he told a Newsday reporter that 1 @ 28 inches was the right thing to do, even though a lot of his fellow Montauk captains did not agree.
I’m proud to call them both friends.
In the end, there is plenty of thanks to go around. Thanks to the state fisheries managers, to the grassroots organizers, to the anglers and captains who gave up their time and made the effort to come out to the hearings, provide testimony, and write comments to ASMFC.
This victory belongs to all of them.
I wish them the joy of success.
They earned it.