A panel of scientists and fishing industry leaders met with Rep. Jared Huffman (D-CA) on Nov. 15 at his third listening session on the Magnusson-Stevens Act, the nation’s federal fishing law.
Huffman, who is chair of the Water, Oceans, and Wildlife Subcommittee of the House Natural Resources Committee, held the session at the National Aquarium Animal Care and Rescue Center in Baltimore.
The panel of fisheries experts and stakeholders had a detailed, technical discussion of current and future challenges in federal fisheries management and explored potential solutions. To date, four session have been held.
“I was one of eight to ten people participating, some commercial and recreational fishermen but most were fisheries scientists,” said Tony Friedrich, president of the American Saltwater Guides Association who participated in the Nov. 15 session.
Other recreational fishing representatives included Capt. Paul Eidman of New Jersey, and Charlie Witek, Esq. recreational angler and fish advocate from New York.
The listening tour is a part of Huffman’s efforts to foster a more transparent, deliberative, and science-based process for developing natural resources legislation. The input from this listening tour, and from other stakeholder outreach will inform his introduction of a Magnuson-Stevens reauthorization bill next spring. Through this comprehensive and inclusive approach, Huffman hopes to restore the historically bipartisan character of marine fisheries policies including prior successful Magnuson-Stevens reauthorizations.
Friedrich said, “It was great for Rep. Huffman to solicit our input. Key issues discussed included climate change and how to handle shifting stocks and the desire of recreational angler to be accountable for the fish they harvest but concern about current recreational data not being accurate.”
The major issue was the Atlantic States Marine Fisheries Commission (ASMFC) lack of ability to manage fisheries in state waters.
“All at the table wanted the ASMFC to be more accountable and manage fisheries more like fish are managed under the Magnuson-Stevens Act with no conservation equivalency without consequences and adherence to allowable catch limits and rebuilding time lines,” Friedrich said. “The ASMFC record is dismal.”
Charles Witek, recreational fisherman, fish advocate and writer said in an April 10, Marine Fish Conservation Network blog post, “While federal fishery managers, guided by the Magnuson-Stevens Fishery Conservation and Management Act (Magnuson-Stevens), have already rebuilt at least 45 once-overfished stocks, ASMFC has only rebuilt a single stock, Atlantic striped bass, since it was created in 1942.”
Anglers made the point that the most recent striped bass stock assessment has revealed that even striped bass are once again overfished and subject to continued overfishing which precipitated a mandated 18 percent reduction for 2020.
Rep. Huffman said he plans to hold one public forum in each of the regions managed by Fishery Management Councils. The New England Saltwater Fishing Show held in Providence, RI in March (the largest show of its type in the northeast) and the New England Boat Show held in Boston, MA in February would be two great venues for Rep. Huffman’s tour.
CCA says hold menhaden harvester accountable
In an email to its members the Coastal Conservation Association (CCA) said, “Omega Protein, the sole commercial harvester of East Coast menhaden, has brazenly announced that it knowingly went over its menhaden quota by almost 35 million pounds.”
The Canadian-owned company harvested 67,000 metric tons (147,668,000 pounds) of menhaden from Virginia waters of the Chesapeake Bay and has been unapologetic about its intentions to no longer abide by the harvest cap lawfully set by the Atlantic States Marine Fisheries Commission (ASMFC). Last month, the ASMFC voted to find the state of Virginia out of compliance with its Atlantic menhaden Fishery Management Plan (FMP).
Commercial harvest of Atlantic menhaden in the Chesapeake Bay has been under intense scrutiny for decades due to its concentrated removals of a critical food source for striped bass and other important sportfish in their primary spawning grounds on the East Coast.
The CCA said, “Anglers have applauded the ASMFC for its decision to find the State of Virginia out of compliance due to the careless actions of Omega Protein and are now calling on U.S. Commerce Secretary Wilbur Ross to uphold that finding and ensure that no one is allowed to willfully ignore U.S. laws and regulations.”
The CCA is asking conservationists to sign a petition that calls for Secretary Ross to defend the marine resources of the United States and shut down the menhaden fishery in Virginia until Omega Protein comes back into compliance with the Fishery Management Plan.
Where’s the bite?
Tautog fishing has remained strong for anglers who have been getting out. Ken Ferrara of Ray’s Bait & Tackle, Warwick said, “Those fishing in the cold are catching some nice keepers. The bite continues to be on at Codington Cover, Middletown, Hope Island and Dutch Island off Jamestown. Some customers are fishing off Narragansett at Scarborough Beach and are doing well there too.” Capt. Frank Blount of the Frances Fleet said, “The Blackfishing has continued to be rock solid. Some days, it takes all day other days we have a full limit by 10:30 a.m. The shorts seemed to have thinned out some and it has been all keepers. Biggest fish on the week was 11 pounds.” Angler and RISSA 1st vice president Rich Hittinger said, “The tautog bite around Block Island has been pretty good for us. We have been mixing it up cod and tautog fishing in the same trip.” “With 18-degree mornings we have not had many customers fishing. But those braving the cold have been catching fish, so the bite is still on.” said John Littlefield of Archie s Bait & Tackle, Riverside. Tautog fishing off Newport continues to be good too, but not many have been braving the cold weather to fish.
Cod fishing is starting to come into its own off Block Island. The East Grounds have had a full contingent of in state and out of state party boats fishing there. Angler Rick Hittinger said, “We fished the East Ground and hooked up with a few nice market size cod. So fishing there is starting to pick up.” Capt. Frank Blount of the Frances Fleet said, “The days we were able to sneak out, fishing was very good. Seems like someone flipped the switch on the cod fish. The weekend saw great fishing close to home. We picked away on scup, sea bass and cod in to the low 20s. The scup were a problem at times for some but those who put on smaller hooks filled coolers. High hook on cod his week boated seven fish.”