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‘CCA Federal Fisheries’ Articles

Coalition Testimony on Catch Shares before House Subcommittee

Subcommittee on Insular Affairs, Oceans and Wildlife Oversight Hearing Committee on Natural Resources United States House of Representatives

Jeff Angers, president of the Center for Coastal Conservation delivered testimony on the U.S. Catch Share Policy before the House Subcommittee on Insular Affairs, Oceans and Wildlife Oversight Hearing, Committee on Natural Resources on behalf of CCC, American Sportfishing Association, Coastal Conservation Association, International Game Fish Association, National Marine Manufacturers Association and The Billfish Foundation.

In his testimony, Angers conveyed that the organizations appreciate that implementing catch shares in commercial-only fisheries can be a useful tool for managing harvest, however they are an inherently inappropriate tool for recreational-only fisheries.

The groups have serious concerns about the potential impact of commercial catch shares on the recreational sector in mixed-use fisheries (in which there are both recreational and commercial components). Our organizations respectfully submit that the Draft Policy Catch Share Policy of the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration under consideration lacks the necessary guidance to protect the recreational sector from adverse impacts associated with the implementation of a catch shares policy in mixed-use fisheries.

Jeff Angers, President of the Center for Coastal Conservation

Given the cascading and substantial impacts of fisheries restrictions and closures currently underway in a number of key recreational fisheries, the protection of the recreational sector should be a priority for the Congress – and for NOAA Fisheries as it develops any new overarching policy on catch shares. At a minimum, NOAA should ensure that vital socio-economic information on recreational fisheries is gathered prior to the issuance of any final policy; undertake a re-evaluation of allocations prior to implementing a commercial catch share system, and allow inter-sector transfers of catch share quota through mechanisms that ensure equitable access to the recreational sector.

In mixed-use fisheries where there is a large and growing recreational sector, exclusive fishing rights proposals maximize benefits to the commercial fishing industry while ignoring the participation, conservation value and economic contribution of recreational fishing, which totals $80 billion and provides over half a million jobs – an economic impact equal to or greater than commercial fishing economic impacts.

For the complete testimony, click HERE.

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Anglers Cautiously Optimistic After Recreational Fishing Summit

CCA participants hope to see results after meeting with NOAA Fisheries

Outdoorsmen were out in force at the nation’s capital last week as two events in Washington DC were dedicated to how this country manages its wild and natural resources. As President Obama hosted the White House Conference on America’s Great Outdoors on April 16, NOAA Fisheries was hosting the Saltwater Recreational Fishing Summit on April 16-17.

Coastal Conservation Association President Pat Murray was among those invited to hear President Obama’s remarks on the importance of reconnecting Americans to the outdoors during the event at the Department of the Interior. Nancy Sutley, Chair of the White House Council on Environmental Quality, Ken Salazar, Secretary of the Interior, and Tom Vilsack, Secretary of Agriculture, led the conference, which brought together leaders from communities across the country that are working to protect their outdoor spaces.  Participants included ranchers and farmers, sportsmen and women, State and local government leaders, Tribal leaders, public lands experts, conservationists, youth leaders, business representatives and others for whom the outdoors is an integral part of their culture and community.

Just across town, a host of CCA volunteers and staff were participating in the NOAA Fisheries Recreational Fishing Summit, an event that fulfilled a promise by NOAA Administrator Dr. Jane Lubchenco to forge a better relationship between the recreational angling community and federal fisheries managers.

“We have participated in these kinds of summits before with NOAA leadership. Some of the CCA participants attending last week have been to two or even three of them without much to show for their efforts,” said Bob Hayes, CCA General Counsel. “However, I am optimistic that NOAA is listening and will help us with issues like catch shares, National Ocean Policy and the government’s attitude toward the recreational angling community. We did our part – we were very clear about what we would like to see change, and we provided hundreds of ways for them to do it.”

CCA participants in the 2010 Recreational Fishing Summit included:

Bob Hayes, CCA General Counsel – Next Steps and Accountability
Richen Brame, CCA Atlantic States Fisheries Director – Key Challenges Facing Recreational Saltwater Fishing Today
Mike Kennedy, CCA Florida – Regional Perspectives – South Atlantic
Ed Sapp, CCA Florida – Regional Perspectives – Gulf of Mexico
Lee Blankenship, CCA Pacific Northwest – Regional Perspectives – Pacific Northwest
Pat Murray, CCA President – Visions of Success
Matt Paxton, CCA Federal Lobbyist
Scott McGuire, CCA Maryland
Charlie Witek, CCA New York
Bill Bird, CCA Florida
Chester Brewer, Chairman of the CCA National Government Relations Committee
Russell Nelson, CCA Gulf Fisheries Consultant
Rad Trascher, CCA Louisiana
Ted Venker, CCA Director of Communications

Reaction from CCA representatives was cautiously optimistic that tangible benefits may result from the summit.

“One of the fundamental problems we’ve had with NOAA Fisheries is their utter lack of understanding the nature and management of recreational fisheries,” said Richen Brame, CCA Atlantic States Fisheries Director. ”No matter how hard they try, they cannot fit us neatly into the same management box as commercial fishermen.  While I will not bet the ranch on it, there are at least signs of hope emanating from this conference that NOAA Fisheries is trying to understand recreational fisheries and may begin to manage them properly.”

“Those who participated in the summit did a great job clarifying and communicating our issues and concerns,” said Chester Brewer, CCA National Government Relations Committee chairman. “Eric Schwaab (NOAA Assistant Administrator for Fisheries) has committed to preparing a work plan and follow-up to address the major items. I am cautiously optimistic.”

The two-day summit featured more than 30 speakers from all over the country, with plenty of time set aside for discussions among participants on key challenges and solutions for federal fisheries management.

“The stage has been set,” said Charlie Witek, CCA New York. “It’s now time for all of the actors to properly play out their roles.  How they do so will determine whether the production will ultimately be viewed as a triumph, a flop or something in between.  I feel, though, that at least there are folks out there who want to offer some help.”

Both Dr. Lubchenco and NOAA Assistant Administrator for Fisheries Eric Schwaab spoke at the summit, which drew a greater-than-expected crowd of 170 attendees, some from as far away as Alaska and Hawaii.

“The excellent turnout at this summit tells me that you want to be heard. And I am here to tell you that NOAA is not only listening, but we are also ready to roll up our sleeves and get to work with you,” said Dr. Lubchenco in her opening remarks. “I want to start by making one thing very clear: NOAA is committed to working with the recreational fishing community. NOAA’s commitment ‐‐my commitment‐‐ to saltwater anglers is not a hollow one. We do not intend to make empty promises.”

Schwaab told participants he had three goals for the summit: to walk away with a clear and common understanding of the issues of concern and some sense of the relative importance of those issues, nationally, regionally and strategically; to outline a process by which we will continue to work together on these issues, and to identify steps that can be taken to address these concerns; this will form the basis of an action agenda.

“We are here with a view toward the future, intent to build on previous successes, while learning from and avoiding mistakes of the past,” he said. “Over the next two days, we’ll have some focused discussions – about our desired outcomes, and pathways toward those outcomes.”

NOAA Fisheries will be posting video taken at the event to the agency’s web site in a couple of weeks, along with a complete copy of Dr. Lubchenco and Eric Schwaab’s remarks and other information. Other material on the event, including agenda packet, background documents, survey results and related documents may be found HERE.

Obama Admin Looks to Cast a Line With Anglers – New York Times, April 16, 2010

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Posted in CCA Atlantic States, CCA Federal Fisheries, CCA Gulf of Mexico, CCA Pacific Northwest, CCA South Atlantic, Catch Shares, Magnuson-Stevens Act, National Oceans Policy | No Comments »

EDF raises stakes in catch share lawsuit

Environmental Defense Fund intervenes to thwart CCA catch share lawsuit

FORT MYERS, FL – Seeking to defend a controversial catch share program for Gulf grouper, the Environmental Defense Fund has been allowed to intervene in a lawsuit filed by Coastal Conservation Association in federal district court that challenges the adoption and implementation of Amendment 29 to the Gulf of Mexico Reef Fish Management Plan.

“This was not wholly unexpected. After all, EDF has made a considerable investment in its efforts to enact catch share programs in fisheries throughout America so this lawsuit is clearly a threat to their program,” said Chester Brewer, chairman of the CCA National Government Relations Committee. “The intervention of EDF simply clarifies what is at stake for recreational fishermen, not just in the Gulf of Mexico, but everywhere in the country.”

Amendment 29 gives away a majority share of Gulf grouper to the commercial fishing industry through a catch share program that has been heavily promoted by the Environmental Defense Fund (EDF). CCA filed the lawsuit in September of 2009 seeking to overturn the catch share program and force the federal government to consider the impacts of such action on other participants in the fishery.

Catch share systems bestow a percentage of a public fishery resource to a select group of commercial fishermen to harvest for their own personal gain. The commercial entities pay nothing back to the public for the permanent property right to harvest a public resource, but catch share systems are nonetheless being emphasized in federal fisheries as a way to reduce overcapacity and improve economic efficiency in the commercial sector. CCA has contended that in fisheries where there is a large and growing recreational sector, exclusive fishing rights proposals maximize benefits to the commercial fishing industry while ignoring the participation and beneficial economic impacts of recreational fishing.

“As we have seen with the red snapper catch share program, the stakes for recreational anglers are very high in this lawsuit. It continues to surprise me the extent to which the environmental community seems willing to go to keep commercial fishing operations in business at all costs,” said Brewer. “Giving away permanent harvesting rights to the commercial fishing industry through catch share programs is a threat to the future of recreational angling and we are completely committed to seeing this lawsuit through to a successful conclusion. Anglers have too much to lose.”

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Coalition seeks to avoid fisheries management “train wreck”

Overwhelmed agency incapable of properly implementing law

Passage of the 2006 Magnuson-Stevens Act, the overarching law that manages America’s marine fisheries, revealed crippling deficiencies within the agency charged with implementing the law. Recently, a coalition of marine angling and industry groups launched an effort to improve the National Marine Fisheries Service’s efforts to manage the nation’s marine resources and the 13 million saltwater anglers who depend on healthy fisheries.

“We have the most conservation-oriented law we have ever had governing our marine resources, and the agency does not have the data, assessments, science or, frankly, the attitude, to adequately implement it,” said Chester Brewer, chairman of CCA’s National Government Relations Committee. “The result is that the agency has been reduced to managing fisheries by closure which was not the intent of the law when it was passed by Congress.”

In addition to requiring an end to all overfishing by 2011, the Magnuson-Stevens Act requires that the National Marine Fisheries Service (NMFS) have a determination on the overfished status of every species under management, and have annual catch limits and accountability measures in place for them by a time certain as well.

“For far too many species, there is not any science at all to do that and to develop it will take one to three years for every single species,” said Brewer. “With its startling lack of data, there is no way NMFS can catch up on decades of work and the agency will be crushed by its lack of science. The entire federal management system will be forced to ignore real conservation and management issues, and simply manage by closure. The coalition is seeking a way to fulfill the conservation tenets of the law without driving the entire process into a train wreck.”

Current efforts to revise the Magnuson-Stevens Act, including the so-called “flexibility” legislation (H.R.1584 and S.1255) do not address the shortcomings of NMFS that are negatively impacting anglers and, in fact, jeopardize a number of the true conservation gains in the Act.

“H.R.1584 and S.1255 do not provide for better data-gathering or prevent the imposition of in-season closures when NMFS believes there is a danger of overfishing, nor do they improve recreational data and the way it is used. It just delays rebuilding,” said Brewer. “That is not where the problem lies.”

Among other administrative and appropriations requests, the coalition is urging the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration to convene a blue ribbon panel to identify the long-term data, statistical, research and funding needs of the regional fishery science centers. The outcomes of this panel will help to inform the appropriation needs related to recreational fishing data and statistics for NMFS and coastal state fishery agencies.

“There is a great deal of frustration among recreational anglers, much of it attributable to an agency that doesn’t have the ability to properly manage us,” said Pat Murray, president of CCA. “The shortcomings of NMFS have to be fixed, either administratively or by Congress. Recreational anglers deserve both a meaningful law, and an agency capably of implementing it.”

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Sportfishing Industry and Partners Call on Administration to Make Major Marine Fisheries Management Changes

Immediate administrative action needed to avoid significant problems with fisheries management

Today, a coalition of marine recreational fishing, boating, and conservation organizations and businesses called on the Obama administration to take immediate action to address a crisis within the federal fisheries management system.In a letter to National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA) Administrator Dr. Jane Lubchenco, the American Sportfishing Association (ASA), The Billfish Foundation (TBF), the Center for Coastal Conservation (CCC), the Coastal Conservation Association (CCA), the International Game Fish Association (IGFA), and the National Marine Manufacturers Association (NMMA) laid out an initial framework to immediately address serious and escalating problems resulting from inadequate implementation of the Magnuson-Stevens FisheryConservation and Management Act and the chronic problems that exist within the federal marine fisheries management system.

The coalition emphasizes that there are available administrative actions that can be taken right away to address the concerns of the sportfishing and boating industries and the nation’s 13 million saltwater anglers who depend on well-managed, healthy marine fisheries. Read the full letter sent to Dr. Lubchenco HERE.

Given NOAA’s recent ban on recreational fishing for red snapper from North Carolina through Florida and the potential for additional bans on key recreational saltwater fisheries, much of the frustration that exists in the grassroots recreational fishing community over these management decisions has boiled over into organized protests including, one being held Wednesday, February 24, in Washington, D.C.

With today’s letter, the coalition called upon the administration to:
•   Take decisive, immediate action to improve recreational fisheries data by redirecting existing funds and personnel to focus on real-time management data.
•   Collect socio-economic data on recreational fishing in the communities most likely to be impacted by near-term or expected fisheries closures.
•   Provide federal level direction to the fishery management councils to use common-sense in their management approaches while the administration collects the requisite data to make sound management decisions.
•   Develop a recreational fishing program and staff within NMFS commensurate with the national economic contribution of recreational saltwater fishing.

The coalition’s groups look forward to working closely with the Obama administration and NOAA to implement solutions to effectively deal with our nation’s marine fisheries resources.

Below are comments made today by the coalition’s group leaders:

American Sportfishing Association

Mike Nussman, President and CEO

“We support healthy fisheries and good fishery management. It’s good for anglers, our business and our economy. We’ve developed common-sense administrative and appropriations proposals that address the need for timely, accurate data while preserving efforts to rebuild our marine fisheries. We see these as a starting point for actions that must be implemented to address the short and long term problems.”

“Unfortunately, what we are seeing now is crisis management rather than fisheries management and this must stop before more jobs are lost and more of the nation’s recreational anglers are unnecessarily shut out.”

The Billfish Foundation
Ellen Peel, President

“Stock assessments for recreationally important species have been a lower priority for NMFS than is justified by the economic contribution of the recreational fishing community. Recreational fishing accounts for only three percent of the marine finfish harvested by weight, yet it produces 56 percent of the jobs from all saltwater fisheries.”

The Center for Coastal Conservation
Jeff Angers, President

“The groups represented in this effort are demanding conservation-oriented measures that deliver the best possible opportunity not only for America’s anglers and the businesses that depend on them, but also for America’s marine resources to achieve their fullest potential. We expect to see the same commitment from NMFS. Their failure to do so has led to the current crisis of confidence and is threatening to bring the entire system to a standstill.”

The Coastal Conservation Association
Pat Murray, President

“There is a great deal of frustration among recreational anglers, much of it attributable to an agency that doesn’t have the data, the science or the will to properly manage us. Recreational anglers have always been willing to do what is right to maintain healthy marine resources, but it is hard to have faith in many of the management measures we are seeing out of NMFS right now. There is a better path than the one they are on.”

International Game Fish Association
Rob Kramer, President

“We must deal with the unintended consequences of the 2006 Magnuson-Stevens Act reauthorization. We hope that our recommendations will help to get this agency, on which 13 million recreational saltwater anglers depend, back on track.”

National Marine Manufacturers Association
Thomas J. Dammrich, President

“NOAA Fisheries’ severe restrictions on recreational fishing are a direct result of the agency’s failure to collect important data on these fisheries, including the impacts of recreational fishing and boating. Unless NOAA takes quick and decisive action to improve its data and management of recreational fisheries, these large-scale closures will drive down boat sales and negatively impact U.S. marine industry jobs.”

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Questions and Answers about The Flexibility in Rebuilding America’s Fisheries Act

(Click HERE for the full text of the Flexibility Act, H.R.1584

Q. Does CCA support H.R.1584 and S.1255?

A. · CCA is opposed to current legislation sponsored by Rep. Frank Pallone and Sen. Charles Schumer, also known as the Flexibility Act, which would weaken the conservation provisions of the Magnuson Stevens Fishery Conservation and Management Act.

CCA does not believe that H.R.1584 and S.1255 would benefit anglers, as it does not address many of the core problems plaguing recreational fisheries.

Q. What does the Flexibility Act propose to do?

A. The bill does nothing more than delay the rebuilding of depleted populations. It does not provide for better data-gathering. It does not prevent the imposition of in-season closures when NMFS believes there is a danger of overfishing. It does not improve MRFSS data, or the way in which it is used. It just delays rebuilding. In that way, it is largely fighting last year’s—or perhaps last decade’s—fight. For most important recreational species, rebuilding has either been completed or is well underway, and little is gained by stretching out the last few years of recovery periods that are already well underway. The exceptions are those complexes of slow-growing, generally deep-water species which support a mixed commercial/recreational fishery: New England groundfish, southern snapper-grouper and Pacific rockfish.

Claims that the current rebuilding deadlines don’t take biological or ecological conditions into account are false. The current law permits the 10-year deadline to be exceeded when the biology of the fish requires it, in which case the rebuilding period is generally one mean generation (the time it takes a fish of the affected species to mature) plus 10 years.

The extension of the rebuilding deadlines in the Flexibility Act are simply designed to drag out recovery in order to allow the highest level of fishing pressure to continue.

Q. If the rebuilding requirements are not the cause of the fisheries closures anglers are encountering in the Atlantic and Gulf of Mexico, what is the real cause of the problems?

A. The current “perfect storm” of problems facing the recreational fishery is not a simple summer rain shower moving through. It is a major front with many facets colliding at the same time to cause all sorts of problems.

The MSA requirement to end overfishing by 2011. This one requirement sets the stage for all the rest. Congress now requires federal fishery managers to end overfishing no later than 2011, for all managed stocks. This in response to some managers that refused to end overfishing of a managed stock for years, simply because the pain was too great. New England cod are a good example, where the stock rebuilt slowly in response to managers refusal to end overfishing. In many cases stocks can be restored within the 10 year or more overfishing schedule while occasionally allowing slight overfishing to occur in some given years.  In many cases the appearance of overfishing is false and is a result of expanding stocks allowing overfishing quotas  to be met more quickly than in previous years.

The precautionary tenor of MSA in light of poor data. As a sequel to the above bullet, managers have used lack of data as a reason to delay or simply not implement regulations on depressed stocks. MSA now requires manager to be less tentative in their management by setting lower allowable catches in the face of poor data.  In general many stocks important to recreational anglers in federal waters have received less research and assessment work and therefore qualify ad “data poor.”

The precautionary ACL and AM language. As stated above Congress asked that managers be more risk averse in the face of inadequate data and NMFS decided to enforce that via their language on how Annual Catch Limits and Accountability Measures would be implemented. In the face of inadequate data managers must set their total allowable catches further away from what scientists say is the most that can be caught sustainably. With good data, if scientists decide a stock can withstand a catch of 500,000 pounds sustainably, managers might set a reasonable TAC at 450,000 pounds. With poor data and uncertainty they may have to set the TAC at 300,000 pounds.

Past half measures, ineffective regulations and just plain inaction by managers. It is safe to say that when facing controversial measures that would end overfishing and recover stocks, most managers in the past have taken the easy road and put in measures that only went part of the way or, at best, met the required reductions on paper only. We are now paying the piper for these past sins. The South Atlantic snapper grouper complex is a good example of this, with active management for over 30 years and still some stocks in dire condition.

NMFS own inability to handle these requirements. Congress put in a requirement that every fishery have an annual catch limit by sector, by 2011. What that means is each of 8 federal Fishery Management Councils must put in place fishery management plans, or amendments to existing fishery management plans, to put in accountability measures which will regulate the amount of fish taken in every sector for every stock of fish. In the reef fish complex in the Gulf of Mexico, for example, that means, specific measures to regulate the catch of every stock within the reef fish complex. 34 of the 44 species in that complex have never had an assessment. For the recreational sector, all of the accountability will be done through MRFSS. NMFS will have to review and approve all of these plans without extra funding or staff, by 2011.

Lack of credible recreational data for the above.  The National Research Council examined the current recreational data collection system and determined it is inadequate for current management measures. NMFS is in the process of upgrading the system and will have a new system, the Marine Recreational Information Program, in place within the next 5 years. Until that time we are forced to use the old system to mange in new ways. It will be like using a Volkswagen beetle to run a NASCAR race.

Q. If the Flexibility Act had been fully implemented in 2009, would the federal government have closed South Atlantic red snapper or Gulf amberjack?

A. The Flexibility Act would not have altered the outcome of last fall’s sudden closure of the recreational Gulf amberjack fishery either. The fishery has a set rebuilding deadline. It was shut down because the recreational sector’s share of the allowed catch was projected to exceed a cap, thus threatening overfishing. The recreational harvest would not have needed to close if their allocation had not been arbitrarily reduced by action of the Gulf Council and NMFS in 2007. Again, the Flexibility Act would have done nothing to address the finding that recreational anglers were overfishing their quota.

The Flexibility Act would not address the South Atlantic red snapper issue either, as the fundamental problem for that stock is ending overfishing, not rebuilding the stock. Red snapper is a fish that lives more than 50 years, yet current science by the National Marine Fisheries Service indicates the age structure of the current population consists primarily of age 5 and under fish. The federal stock assessment indicates the spawning stock is at an extremely low level, less than 5 percent of an unfished stock and we are extracting fish at a rate exceeding 10 times the allowable level for a healthy stock. The science behind these findings is undergoing a review and update process, but the signs for red snapper certainly do not appear to be positive according to the science that is being produced. None of these problems, however, which are fundamental to the health of the stock, would be addressed by a flexible rebuilding schedule and anglers would still be facing massive bottom closures.

In each of these cases, and in virtually every other recent fishery closure, flexible rebuilding timelines would not have made any difference in the ultimate outcome. They still would have been closed to deal with overfishing problems, which are often tied directly to the governments glaring lack of accurate data on recreational angling.

Q. Same question – different coast. If the Flexibility Act had been fully implemented in 2009, how would it have impacted the many species of concern to recreational anglers on the East Coast?

Black Sea Bass
No effect. As black sea bass are already a “recovered” species, legislation that does nothing more than extend the rebuilding period/extend rebuilding would have no impact on current and future management. NMFS’ obligation to act to prevent overfishing would remain unchanged, so the October “emergency closure” would have been unaffected. The later debate over the Annual Catch Limit, which eventually saw the ACL raised to 3.7 million pounds, could be and was resolved under current law, and did not require “flexibility” legislation to accomplish.

Blackfish (Tautog)
No effect. Managed by ASMFC, which is not bound by the terms of the Magnuson Act.

No effect. Bluefish have been deemed recovered, making any change to the rebuilding period irrelevant.

Rebuilding period could be extended, likely to the detriment of anglers in some states. Anglers currently may retain 10 fish, and are enjoying a resurgence of cod into waters easily accessible by boats near the edges of the cod’s historical range. Extending the rebuilding period would have the effect of increasing the ACL, including commercial harvest, leaving fewer fish in the water than is currently the case. As boats fishing at the southern fringe of the cod’s range are dependent on a population large enough to leave its core New England range and expand into more southerly watersk. Increased commercial harvest would make such expansion less likely, and increase the pressure that commercial vessels would put on the fish. Thus, while “flexibility” legislation might increase the overall ACL, it could easily result in fewer cod being available to many anglers, and actually reduce recreational harvest.

No effect. Scup are rebuilt, and thus the delayed rebuilding permitted by the proposed “flexibility” language would have no effect. However, overfishing is still prohibited, so the 2010 ACL established by the Mid-Atlantic Fishery Management Council, even if smaller than strictly necessary would not be affected, nor would future increases in the ACL be facilitated, by adoption of the legislation. The only certain way to ease recreational scup limits is to increase the recreational allocation from the current 21% of ACL.

Striped bass
No effect. Striped Bass are managed by ASMFC, which is not bound by the terms of the Magnuson Act.

Summer flounder
Rebuilding period could be extended, with debatable benefits. This is arguably the species which launched the “flexibility” movement. However, we are at the stage in the restoration of the stock where the benefits of extension may be moot. With only three years to go in the rebuilding process, and with the largest year class in 26 years having been spawned in 2008 (which will begin to recruit into the commercial fishery this year and into the recreational fishery in 2011), the full recovery of summer flounder by 2013 is likely a done deal. That is when the real discontent will set in, as anglers realize that the effect of the 2008 stock assessment, which lowered the estimate of stock productivity substantially, will be to permanently freeze limits at restrictive levels. The long-term answer to relief for coastal anglers lies in the reallocation of the overall ACL, and in abandoning the current state allocations, which are based on a single year of MRFSS data (1998), probably do not reflect the current summer distribution of the species and allocate nearly 40% of the recreational harvest to a single state, in favor of either coastwide regulations or a new set of state allocations which reflect the realities of today’s fishery, rather than those of a decade ago. “Flexibility” legislation will do nothing to relieve either the inter-sector or the inter-state imbalances which currently plague anglers.

No effect. Weakfish are managed by ASMFC, which is not bound by the terms of the Magnuson Act.

Winter flounder
Recovery could be delayed indefinitely so that stocks never rise above current levels; local extirpation is possible. Passage of “flexibility” legislation might well be the final nail in the flounder’s coffin or, at least, in the flounder’s recovery. Section 2(1)(B)(ii)(II) of the bill would permit the rebuilding period to be extended if the agency finds that the “cause of the fishery decline is outside the jurisdiction of the Council or the rebuilding program cannot be effective only by limiting fishing activities.” In the case of this particular provision, there is no restriction on how far out the rebuilding deadline might be set. Thus, if the New England Fishery Management Council, which has a history of denying fisheries problems and of attributing problems to causes other than fishing, were to determine that the winter flounder’s decline was due to pollution, shoreline hardening, dredging, predation, or even overfishing in state waters, which are outside of the Council’s jurisdiction, it could invoke this provision and use it to indefinitely delay the flounder’s recovery. Given the dire condition of the southern New England flounder stock—just 9% of the biomass target—combined with unavoidable scientific uncertainty and the fact that the stock is comprised of local subpopulations of greater or lesser degrees of vulnerability, failure to make a serious effort to recover the species by a date certain is likely to result in the permanent loss of local populations. Such loss, or even the failure to take meaningful measures to recover the stock, would not be of long-term benefit to anglers.

Q. I thought the Flexibility Act addressed overfishing and Annual Catch Limits (ACLs) contained in the 2006 Reauthorization of MSA?

A. Incorrect. The Flexibility Act addresses the rebuilding plans included in the 1996 Reauthorization of the MSA. Those rebuilding plans are not the “culprit” in the closures of 2008 and 2009. ACLs are. And sadly, despite the overheated rhetoric, “Flexibility” does nothing to address the real problem.

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U.S. Recreational Fishing & Boating Coalition Comments on White House Interagency Ocean Policy Task Force Interim Framework for Effective Coastal and Marine Spatial Planning

These comments were prepared and signed by representatives of the following groups: American Sportfishing Association, Bass Anglers Sportsmen Society, Berkley Conservation Institute, Center for Coastal Conservation, Coastal Conservation Association, Congressional Sportsmen’s Foundation, International Game Fish Association, National Marine Manufacturers Association, Shimano Sport Fisheries Initiative, and The Billfish Foundation.

Click HERE for a complete copy of the comments.

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FACT or FICTION Bluefin Tuna and the Convention on International Trade in Endangered Species (CITES)

What is CITES?

CITES is an acronym for the Convention on International Trade in Endangered Species, an international treaty intended to prohibit or strictly regulate the commercial exploitation of badly depleted species, and in some cases to prevent such exploitation from driving a species to extinction.

Why should bluefin tuna be given CITES protection?

Bluefin tuna populations on both sides of the Atlantic have crashed.  The international body that has the primary responsibility for managing the bluefin resource, the International Commission for the Conservation of Atlantic Tunas (ICCAT) has historically shirked its responsibility to manage the bluefin in accordance with scientific recommendations, but has instead heeded the demands of eastern-hemisphere nations to keep harvests unsustainably high in order to benefit the fishing industry.  ICCAT has also been unable to rein in chronic overharvest and illegal fishing operations that further drive down bluefin populations.  The greatest impetus for the continuing overharvest is the lucrative foreign market, most particularly in Japan, which pays fishermen far more than they could obtain locally.  A listing on CITES’ Appendix 1 would outlaw international trade in bluefin, and thus remove much of the motivation for overharvest.

But didn’t ICCAT follow the scientific advice at their latest meeting, and act to reduce bluefin harvest in 2010 and beyond?

Not exactly.   In its efforts to establish a recommended quota for bluefin, the scientists have to make a number of assumptions with respect to things such as age at maturity, the average productivity of mature fish, how quickly the stocks might rebuild under different harvest scenarios, etc., and there is significant disagreement as to what such assumptions should be.  Ultimately, the Standing Committee on Research and Statistics recommended that the 2010 quota for the Eastern stock (eastern Atlantic and Mediterranean) fall somewhere between 8,500 and 15,000 metric tons, but it also warned that, even at 8,500 metric tons, there is a 70% chance that, even by 2019, the spawning stock biomass would remain below 15%.  In addition, the SCRS recommended that all fishing be prohibited during the time when bluefin spawned.  However, ICCAT failed to close the fishery during the spawning period, and settled on a 13,500 metric ton quota, which was near the high end of the suggested range and would clearly do little to recover the spawning stock.  ICCAT also agreed to set catch limits for the 2011 through 2013 fishing years at a level which would have at least a 60% chance of rebuilding the stock by 2022, but there is no guarantee that quotas will be so set, as the language adopted this past November is not binding on the Commission that must act to set any new limits on harvest next fall, and given their track record it would be no surprise to see higher harvests ultimately adopted.  A number of people involved in the process, including individuals advising CCA, speculate that ICCAT took a somewhat more conservative position at Recife last fall in an attempt to derail the effort to have bluefin listed under CITES, and that if the threat of a CITES listing fades later this year, ICCAT will renege on the 2009 agreement and again increase quotas.

Even if the Eastern Stock has been overfished, why should the Western Stock be subject to a CITES listing, when Canadian and American fishermen have generally conformed to the ICCAT decisions?

Just because the Western Stock is not currently subject to overfishing doesn’t mean that it is not badly overfished, and hovering on the brink of collapse.  There is no question that the number of Western Stock fish has declined sharply since the 1970s, and even in the ‘70s the number of bluefin had begun to slip below historic norms.  There is little evidence that the stock has begun to rebuild.  Thus, a CITES listing could only benefit Western Stock bluefin.  Also, the best evidence indicates that bluefin tuna can, and often do, cross the Atlantic.  Although the Eastern Stock, which spawns in the Mediterranean, and the Western Stock, which spawns in the Gulf of Mexico, are clearly separate stocks of fish which can be distinguished in the laboratory, there is no way for a fishermen to tell them apart at boatside.  The latest scientific evidence shows that it is likely that about half of the bluefin caught by U.S. anglers and commercial harevesters were Eastern Stock fish, and even with the decline in the Eastern Stock, such fish are undoubtedly still being killed. Thus, in order for a CITES listing to effectively protect Eastern Stock bluefin – and begin to restore abundance of the species throughout the Atlantic – it must be extended to all bluefin in the northern Atlantic region.

If bluefin are listed under CITES, won’t that mean that they’re an “endangered species” and that no one could fish for them?

Absolutely not.  “Endangered species,” as that term is generally used in the United States, refers to species that are “listed” under the Endangered Species Act because they are in imminent danger of extinction.  The Endangered Species Act is a federal law passed by the US Congress and administered by the US Fish and Wildlife Service.  A species listed under ESA is given broad protections, cannot normally be harvested, and must ultimately be subject to a recovery plan designed to rebuild the population to safe levels.  CITES, on the other hand, is an international treaty which is solely concerned with protecting species at risk from commercial exploitation at the international level.  It has no effect on the domestic harvest of a species (including at-sea harvest within a nation’s exclusive economic zone), and even permits the sale of such species within the nation where it is harvested.  There is no requirement that a species listed on CITES Annex 1 also be listed under the ESA.

How will US anglers on the East Coast be affected if bluefin are listed under CITES?

They will not be affected at all.  A CITES listing will not prohibit US anglers from fishing for, or harvesting, bluefin in US waters.  And since recreational fishermen, by definition, do not sell their catch, restrictions on international trade will have no impact on them.  If CITES affects anglers at all, such effect will be positive, as its prohibition on international sale will probably reduce commercial harvest, and thus make more bluefin available to the public.

That’s fine for anglers, but why should our commercial fishery be shut down?

A CITES listing will not shut down the US commercial bluefin fishery, although it will prohibit US commercial fishermen from exporting its catch.  However, what most people don’t realize is that the United States is a net importer of bluefin tuna.  While American commercial fishermen do ship prime bluefin tuna to Japan, where they can get the best price, American restaurants import a lot of bluefin, often lower-priced, pen-raised Eastern Stock fish, for the growing domestic sushi market.  If bluefin are listed under CITES, US commercial fishermen will still be able to sell their fish to US markets, where it would replace the Eastern Stock fish that could no longer be imported.

If that’s true, why are some spokesmen for both commercial and recreational fishermen opposing the CITES listing?

It’s all about Japan, and the prices paid there for the best tuna.  While international economic conditions have caused prices to fall from the high levels of a few years ago, the Japanese market still pays the highest prices in the world for tuna, and commercial fishermen are loath to lose their most lucrative market.  The question of why “recreational fishing” advocates would oppose a CITES listing has much the same answer.  For while recreational fishermen, fishing under an Angling Category permit, may not legally sell their tuna, there are a lot of part-time commercial fishermen in the Northeast who fish from sportfishing boats and catch their fish on rods and reels, but hold General Category permits, which allows them to sell their catch.  Charter and party boats, which fish under a Charter/Headboat Category permit, are also allowed to sell their catch.

It should be noted that the Coastal Conservation Association and The Billfish Foundation are ardent supporters of a CITES listing, and that International Game Fish Association President Rob Kramer has said that a CITES listing for bluefin “means only good things for recreational fishermen.”

What would have to happen for bluefin tuna to be protected under CITES?

The next meeting of the Conference of the Parties to CITES is meeting in Doha, Qatar, in March.  For bluefin to be listed under the Convention, two-thirds of the contracting parties must vote in favor of such action.  Whether that will happen is very much open to doubt.  While the bluefin has staunch supporters in the international community, Japan and the Mediterranean fishing nations will undoubtedly lead a strong opposition to a listing.  In order for the bluefin to have any chance at all, conservation advocates must, at the least, mount an equally strong campaign.  To date, the United States has not firmly committed itself to any course of action, and US leadership is undoubtedly crucial if the listing effort is to have any chance at all—which is why the US commercial tuna industry and its allies have engaged in a comprehensive and sometimes misleading campaign aimed at affecting US public opinion and ultimately US policy.

What will happen if bluefin are not listed under CITES?

Predicting the future is always an uncertain thing, but if we are to gauge the future the experiences of the past, it is likely that ICCAT will continue to set quotas too high to permit the bluefin to recover, and perhaps too high to even maintain the status quo.  In the Mediterranean and eastern Atlantic, fishermen will continue to exceed even those liberal quotas, under-report harvest and engage in “pirate” fishing activities that will increase the kill of bluefin far beyond sustainable levels.  As a result, in the not-very-distant future, the Eastern Stock is likely to collapse, become commercially extinct, and perhaps fall to a level from which recovery will be very difficult, if not impossible.  In the western Atlantic, fisherman, particularly in Canada, will kill most of the remaining giant bluefin, which represent the remnant reproductive capacity of the stock.  With those fish gone, and few younger fish growing out to take their place, the Western Stock, already poised at the brink of collapse, will also likely fall past the point of commercial extinction, and perhaps past the point of no return.

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CCA Calls for CITES Listing on Bluefin Tuna

Coastal Conservation Association Comments on U.S. Fish & Wildlife Service Consideration of a CITES Listing for Atlantic Bluefin Tuna

Following the management decisions made at the November 2009 meeting of the International Commission for the Conservation of Atlantic Tunas (ICCAT) in Recife, Brazil, the Coastal Conservation Association (CCA) remains firm in its call for the United States to take a leadership role and insist that all international trade in Atlantic bluefin tuna be halted, while hope for a recovery still remains.

Management measures adopted by the member countries of ICCAT at its latest meeting fall far short of the commitment needed to ensure a future for this valuable species, despite a growing international realization that time is growing short to end the overexploitation of bluefin tuna.

ICCAT’s own Standing Committee on Research and Statistics (SCRS) issued guidance warning that adoption of a harvest limit of 8,500 tons in 2010 would result in a 70 percent chance that the spawning stock biomass for bluefin tuna would still be less than 15 percent in 2019 Nonetheless, the member countries of ICCAT adopted a 2010 harvest limit of 13,500 tons. Furthermore, the SCRS called for a closure of the Mediterranean during spawning season which was also rejected.

These latest decisions continue ICCAT’s well-documented history of ineffective half-measures regarding the international management of Atlantic bluefin tuna and underscore the need to have both the eastern and western stocks of Atlantic bluefin listed on Appendix I to the Convention on International Trade in Endangered Species (CITES). Given the ICCAT track record, the “promise” to adopt measures next year that will have at least a 60 percent probability of moving the spawning stock above the low 15 percent level seems empty. Also, efforts by European nations to eliminate the illegal fishing on the species that caused the liberal 2008 quota to be exceeded by more than 50 percent have yet to show success.

In our previous correspondence, CCA asked that, should ICCAT fail to adopt biologically defensible management measures, the Department of Interior proceed with an effort to list the Atlantic bluefin on Appendix 1 to the CITES, thus prohibiting the international trade in bluefin and extinguishing the greatest motivation to overfish the species   It is clear from the last meeting of ICCAT that its management efforts have again failed the United States, the world and the bluefin tuna.  There is no longer any reason to expect ICCAT to end the overexploitation of bluefin.

American fishermen and markets are not responsible for driving bluefin tuna to the edge of extinction, but this country needs to lead the solution to salvage what is left and set it on a road to recovery. Under an Appendix 1 listing, American commercial fishermen will be allowed to market bluefin domestically and anglers will be able to continue fishing within the proscribed quotas and bag limits. We encourage the Department of Interior to proceed with the necessary course of action to list the Atlantic bluefin on Appendix I to CITES and prohibit the international trade in bluefin.

Click here for a fact sheet on a CITES listing for bluefin tuna

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A good law in search of a good agency

By Ted Venker
Jan/Feb 2010

The Magnuson-Stevens Fishery Conservation and Management Act is the overarching law that manages America’s marine fisheries. It was first passed in 1976 and was reauthorized in 1996 and again in 2006.

Throughout its 30-plus-year history MSA has been dogged by a persistent problem that affected both recreational and commercial fisheries – its inability to end overfishing. Federal fisheries were allowed to limp along from one year to the next, under management plans that had only very small chances of actually recovering overfished populations. While the fishery management plans generated under earlier versions of MSA were short on delivering results, they did allow managers to avoid making any difficult decision that might raise the ire of users of the resource. It was an all-too-common occurrence for fisheries managers to knowingly adopt management regimes that allowed gross overfishing to continue and base all hopes for the future health of the resource on a confluence of factors that almost never materialized.

For anyone seeking to create sustainable, healthy marine resources, the shortcomings of MSA were frustrating.

As a result, when MSA was reauthorized in 2006 it put in place the strictest legal mandates ever seen in fisheries management in an effort to finally put an end to the intractable problem of overfishing. Among the unprecedented requirements was the cessation of all overfishing in U.S. waters by 2011 and the rebuilding of overfished species within a time certain. For the first time ever, ending overfishing had a firm deadline. In the quest for the robust, sustainable resources sought by recreational anglers, the new provisions of MSA seemed like the recipe, at last, for proper conservation of our marine resources.

Instead, those provisions cast a harsh light on the real root of the problem with federal fisheries: the National Marine Fisheries Service (NMFS), the very agency charged with managing them in the first place.

The case of red snapper in the South Atlantic is a good example. South Atlantic red snapper has been ignored by NMFS for the past 50 years or so. Federal managers had no idea what condition the stock was in until they conducted the first full, modern stock assessment and released the results almost on the same day that the new MSA was signed into law in 2007. At nearly the same instant the strictest legal mandates ever put into federal fisheries management were enacted, the agency in charge of managing this nation’s marine resources “discovered” that a popular species was at 3 percent of what is considered a healthy biomass. Under the new law, management of this species evolved in the blink of an eye from blissful ignorance to harsh proposals to close vast swaths of the South Atlantic to all bottom fishing – for any fish.

The new MSA mandates may be the recipe for good conservation, but in combination with an agency that has utterly failed to properly manage our marine resources they are going to cause some real short-term hardship. Users of the resource are rightfully irate at the prospect of closures for popular species, but have misdirected their ire at the new provisions of MSA, rather than at the agency which has failed to competently discharge its duties under the law.  The recent edition of MSA is the most conservation-oriented fisheries management law we have ever had in this country, and its mandates are clearly needed to force managers to impose needed measures to rebuild our fisheries. But nothing in MSA requires the agency to shut down fisheries such as black sea bass or Gulf amberjack in order to address transient problems. Those recent examples of managing by closure are the result of failing to properly manage those fisheries in the first place, and that fault lies firmly with NMFS.

The new MSA assumed that the agency in charge of the nation’s fisheries had been regularly collecting the data and taking the necessary steps to properly manage our fisheries, if not to perfect health then at least to some semblance of sustainability. With the recent flurry of bad news in some fisheries, it seems clear that the agency has not made proper management either a policy priority or a budget priority, and now recreational anglers are paying the price.

Managing by closure is not what Congress had in mind when it reauthorized MSA in 2006, but that is little comfort to the hundreds of thousands of anglers that stand to be impacted by closures in the South Atlantic and elsewhere.

The reality that we are now facing makes it clear that NMFS simply was not ready for a law that mandates our marine resources be managed to sustainability, and that is a stunning revelation. The challenge now is to upgrade both NMFS’ capabilities and its attitudes, so that it is capable of upholding the law while avoiding massive, abrupt and unnecessary closures of important fisheries. NMFS must be compelled to meet its statutory responsibilities by doing all the things it has neglected to do in the past, which have paved the way to the present morass. It must improve data collection on recreational anglers and develop fishery independent data to model accurate stock assessments. It must prove to the public that its science truly is the best available science. It must win back the public trust.

MSA was reauthorized with sweeping reforms expressly designed to end overfishing and rebuild fisheries. It would be tragic to jeopardize all the positive elements contained in the law today because of heavy-handed federal management measures that are the result of serious and continuing managerial shortcomings. Amid all the controversy and debate surrounding some federal fisheries, it is important to remember that with the 2006 reauthorization of MSA, Congress intended to end overfishing, not end fishing.

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