Author Archives: Matt Mullin

Sound Fisheries Management is No Fluke

 

Summer Flounder

photo credit: Michael McDonough via photopin cc

Recently a US Senate subcommittee held a hearing entitled “Developments and Opportunities in US Fisheries Management,” with testimony by federal, regional and state officials that focused on the need for collaboration in fisheries management and decision-making based on sound science.  More than two and a half hours of testimony and questioning by Senators focused on the role of science and the Magnuson Stevens Act in effective management of our nation’s fisheries, especially summer flounder or “fluke.” 

New York and New Jersey have long been embroiled in an interstate conflict over what New York Senator Chuck Schumer has called “our decades long fight to bring fairness, flexibility, and accountability into the management of summer flounder.”  To that point, a reoccurring theme in the testimony was that effective fisheries management requires high quality data and regular stock assessments.  This notion was also echoed at a House Natural Resources Committee hearing a week earlier.

What is clear in the early hours of debating MSA’s reauthorization is that stakeholders across the board are focused on a common top priority – simply, good science is fundamental to good management.  This reality is at the core of the interstate summer flounder battle, with NY arguing that the use of outdated data has led to an unequal allocation of fish between states.

Fluke is an important species.  Managed jointly by the Atlantic States Marine Fisheries Commission and the Mid-Atlantic Fisheries Management Council, the 2012 stock assessment indicated that it is not overfished and that overfishing is not occurring.  Fishery managers have allocated 60% of the fluke harvest to the commercial fishery and 40% to the recreational fishery.  While the commercial quota is allocated between the states based on historical commercial landings (a common practice), the recreational harvest targets are assigned proportionally to the states based on estimated harvest data in 1998 using a data collection method called the Marine Recreational Fisheries Statistics Survey (MRFSS).  Herein lies the cause of conflict.  MRFSS is antiquated and is actively being replaced. It is considered largely unreliable by anglers up and down the East Coast and limited in efficacy by managers, and 1998 was 15 years ago.  I’m willing to bet the characteristics of the fleet and the fishery have also changed significantly over that time. Read More »

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Disaster Funds and Cod Problems: Setting the Record Straight about Fisheries in New England

Cod

Photo from NOAA

New England has received a lot of media attention recently about the fisheries disaster declared by President Barack Obama. The precipitous decline in groundfish in New England waters has created an imminent need to help fishermen and fishing communities that depend on stable healthy fish populations.

It is important to dispense with false rumors and to set the record straight.  There is an effort on the part of some to claim that catch shares are somehow responsible for the New England groundfish population declines. To claim this is to suggest that fishermen have exceeded their catch limits and are not following the rules. This is simply not true. In fact, sector fishermen have been working hard to stay under their catch limits, and in some cases remain well below these limits.

In reality, the disaster declaration was based on the fact that there are changes happening in the ecosystem that are impeding the rebuilding of fish populations.  We are forced to confront the frightening reality that fishing is changing in part because our oceans are changing.  We are dealing with a resource problem, not a management problem. Read More »

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Maryland Crab Pilot Aims to Modernize Reporting

Maryland Blue Crab

Photo by: John Starmer/Marine Photobank

When summer time rolls around on the Chesapeake Bay, watermen, tourists and locals alike start thinking about one thing: Blue Crabs. Will there be enough? How much will they cost? How long will the season last?

Past years have seen seasons cut short based on regulations that conservatively lower scientifically determined catch limits as a precautionary management measure, because real-time harvest data is limited.  The process for counting how many crabs have been caught – and by whom – has been problematic, relying on a paper-based system that is time-consuming and too slow to allow meaningful adjustments to catch limits midseason. This year, both watermen and state officials agreed that a new system, using modern and faster technologies, was needed. Read More »

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