A developing large-scale fishery on an important offshore baitfish needs management, but the right kind
Chub mackerel is a small pelagic species, similar in appearance to your standard Atlantic mackerel, but noticeably different. Chub are considerably smaller – in that 8 to 14” range – and have markedly larger eyes. And those large wavy lines on an Atlantic’s back are much closer and less distinct on a chub. Plus, chub have a clear line of spots traveling across their mid-section.
Most importantly though, you generally won’t find Atlantics in warm water – chub you will – and that’s what makes them extremely important to offshore fisheries for large pelagics (billfish, tunas and sharks).
While you may not have known exactly what they were, if you’ve been outside of 30-fathoms in the mid-Atlantic during the last decade or so, you’ve likely seen large schools of chub on the surface. The existence of such aggregations are, by most accounts, a relatively new occurrence up here.
Yet, they have developed into an unquestionably important bait fish for large pelagics in the region, driving very specific spatial and temporal opportunities to target billfish and tunas.
The basic idea with the Amendment was to “freeze the footprint” and prevent any new large-scale fisheries on forage species from developing before we had the science to determine if they were sustainable. Not just sustainable from a yield perspective, but sustainable from an ecosystem one. In other words, there needed to be enough left in the water to satisfy predator needs.
During staff analysis of existing fisheries, they discovered a relatively unknown large-scale fishery had sprung up almost overnight on chub mackerel. Industry went from catching close to none in 2008 to catching over 5-million pounds in 2013. While this likely had a lot to do with availability – in other words the fact that they were there – that’s an extraordinary escalation in a very short amount of time.
A five-million-pound harvest of a forage species, with no science or management in place was exactly what the Council sought to avoid with the development of the Unmanaged Forage Amendment. But it happened, right under everyone’s nose, and hardly anyone knew about it.
The Council was virtually unanimous that the chub stock off the mid-Atlantic needed conservation and management, before things got out of control.
In August of 2016, during the finalization of the Unmanaged Forage Amendment, it voted to cap the chub mackerel catch at the average of the three most current years (2.86-million pounds), while allowing for a forty-thousand pound “incidental” limit to be caught after the cap was met. That cap would last three years after finalization/implementation of the Unmanaged Forage Amendment (expected to begin in 2018). During that time, the intent was for the Council to develop a management strategy for chub.
Where we are now
In August, the Council initiated an Amendment to add chub mackerel to the Council’s Mackerel, Squid, Butterfish Fishery Management Plan. This makes sense, as it is generally a few boats in the mackerel and squid fisheries that have been targeting chub mackerel.
And so, the Council has initiated “scoping” for the Amendment. “Scoping” is an appeal for public input at the beginning stage of a fisheries management action through public hearings and soliciting written comment.
The intent is to gather as much information from the public as possible during this early stage, so public concerns can be fully incorporated and considered in the amendment development process. It is the first-stab for the public during a long, transparent process.
This is an important stage where anglers, particularly those that fish offshore, need to engage. It is imperative that we let the Council know of the importance of chub to the offshore angling community.
Managers need to hear from the public that chub are an important ecosystem component offshore. Without these aggregations we won’t have the predators. They need to understand that chub drive spatial and temporal fishing opportunities for tunas, billfish and shark. And that should localized-depletion occur as a result of large-scale fishing, it would indeed impact us negatively.
The Council needs to understand that chub should be managed not simply for commercial yield, but for such predator-prey interactions.
Emphasis should be put on the fact that this is a PUBLIC resource, and should be managed for the general fishing public, not simply for a few large-volume/low-value commercial fishing interests.
Please do try and show up to a hearing near you. If you can’t make it, at the very least try and send in an email comment. THIS IS IMPORTANT!