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.
It was written by Nick Cicero, a founding member of the Save the Summer Flounder Fishery Fund (SSFFF). Back in the late 1980s, summer flounder abundance bottomed out, and overfishing was so bad that it was hard to find a fish more than two years old. Anyone who remembers the fishing back then, and compares it to what we have today, might think that the National Marine Fisheries Service (NMFS) has already done a pretty fine job of saving the summer flounder fishery.
However, SSFFF disagrees, and is now striving to “save” that fishery by paying biologists to conduct studies that will, SSFFF hopes, allow anglers to kill more and smaller fish. As Mr. Cicero’s editorial makes clear, the goal of SSFFF’s efforts is to discredit NMFS’ rigorously peer-reviewed science, which is what allowed managers to successfully rebuild the summer flounder stock in the first place.
Instead of stock assessments based on statistically verifiable, peer-reviewed data, H.R. 1335 would
“facilitate greater incorporation of data, analysis and stock assessments from nongovernmental sources, includingfishermen, fishing communities, universities and research institutions into fisheries management decisions. [emphasis added]”
In Mr. Cicero’s home state of New Jersey, where regulations were not substantially altered for 2015, landings for the first six months of this year were down 64% from what they were for the same period last season, which certainly suggests that fewer fish were available to anglers. And the decline in first-half harvest wasn’t just a New Jersey phenomenon; coast-wide landings are also down, although by a more modest 15%.
Yet Mr. Cicero remains adamantly opposed to amending catch limits in response to a clearly declining population, saying
“Good smart management would include regulations and quotas that remain the same for a minimum of three seasons with 3 or 5 years being a better option. Just because you reduce mortality one year doesn’t mean that you’ll see an increase in young of the year; certainly striped bass science has taught us that?”
Strictly speaking, he’s right. Consistent regulations tend to lead to better angler compliance, both because anglers don’t have to keep up with changing rules and because constantly changing regulations give many anglers a sense that fishery managers don’t really know what they’re doing.
Of course, if regulations are set for multi-year periods, they must adopt lower harvest limits than rules established for only one year because, as Mr. Cicero suggests, a large biomass does not necessarily equate to good recruitment, so regulations adopted for the long term need to be conservative enough to allow for downside surprises, including recruitment failure.
That’s clearly the polar opposite of what Mr. Cicero is seeking, which suggests that he may not quite grasp how the science of fisheries management works.
But then, a number of his statements should cause some raised eyebrows. For example, he notes that
“there is significant proof showing that when adult populations are low that reproduction occurs at an earlier age and is often more prolific.”
That is partly true.
When a fish population falls to very low levels, younger individuals will often mature and spawn earlier than they would if the stock remained healthy. However, forcing a badly stressed stock to depend on such precocious individuals, which typically produce fewer and less viable eggs, for its survival is the antithesis of good fisheries management.
Mr. Cicero also appears to blame the recent poor recruitment, at least in part, on
“[t]he biomass of spiny dogfish that the NMFS overprotective regulations have spawned [which is] unfathomable as is the destructive effect of those predators.”
And then he says that
“Sea bass over-abundance has had its way with young of the year flounder, both winter and summer flavors.”
The fact that there are no credible scientific studies that might suggest such statements are true does not appear to trouble Mr. Cicero. It might not trouble some of the folks who sit on the Mid-Atlantic Fishery Management Council either, should a bill such as H.R. 1335 become law.
Under such law, baseless statements of that sort could easily be deemed “data, analysis and stock assessments from…fishermen” and incorporated into a fishery management plan.
That’s probably why Mr. Cicero ended his editorial by saying that
“Congress needs to pass pragmatic Magnuson Stevens Act reform (HR 1335 approved by the House) so we can move forward with a new set of protocols and manage our fisheries with a common sense approach.”
And that’s definitely why the rest of us, who care about maintaining healthy fish stocks for ourselves and for generations to come, need to work hard to prevent that “reform” from occurring.
For as summer flounder has already demonstrated, the Magnuson-Stevens Act works just fine as it is.
If we used “common sense,” we’d leave it alone.
Wrongheaded Cries for Fisheries "Reform" first appeared in From the Waterfront, the blog of the Marine Fish Conservation Network. From the Waterfront regularly publishes the thoughts and observations of fishermen on every coast of the United States, and may be found at http://conservefish.org/blog/