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 This reality is at the core of the interstate summer flounder battle, with NY arguing that the use of outdated data has led to an unequal allocation of fish between states.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
To paraphrase F. Scott Fitzgerald, the test of a first rate intelligence is the ability to entertain two opposed ideas at the same time and still function.
Two views on the importance of catch data for estimating the abundance of fish populations are portrayed as opposing ideas in recent articles, but both of the “antagonists” display first rate intelligence by coming to the same conclusion: catch data send an important signal about the status of a fish population, but other kinds of information must be applied to avoid being confounded by all the other things that affect catch and come to a reasonably accurate estimate of fish abundance.
This argument over methodology may seem arcane, but the stakes are high: estimates of the status of global fisheries based on catch data, which are available for most fisheries, suggest they are in pretty poor shape, because catches have declined sharply in many of them. But when one looks at stocks that have been assessed by scientists who take into account fishery-independent measures of abundance, the situation looks far less dire, because decreases in catch can result not only from decreased abundance, but also from changes in markets, environmental conditions, regulations, and even in what fish are called – Hilborn and Branch point out that in the 50’s, all sharks were put into only 7 categories, but now there are 36 groups for which catch data are collected, so that reduced catch in some of the earlier categories may merely be the result of re-classification.
So catch data provide a satellite-eye view of the whole world that is out of focus, while stock assessments provide really sharp images of your town. Which is the more accurate depiction of reality? Neither, of course. These two perspectives must be intelligently synthesized to find reality. Read More
EDF staff recently had the privilege to participate in a university-fishing industry research expedition conducted by graduate students from the University of West Florida, on Captain Gary Jarvis’ boat, the Back Down 2, in Destin, Florida.
Underwater surveys explored reef fish populations and their habitat. They were originally scheduled throughout summer, but have been sped-up to serve as baseline samples in case the oil spill spreads as far as Alabama and Florida. These may be particularly important given this weekend's news that large plumes of oil have been found at deep depths offshore.
The researchers have several objectives including exploring fish population structure and habitat and examining fish tissue and stomach contents. Their methods include use of a Remotely Operated Vehicle to view the underwater environment to identify, measure and count fish. The researchers were also studying how varyingly skilled anglers catch fish on different sizes of circle hooks.
Cooperative research has many benefits
Cooperative research trips like this one are good for science and fishing businesses. UWF researchers chartered boats out of ports in Alabama and Pensacola in the week prior, and have scheduled several additional trips with Captain Jarvis and others. The research rapidly provides much needed data on the health of fish stocks, and provides an opportunity to help charter businesses struggling with lost business from the oil spill.
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