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AT THE MID ATLANTIC COUNCIL MEETING IN OCT, HERE’S WHAT WENT DOWN

 

 

By Capt. John McMurray

 

At last month’s Council meeting there were a handful of issues that likely concern anglers, but at the top of the list is the Council’s Chub Mackerel Amendment.

The purpose of such amendment is to “consider” adding Atlantic chub mackerel to the Atlantic Mackerel, Squids, and Butterfish Fishery Management Plan (FMP). The amendment will take into account potential catch limits and other conservation and management measures to achieve “optimum yield” for the fishery.

Chub are those small mackerel with the big eye that have been ubiquitous at 20 fathoms out during the last eight years or so.  Of course, they have driven and continue to drive time and area bites, primary for bluefin tuna, but also for yellowfin, mahi and billfish.

With their recent abundance, a large-scale high-volume/low-value commercial fishery for them sprung up rather quickly.  Industry went from catching close to none in 2008 to catching over 5-million pounds in 2013. That’s an extraordinary escalation on a prey species in a very short amount of time.

A few years ago, during the development of the Council’s Unmanaged Forage Amendment, the Council recognized the rapidly escalating fishery and eventually capped it at the most recent 3-year average, a 2.86 million-pound annual landings limit.  The intent was to prevent further escalation until the Council could figure out how to manage it. Such cap will expire December 31, 2020.

The Chub Mackerel Amendment is essentially a first attempt to manage the fishery when the cap expires.  At this meeting the Council voted out a public hearing document.

Of note, the Council removed all alternatives related to “framework actions” (actions that could be taken in as short as two meetings), including time -and-area closures that could prevent localized depletion and potential conflict between the sportfishing community and commercial operators.  That was unfortunate, but the Council justified it by claiming there was no real science to support such closures.

We struggle to understand exactly why the Council’s Science and Statistical Committee (SSC) recommended an “Acceptable Biological Catch” of 5.07 million pounds based on nothing more than the fact that was the max amount industry has yet to harvest in a year.  This is a 77% increase from the 2.86 million-pound 3-year average implemented with the Unmanaged Forage Amendment.  Frankly, we don’t get the SSC’s justification for such an ABC. There is no other science on the species that could have been used as a basis for such a decision.

The intent right now seems to be to let industry fish at that level, so the Council can collect the data and develop the science to manage the fishery.  Industry seemed to be arguing for 10-million pounds, so they could fish hard on chub mackerel when they are available, throwing out the usual arguments such as, “there are plenty of fish around,” “fishing has very little if any impact,” and “very little predator/prey data exists, so chub aren’t really important to tuna/billfish,” etc.

It is quite true the council has very little data on chub, but those of us who spend time offshore of 20 fathoms know that these fish are indeed forage for valuable commercial and recreational species. With an absence of perfect information, and chub mackerel’s important role as forage, he council should move forward with a precautionary approach.  It could set “Optimum Yield” (OY) less than the Acceptable Biological Catch (ABC) recommended.

The public information document actually includes an alternative for doing just that.  Setting OY less than the ABC—Alt. Set 3.A.II—puts MAFMC on the scientifically supported, precautionary approach to manage chub mackerel.  For sure, when the time comes, ALL Fissues readers should be advocating for that alternative.

Without a doubt, offshore anglers have benefited from an abundance of Atlantic chub mackerel, particularly the economically valuable recreational, charter, and tournament fisheries.  Because of its ecological and economic value, any significant increase in commercial fishing for Atlantic chub mackerel would NOT be good for the sport fishing community.

Stay tuned for the public hearing schedule, and detailed instructions on when and how you can comment.

For more information on chub mackerel, check out the Fissues.org species description management history page.

Ecosystem Approach to Fisheries Management Risk Assessment

The Council also discussed “next steps” to incorporate ecosystem considerations in the Council’s management and science programs, as established in the Council’s Ecosystem Approach to Fisheries Management (EAFM) guidance document.

In 2017, the Council completed the first step in this process when it completed a “risk assessment” to help identify and prioritize ecosystem interactions and risks. This is intended to help the Council decide where to focus limited resources to address priority ecosystem considerations.

The Council supported the Ecosystem and Ocean Planning Committee’s recommendation to begin piloting the development of a summer flounder conceptual model that will consider ecosystem interactions affecting summer flounder.  Completion of this model is expected to occur in the next year or so.

Highly Migratory Species (HMS) Permits and Law Enforcement Issues

Greg DiDomenico of the Garden State Seafood Association gave a presentation about law enforcement issues related to the harvest and sale of highly migratory species (HMS) by charter/party boats.

Enforcement is lacking.  Fish are being sold via backdoor to restaurants etc.  To most of us this isn’t exactly something new.

Vessels with a $20 HMS permits that allow for sale often do not have the required landing permits and/or are not operating with the required commercial gear (i.e. don’t have Commercial Fishing Vessel Safety Inspection decals).

DiDomenico argues that if the for hire-fleet is selling fish then it should (and is required) to have the same requirements as legitimate full-time commercial fishermen.

We agree.

The Council has scheduled a workshop to further explore these issues and identify potential solutions.

Additional information about this workshop is available at http://www.mafmc.org/workshop/law-enforcement-for-hire-workshop.

That’s all the particularly relevant stuff for this meeting.  Stay tuned for further developments.

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