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.
Thursday, August 11, 2016
BLUEFISH: WHY NOT MANAGE FOR LIFE?
To date, salt water
fishery management is largely about dead fish.
We worry about fishingmortality. We try to figure out how many fish can belandedwithout doing
long-term harm to the stock.
What we don’t think about very often is how many fish we should
leavealive in the waterto make the best use of the stock.
Bluefish are primarily
a recreational species; the commercial fishery is relatively small. The
Amendment recognizes that fact by allocating 83% of the harvest to the
recreational sector and 17% to commercial fishermen.
But harvest doesn’t
tell the entire story.
Many anglers don’t
like to eat bluefish. While they make good table fare if bled and iced down
immediately after they’re landed, and cooked in a way that masks the oil in
their flesh, poor handling or thoughtless preparation can result in strong,
fishy-tasting dishes that many people find nearly inedible.
However, a lot of
anglers who don’t care to eat bluefish still like to catch them. They are one
of the hardest-fighting fish found in coastal waters, strike lures with abandon
and are widely available, often coming well within casting range of the shore.
As a result, bluefish support an active catch-and-release fishery.
Catch and release
fisheries need to be managed differently than fisheries driven by harvest.
Anglers don’t care about how many fish they can take home, but do care about
the number of fish that they encounter. Instead of being managed to maximize
the poundage of fish landed, as is the case in food fisheries, release
fisheries must be managed to maximize the number of fish that are left in the
water for anglers to catch.
Such provision sends a
bad message to anglers, telling them that there’s not much point releasing
their bluefish, because if anglers don’t kill their entire quota, the
commercial sector will just kill the fish instead.
That message was reinforced ina
report by the Council’s Bluefish Monitoring Committee(Monitoring Committee), in which “The
[Monitoring Committee] recommended that a transfer from the recreational
fishery to the commercial fishery is applied so that the recreational harvest
limit will equal expected landings, and the commercial fishery receives the
maximum amount possible.”
management, anglers who release bluefish aren’t rewarded with a more abundant
bluefish population. They’re merely compelled to watch “their” fish be killed
by someone else.
Such management seems to assume that fish only have value when
killed, and that catch and release fishing has no value at all. The Council
needs to take a step back and read the relevant provisions of theMagnuson-Stevens
Fishery Conservation and Management Act(Magnuson-Stevens). They might be surprised to
learn that the definition of “optimum yield” includes “the amount of fish
which…will provide the greatest overall benefit to the Nation, particularly
with respect to food production and recreational opportunities…”
The law places
recreation on an equal footing with food production. Yet the Council’s
Amendment and the Monitoring Committee’s recommendation don’t follow its
mandate, and instead favor enhanced harvest over enhanced recreational
If the word and the
spirit of the law were truly observed, each sector would be able to make its
own decisions on how its quota would best be utilized. The nature of commercial
fishing dictates that the commercial quota be harvested. However, if the
recreational sector effectively decides that the “greatest overall benefit…with
respect to…recreation” is realized when some of the fish are harvested and some
left in the water to be caught again, the Council should not override that
decision by transferring anglers’ unharvested bluefish to the commercial
That is admittedly a
philosophical argument, but the quota transfers have also caused a very
Quota transfers have
occurred in every year since the Amendment was approved in 1999. Commercial
fishermen have gotten very used to them, and some now seem to feel entitled to
a share of the recreational quota. They seem to have forgotten that, should
anglers begin keeping more bluefish, the transfers will go away.
For awhile, it
appeared that would happen in 2016.
The Council approved a quota transfer for 2016, based on the
assumption that recreational landings in 2016 would be the same as they were in
2015, and that 2015 landings would be about the same as they were in the year
before. However, revised landing estimates released in June showed thatrecreational
bluefish landings had spiked, increasing from 4.8 million pounds in
2014 to 6.2 million pounds a year later.
Ms. Brady’s statement
seems somewhat off the mark, since the real precedent was set when the Council
inserted a quota transfer provision into the Amendment; that was the first and
only time that such a provision appeared in a Council management plan. As for
the rest of her comment, it’s not clear why Ms. Brady would find it “troubling”
that the recreational bluefish quota might be landed solely by recreational
However, NMFS ultimately backed off its position,announcing
on August 1that further
investigation revealed that 2015 recreational landings were being revised
downward again, and that 1.57 million pounds of bluefish will be transferred
from the recreational to the commercial sector. Such transfer, while smaller
than the 2.2 million pounds originally contemplated, should alleviate most of
the commercial fishermen’s concerns.
Even so, with the
bluefish quota transfer so recently in the news, there could be no better time
for the Council to reconsider its quota transfer policy.
transfer would finally allow recreational fishermen to utilize, but not
necessarily kill, their entire quota, and maximize recreational opportunities,
as Magnuson-Stevens intends. It would also end the commercial sector’s risky
dependence on a transfer that might not always occur.
ending the quota transfer would be a signal to anglers, letting them know that
fisheries managers finally understand that live fish in the water can, in the
end, have at least as much value as dead fish on the dock. ----- "Bluefish: Why Not Manage for Life?" originally appeared in "From the Waterfront", the blog of the Marine Fish Conservation Network, which can be found at http://conservefish.org/blog/