The Council met Monday through Thursday of last week.
On day one, there was a first “framework” meeting for a possible change to the Council’s “Risk Policy”.
While this is undoubtedly complicated and wonky, the Council’s “Risk Policy” can best be described as policy articulating how much risk they want to take given the best available science and stock status, when determining “specifications”/quotas. In other words, how much risk of overfishing can they and are they willing to take, and still remain within the law?
The staff presented its analysis, and at the end determined that the current, somewhat conservative risk policy should not be changed due inherent uncertainty in management and a changing climate.
Good advice, but given the discussion, it’s unlikely the Council will heed it moving forward. We will let readers know what happens in subsequent meetings.
There was also a brief presentation on the various Magnuson-Stevens Fishery Conservation and Management Act reauthorization bills, but it was very basic. Following that was a fairly dry presentation on a tilefish survey the Council is sponsoring.
Day 2 Nantucket/Martha’s Vineyard Squid Buffer Framework
One of the larger issues, and one of particular interest to the recreational fishing community – specifically New England striped bass anglers – was the “Squid Buffer Zone” framework.
For a full background/context on this, check out these links:
The short version is that there has been a definite lack of striped bass and other historically prevalent predators around Martha’s Vineyard and Nantucket in recent years, presumably due to localized depletion of the longfin squid resource.
We sincerely believe that the the aggregation of squid trawlers that have amassed just south of the Islands in the spring and summer in recent years (upwards of 40 trawlers on some days) is causing “localized depletion” of the squid resource in the area. In other words, they are catching so many squid, in what is a well known squid spawning area, that very few are getting into the rips that have historically produced good striped bass fishing.
Just about every local striped bass fisherman, guide, charter boat captain, commercial pin-hooker, etc. has seen a decline in productive fishing that coincides with the aggregation of trawlers off the island.
Furthermore, the area off the two islands is a well-known spawning area for squid in the spring and summer, and the bycatch if squid “egg mops”in the area is extraordinary. There are also very high bycatch/dead-discard rates in the area for things like striped bass, black seabass, summer flounder etc.
All this said, staff was clear that such localized depletion, and the cause and effect as it relates to predators is/will be very hard (read impossible) to prove. However, it is common sense that if you take that many squid out of a discrete area, predators will disperse.
Regardless, the Council has the discretion to create a “buffer zone” – an area off the islands closed in the spring and summer to squid trawlers – should it chose to. The Martha’s Vineyard/Nantucket charter boat fleet was certainly asking that the council at least fully consider such a time/area closure.
But the Council jettisoned a buffer zone alternative in their Squid Capacity Amendment and instead moved it to a framework that could be completed early next year.
There were some good things in the amendment, however. While it arguably didn’t go far enough to actually address capacity (i.e. latent permits) in the longfin fishery, it did drastically cut the “incidental” catch allowance in the spring/summer fishery (Trimester 2 or T2).
Prior to such amendment, the incidental allowance was 2500 pounds which, given squid prices, created a de facto directed fishery on longfin after the spring/summer quota had been met. Under the Squid Capacity Amendment, the new incidental limit was reduced to 250 pounds, which would arguably prevent directing on the longfin resource after the spring/summer quota had been met.
It was then argued that such a concession by industry would, to some extent, correct the issue of concentrated squid fishing effort off of Martha’s Vineyard and Nantucket in the spring and summer.
Yes, under the squid capacity amendment, we would still have boats knocking the crap out of longfin squid off of Martha’s Vineyard and Nantucket in the spring and the summer. Yet after the spring/summer (Trimester 2, T2) quota had been met, that fishery would, under the new amendment, be effectively shut down.
So… After a presentation by staff on alternatives that included various time and area closures, the below motion was made.
“Move to recommend that the Council discontinue further development via framework on squid buffer zones and allow the full effects of the Squid Capacity Amendment (i.e. reducing fishing effort and T2 post closure trip limits) to be realized prior to any additional action.”
Regrettably, the motion passed.
Ver unfortunate for Martha’s Vineyard/Nantucket striped bass fishermen.
But this is an issue that is not likely to go away. Stay tuned for recent developments.
During the morning of day two, there was also a presentation and a brief discussion on the development of an amendment that would add chub mackerel as a fishery in the Squid, Mackerel, Butterfish FMP.
For context on this amendment see this link: Fissues: Chub Mackerel
In short, when the Council was developing its Unmanaged Forage Amendment, it decided that, because a chub mackerel fishery had already developed and expanded very quickly, instead of including them on the list of “unmanaged forage,” it would cap the fishery at current levels and initiate an amendment to manage it under the Squid, Mackerel, Butterfish FMP.
The Council seems to have made very little headway on data collection, and they don’t have the science to do a stock assessment or to have any sort of biological reference points for the species.
Where this goes right now is anyone’s guess. But this species really needs management. And if they don’t get this amendment done within three years, the current cap sunsets and we end up with an unregulated high-volume/low-value fishery.
From a recreational perspective, chub is a very important forage source for offshore fisheries. It absolutely drives spatial and temporal aggregations of the large pelagics that we target.
Allowing a large-scale/low value fishery on them would likely be very bad for us.
So… We will absolutely keep tabs on this, and let you know how it develops and how you can engage.
Days two and three, Bluefish, Summer Flounder, Black Seabass and Scup
Under the bluefish section of the meeting, the Council and Commission initiated a new amendment to the Bluefish Fishery Management Plan.
The intent of the Amendment is to review and possibly revise commercial/recreational allocation, as well as the distribution of the commercial quota among the states.
This is an important one to keep an eye on, as allocation is always pretty contentious.
Yet, the overall question here is whether or not the current way of doing things is adequate, and more importantly fair.
Right now, if the recreational quota isn’t being utilized (and more times than not, it isn’t because this is primarily a release fishery), then the remainder can be, and most of the time is transferred to the commercial sector.
Generally, we don’t like this, as it gives the impression that if we release fish for conservation purposes (so we can catch them again), we fail to accomplish much, as the fish are merely given to, and killed by, the commercial side.
Furthermore, state transfers are problematic, given they are an administrative burden to the states who need fish.
In the end, yes, there’s a need for an amendment that looks at what a fair and equitable allocation is, so we can avoid having to deal with such transfers.
However, this could work out badly for the recreational sector if we are not diligent and follow this thing closely. In the end, if we don’t want to kill all of our allocation, and want to keep a few in the water, well, there should be some sort of provisions for that.
A Scoping Document will be released sometime in 2018, and that will be followed by scoping meetings where the recreational sector can and should bring up such concerns.
For summer flounder, the Commission and Council extended the provisions of Addendum XXVIII, allowing for the use of conservation equivalency to achieve the 2018 summer flounder Recreational Harvest Limit (RHL) .
Conservation equivalency allows individual states or multi-state regions to develop customized measures that, in combination, will achieve the coastwide RHL.
Further, it was specified that any modifications to state measures in 2018 should result in no more than a 17% liberalization in coastwide harvest relative to the projected 2017 harvest. Such a liberalization was based on an estimated 38% RHL underage in 2017.
We should note that such a decision was after a staff recommendation to not liberalize, given that the 2017 underage appeared to be anomalous, and that historically, every time such an underage is reported and we liberalize, it results in a significant overharvest, which leads to punitive restrictions the following year.
Further concerns were expressed about the 6 years of poor recruitment the summer flounder stock was/is experiencing, and that there was no indication that recruitment had improved in 2017.
Lastly, there was a discussion on the continuing development of a new Summer Flounder Amendment. The Commission and Council reviewed the latest revisions to the Draft Amendment, including the goals and objectives, and commercial alternatives. An updated draft document is scheduled to be released in 2018 for public comment.
As part of the discussion on black sea bass recreational specifications, the Commission approved Draft Addendum XXX to the Black Sea Bass Fishery Management Plan (FMP) for public comment.
The Draft Addendum considers alternative regional management approaches for the recreational fishery, including options for regional allocation.
For black seabass, the Council recommended the following recreational measures for federal waters from February 1-28, 2018: a 12.5” minimum size limit and a 15 fish possession limit. Specifications for the remainder of 2018 fishing season will be determined in February.
The Commission and Council also initiated the development of a black seabass addendum/framework to address several recreational management issues.
The addendum/framework will consider implementing a conservation equivalency management program for black sea bass similar to that used with summer flounder by allowing state or regional measures to be implemented in both state and federal waters; allow for a summer flounder, scup and black sea bass transit provision in federal waters around Block Island similar to the provision allowed for striped bass; and consider the possible implementation of slot limits in federal waters for summer flounder and black sea bass. This addendum/framework will be developed in 2018 with the goal of implementation prior to the 2019 recreational fishing seasons.
The Commission/Council also reviewed draft alternatives for an addendum/framework to consider the opening of the Wave 1 (winter) recreational fishery in 2019 through a Letter of Authorization. Work on these documents will continue in 2018.
For scup, Commission and Council maintained status quo recreational management measures in federal waters (i.e., 9-inch minimum size, 50 fish possession limit, and year-round open season).
For state waters, the Commission approved the continued use of the regional management approach.
Based on interest expressed by fishery managers and stakeholders, the Technical Committee will conduct an analysis on the potential impacts of lowering the size limit for northern region state waters on the 2018 coastwide harvest.
The Technical Committee will present this analysis at the Commission’s Winter Meeting in February.