ASMFC Spring Meeting Summary

The ASMFC met in Alexandra VA between MA8 & May 11, 2017. The following is a summary of what the staff here at Fissues feels were important enough discussion to take up our readers time.

ASMFC Striped Bass Management Board voted not to move forward with Draft Addendum V to Amendment 6 of the Atlantic Striped Bass Fishery Management Plan (FMP). The Addendum was initiated to increase harvest of striped bass. The effort was driven by the State of Maryland and its Chesapeake Bay for hire fleet.

One of the factors that contributed to the decision is that under current regulations harvest is going up because of the monster 2011-year class that is expected to enter the coastal migration this year and next. These fish are between 24 & 29 inches and are being seen all along the range. More fish translates to more effort which means higher mortality.

The vote to move the action forward to public hearing failed 5-10. As expected the Chesapeake Bay states voted yes (MD, DE, VA & Potomac River Fisheries Commission) and as is the case more often than not these days, NJ also voted to increase harvest.

The vote of NJ is especially disappointing to conservation minded anglers because two of its three Commissioners come from the recreational fishing community. Do a majority of NJ recreational anglers really support an increase in striped bass harvest?

Speaking of NJ, during the meeting, there was an interesting discussion between Tom Fote (NJ Governor’s Appointee) and ASMFC staff regarding how the NJ bonus tag (aka 2nd recreational fish) is accounted. Mr.Fote stated that those fish are “supposed to come out of the NJ commercial quota” and staff, who had listed the NJ commercial harvest at zero pounds, seemed to state that was not the case. is seeking clarification on the way these fish are accounted in the system.

The debate over how many striped bass should be harvested will never end and the next round is guaranteed to happen around the time of the 2018 benchmark stock assessment. It is indeed a possibility that an increase in harvest due to the 2011-year class could result in exceeding thresholds that require management action, and the coast will once again be looking at mandatory reductions.

For background on striped bass see: Fissues/Atlantic Striped Bass.

ASMFC Menhaden Management Board: This was a middle of the process meeting for staff to update the board on development of Amendment 3 to the menhaden plan. Amendment 3 has two main components. The first component is consideration of how menhaden harvest is allocated. Simply put it is clear from the discussion there are still too many ideas and very few are supported by more than one or two states.

The second component of Amendment 3 is transitioning menhaden management to a system based on Ecological Reference Points (ERPs). ERPs would consider more than just fishing and a general number for natural mortality. ERPs would truly incorporate the importance of menhaden to various predators and account for ecosystem functions as well as human harvest. This could be the first instance of true ecosystem based fishery management on the East Coast. A big deal!

The board received updates on various alternatives that are in development. The one spark in this discussion surrounded a couple of comment letters regarding the science that influences how forage fish are managed. One comment letter introduced the already controversial “Hilborn study.” A second scientific comment letter was a response to that study from the authors of the “Lenfest study.” The interesting part of this discussion was when Commissioner of MA DMF (Dr. David Pierce) read a line from a book written by Dr. Hilborn (lead author of the Hilborn study) that seemed to be in direct contradiction to the conclusions of Dr. Hilborn’s own study. The whole issue of “my science is better than your science” was referred to the Menhaden Technical Committee for even more study.

Check this out to learn more about the Hillborn study:

 ASMFC Summer Flounder, Scup and Black Sea Bass Management Board Joint Meeting with Mid Atlantic Fishery Management Council (MAFMC):

 Black Sea Bass: The Board acted to adjust recreational measures so that 2017 harvest stays within the quota. The Board set possession in wave 6, November/December at 5 fish in state waters from RI through New Jersey.

The Board also approved Addendum XXiX which makes minor adjustments to the commercial fishery.

The Board approved development of a framework to consider an Experimental Fishery Permit (EFP) for return of a winter (wave 1) off shore wreck fishery. Little records were kept and little is known about this fishery form years ago before the fishery was closed.

For background on black seabass see: Fissues/Black Sea Bass

Summer Flounder: After almost three hours of twisting science and insisting the lack of fish over 19’ results in an overwhelming need to fish on smaller fish; the NJ delegation convinced the Board to consider a proposal for conservation equivalent regulations…3 fish bag limit & 18” minimum size.

Next, the Technical Committee will review New Jersey’s proposal, which is likely to happen next week. The Board will then meet via conference call to decide on the proposal. If accepted NJ has until May 21st to implement the new regulations. If not approved, NJ will need to implement the following measures by May 21st or the Commission will move forward with a non-compliance finding regarding New Jersey’s failure to implement Addendum XXVIII’s required management measures.

  • Shore mode for Island Beach State Park only: 17-inch minimum size limit; 2-fish possession limit and 128-day open season.
  •          Delaware Bay only (west of the colregs line):   18-inch minimum size limit; 3-fish possession limit and 128-day open season.
  •          All other marine waters (east of the colregs line):  19-inch minimum size limit; 3-fish possession limit and 128-day open season

ASMFC Herring Section approved Addendum 1 to Amendment 3 of the Atlantic Herring Fishery FMP. The Addendum intends to stabilize the rate of catch in the Area 1A fishery. Area 1 A is the inshore fishery North of Cape Cod and is focused on Ipswich Bay. There is always a management struggle over how fast the industrial fleet catches herring and more recently where those herring end up. MA Lobstermen claim they don’t see a fair share of the important fresh bait because it comes in too fast and what doesn’t get bought up by the big bait companies in Maine seems to disappear, many suspecting that due to the herring being smaller and smaller by the year, more and more is likely being shipped to the Canadian sardine cannery market which we hear is more lucrative than bait.

ASMFC American Lobster Board continues to struggle with ideas on how to rebuild the Southern New England Lobster Stock which most feel is collapsed and has been for some time.  Disease, changing environmental conditions and more have contributed to the decline in this one highly productive portion of the lobster fishery. The main focus of this week’s discussions was how management might increase egg production by a mere 5%.

In addition to the above, during the week the following meetings were held: Climate Change workshop, Coastal Sharks Management Board, Northern Shrimp Section, Tautog Management Board. At this time, we do not have anything to report on these meetings.