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What Can We to Fish For and Tough Times for the For-Hire Fishing Boats!

By John Toth

   The fluke season closed on September 5th. The sea bass season opens October 22nd to December 31st.  Only 1 (one) Blackfish can be kept now until November 14th. On November 15th, this limit jumps to 6 blackfish at 15 inches minimum.  What are we going to fish for from September 6th through October 21st!

To see this information another way to better bring this point home:

Fluke - September 5th - Fluke season closed - (usually it closes later and last year it was 9/25).

Sea Bass - October-22nd to December 31st (15 fish at 12 1/2 inches)

Blackfish - 1 fish until November 15th. November 16th to December - 6 fish bag limit

Winter Flounder - 2 fish until December 31st

Striped Bass - No closed season, but striped bass season starts to kick in sometime late September, and usually picks up to full speed in mid-October. Lately, this fish has become fickle by staying in one area lasting for a week or two, and then moving off to other areas that are out of reach for some party/charter boats. It is like a very limited window of opportunity for many for-hire boats trying to land striped bass to stay in business.  

   At the time of my writing this article, the bluefish are not around and one party boat that normally targets bluefish is going for sea bass and advertises that "you can keep all the sea bass you want" - but does not tell you that can keep only two of them! They are also going for fluke which they usually don't and, hopefully, also catch some mackerel.  Basically, they are doing everything they can do to stay alive in business and have jobs for their mates!  

   Fishing management focuses on one species at a time when they should be focusing on all of the species that are connected together, basically a holistic approach,  so that we do not have these huge type of voids in our fishing seasons.  They think that protecting one species is good, but then fail to recognize that anglers who want to fish will pound other available species in season so that they have something to fish for like ling and porgies. If the bluefish were around, they could be that targeted fish, but many anglers really don't like to fish for them because they are too strong for dinner fare. 

   Boat captains have bills to pay like insurance, dock and maintenance fees.  How can they pay these bills if they are sitting at the dock?  What are the mates to do during these down times in September and October?  How can they subsist while not working?  The mates in many cases have to move on to some type of work making it more difficult for boat captains to maintain dependable and good mates. All of these factors, unfortunately, are causing more and more boats and related businesses like tackle shops to go out of business.  Captain Bob Bogan of the Gambler that sails from Point Pleasant, NJ,  recently wrote an article that first appeared on line pointing out that from 1996 to 2006, fifty (50) once viable party/charter boats operating from Bayonne to Cape May have gone out of business due to terrible regulations/management decisions. (This article is also in the Fall edition of the New Jersey Outdoor Alliance's newsletter). The Bogan family has been in the fishing business for many years and they know the ups and downs of this industry.  At the end of 2017, I fear (and I certainly hope that I am wrong) that we will be losing more fishing - related businesses. 

   This issue and others were brought up at an April 3rd meeting with John Bullard, Administrator, U.S. Department of Commerce, that I attended along with other members in the fishing community. I have received information that this issue and others will be discussed at future meetings with fishing managers to seek resolution of them.  But, talk is just talk and our fishing industry is dying a slow death because of mismanagement by our fishing managers, especially at the federal level.  What is needed is action/resolution now to resolve these issues facing our recreational industry.  Hopefully, during 2018 we may see some light at the end of the tunnel and see some changes that will turn things around for people connected to this important fishing industry.

 

Report on Meeting With John Bullard 

By John Toth 

(John Bullard, Administrator, U.S. Department of Commerce, holds an important position in the decision-making process concerning fishing management issues.  He has, on many occasions, taken positions that went against the best interests of recreational anglers. On April 3rd, he hosted a meeting at the Manasquan Reservoir Visitor's Center with representatives from the recreational community to hear our concerns over a number of issues. This meeting was not recorded.  When this meeting broke up, I had the distinct feeling that while good comments were being made, nothing would come from them. I did not want to see this happen, so I wrote the following letter to him (that went out on JCAA letterhead) requesting him to comment on some of the major issues raised at this meeting). 

John Bullard, NE Regional Administrator                            April 6, 2017

U.S. Department of Commerce, NOAA

Greater Atlantic Regional Fisheries office

National Marine Fisheries Service

55 Great Republic Dr.

Gloucester, MA 01930

 

Mr. Bullard,

I want to thank you and your staff for meeting with representatives from fishing organizations and related industries on April 3rd at the Manasquan Reservoir Visitor's Center as part of NOAA's Round Table Discussion to listen to the concerns of anglers. A number of major issues were raised at this meeting and I would like to have your comments on just a few of them.

 

1.    We have been experiencing cutbacks on our fishing quotas for just about every fishery with the resulting loss of related fishing industries such as tackle shops, charter/party boats and even the loss of anglers buying new boats since they have diminished fishing opportunities. The 19-inch fluke New Jersey's anglers are currently contesting comes to mind.  When we protest these continual cutbacks, the reply we always receive is that these quota reductions are based "ON the Best Science Available."  At this meeting, it was pointed out to you your own statistics show that black sea bass stocks have increased 230 %, yet we have not received  a commensurate increase in the quota.  An increased quota would allow us to target sea bass for a longer season thereby reducing pressure on other species such as fluke.  It seems to us that this is a "Tails you lose and heads you lose" no matter how the coin is tossed!  If your own statistics tell you that the quota for sea bass can be easily raised, then why has this not been done?  I understand that the Atlantic States Marine Fisheries  Commission is going to consider raising this quota in the near future. As one person indicated at this meeting, NOAA has a "Loud Voice" when it comes to fishing managers making these types of decisions. We all would appreciate your using NOAA's voice to significantly increase the black sea bass quota for our fishing industry.  

2.    The data used to justify cutbacks in our fisheries is seriously flawed and this was pointed out to you.  As an example, the data showed that New Jersey's anglers caught a lot of fish after Hurricane Sandy, even though a large number of our boats were destroyed and many marinas closed.  Other examples like this abound such as days with high winds that keep boats in the marinas, yet high catches of fish are recorded. This bad data goes into the models used for quota development and bad data in the models produces bad data out.  This is a continuing and  major problem that needs serious attention by your staff.

3.    Also pointed out at this meeting, it is the continuing loss of marinas, decline in boat registrations, etc., that shows our fishing industry is in a downward spiral over the years. NOAA has to take a serious look at this decline in fishing - related businesses and examine its role in contributing to this decline by its management that continually pursues decisions that damage the recreational and commercial fishing industries.  What can NOAA do to reverse this downward trend? As also mentioned at this meeting, we are looking to be a Partner with you and we are looking for a Roadmap from you to follow so that we can both work together on resolving these outstanding issues.

 

 

 

John Toth

President, Jersey Coast Anglers Association (JCAA)

President, New Jersey Outdoor Alliance (NJOA)

President, Salt Water Anglers of Bergen County (SWABC)

 

CC: Mr. Wilbur Ross

U.S. Commerce Secretary

 

Regulations

 2017 Regulations for Fluke: 5 fish, 18 inches & a 125 day season (dates still undetermined)  These regulations are the same as our 2016 season with the season dates to be worked out.  However, these regulations MAY be changed as the season progresses.  See "Update on New Fluke Regulations by John Toth" below.  (Regulations for other species -sea bass, stripers, blues etc. still need to be determined since their seasons have not yet started).

New Jersey Files Formal Appeal For Fluke Quota Reductions

By John Toth

  There has been so much news about the 19-inch fluke situation that recreational anglers are facing for their 2017 fishing season.  While there has been little news about it lately, things have been happening behind the scenes!

   On March 28th, New Jersey's representatives to the Atlantic States Marine Fisheries Commission (ASMFC) have filed an appeal requesting this commission to reconsider its vote to significantly reduce NJ's recreational-fishing quota for summer flounder for this year.  This reduction in our fluke quota is the reason for our 19-inch fluke problem.

  NJ's DEP Commissioner, Bob Martin, announced that "We are appealing the ASMFC decision because of the numerous process, data, policy, and regulatory issues that will significantly impact New Jersey's having to throw more dead fish back into the water than they can keep to eat, and the fish that they can keep overwhelmingly will be productive females. This is not sound fishery management." Commissioner Martin not only testified before the ASMC that our summer flounder quota should not be reduced, but he also recently sent a letter to U.S. Commerce Secretary, Wilbur Ross, requesting that the 2016's fluke quotas remain in effect (5 fish, 18 inches, 125 days) until a new bench mark assessment of fluke is taken to better understand the status of fluke stocks. (This new Commerce Secretary in the Trump administration is pro-business and he is expected to not look favorably on the damage a 19-inch fluke would have on NJ's fishing business. He has the authority to stop the 19-inch fluke from being implemented).

  We all know about the economic damage that the 19-inch fluke would have on NJ's fishing businesses. The ASMFC is really not that concerned about this issue!  It's main focus is on the status of fluke stocks and the best argument to stop this 19-inch fish is that we would be reducing the stocks of this fish with ASMFC's new regulations since 19-inch fluke are almost all females. So why try to save this fish by killing more of them! It does not make sense and I also made testimony to this effect to an ASMFC meeting in Galloway Twp., NJ in January of this year and in Baltimore when ASMFC first introduced the new fluke regulations in December of last year.

   So now the ball is in the ASMFC court and it is not expected to make a decision on NJ's appeal until sometime in May. What if the ASMFC denies NJ's appeal?  If it does, NJ will be officially ruled out of compliance and ultimately the decision to decide if NJ will have a 19-inch fish or the 2016 fluke regulations will be made by U.S. Commerce Secretary Wilbur Ross. He may prove to be our best ace up our sleeve!


Fishing Management Issues – Good News & Bad News
By John Toth


    First the Good News - I attended a December 12th Mid-Atlantic Fishery Management Council (MAMFC) meeting in Baltimore Maryland that had on its agenda the removal of commercial traps on the 13 artificial reefs off New Jersey's coast in federal waters. After a close vote, the MAMFC voted to have these traps removed from these reefs, making them effectively Special Management Zones (SMZ's). These 13 reefs can be used by ALL anglers who only use hook and line.
    The removal of these traps over 15 reefs (two also in state waters) that have snagged recreational gear for many years has been spearheaded by the News Jersey Outdoor Alliance (NJOA) along with the Jersey Coast Anglers Association (JCAA), our club, HRFA members, and other clubs and associations connected with the NJOA and JCAA. The removal of these commercial traps has been almost a 10 year undertaking and it was finally accomplished through our letter writing to legislators, sending them post cards (even as late from our club's November 2016 meeting), attending council meetings, signing thousands of petitions and even picketing the office of a Cape May legislator who was politically undermining our efforts for trap removal, especially in NJ's Assembly. We accomplished this through patience and steadfastness to see this problem resolved so that recreational anglers will not get their gear, anchors and even propellers hung up in these traps again!
    Second Good News - A Mr. Rick Van Hemmen withdrew his request to make the Sandy Hook/Navesink rivers a Marine Protected Area (SMZ) due to our state's DEP's efforts to detect and repair leaky sewer lines in nearby municipalities that have been the primary source of pollutants in this watershed. He initially announced his intention to make this area a SMZ at the public library in Red Bank in 2016 that drew about 200 + angry anglers. Police had to be called in to keep order. As a SMZ, fishing would be much curtailed in this very productive fishing area.
    Now the BAD NEWS - It appears that we are looking at possible minimum size for fluke in 2017 at 19 INCHES, with a 2 - 3 fish bag limit and a season of 99 days! Discussions for the new 2017 fluke regulations were held by the MAMFC and the Atlantic State Marine Fisheries Commission (ASMFC) in Maryland on December 14th. I also attended this Baltimore meeting and listened to these two councils recommend why such drastic action is needed. Essentially, these managers have set a target of having 62, 394 metric tons in the stock biomass (SSB) but it has never been achieved! If this number was adjusted lower, we would most likely not be forced into the draconian restrictions that are being proposed.
    At this November 14th meeting, I testified that many party/charter boats, and tackle shops will go out business with this 19 inch fish. Many anglers find it hard to catch a, 18 inch fluke and 19 inches makes it that much harder. Anglers want to take home fish and captains want that to happen so clients return. If not, these captains and related industries go out of business. Sad to say, I think my testimony just fell on deaf ears, even though I kept my comments brief and to the point.
    What's next? There was a January 5th meeting that was held in Galloway Twp's. Public library to take public comments on these proposed fluke regulations for 2017. Many of us attended it to complain about it. I can assure you that the NJOA, JCAA and other recreational anglers will be trying to change these terrible numbers. I will keep you advised of our progress.
 

Garden State Seafood Association Workshop Report - By John Toth

   On December 11th, the Garden State Seafood Association hosted a Fisheries Workshop and members of the recreational community were invited to attend it.  It was an all-day meeting and I represented the New Jersey Outdoor Alliance., There were about 50 people in attendance and they were from the NJ DEP, Rutgers, National Marine Fisheries (NMFS) and other organizations that have deep ties to the fishing industry, both commercial and recreational. There were so many issues discussed and I cannot begin to put all of it in this column. So, I will cover just a few major points that may be of interest to you.

   The first speaker was Rick Robins, Chairman of the Mid-Atlantic Fishery Council (MAMFC).  He went quickly through the process of the factors that go into the development of our quotas. When he was done, the floor was open to questions.

   I said that while I do not want to be disrespectful, I said that "We do not have any confidence in the numbers MAMFC comes out with".  I said that  "NOBODY believes your numbers !"  They are so bad that I refuse to even try to explain them to my Bergen County fishing club.  While I did not have specific numbers on hand at this meeting,, I said that how did we catch more fluke during the time period of Sandy when boats were destroyed and missing.  How are we catching more fluke when boat registrations are down so bad that our legislature just recently reduced the taxes on boat sales to spur more people to buy boats!  And how did you come up with a 45% reduction for our fluke quota in 2016 and that we are so supposed to be so happy that you are spreading this pain over several years?  Are your numbers so wrong that instead of a   more reasonable 5 % or 10% reduction in our quota you come out with a whacky 45% reduction!  The livelihood of businesses are on the line while we are trying to play by the rules of your quotas.  Jeff Reichle, President of Lund's Fisheries said that he agreed with me and also said "we do not need more data, but the right data ".  I don't think Mr. Robins expected these comments, but  I could not sit still and let this pass without saying anything!  Mr. Robins responded with something like "we will try harder'.

   Pat Sullivan,  Associate Professor from Cornell University working with the Save Our Summer Flounder staff (SSFFF),  and  Eleanor Bochenek from Rutgers  and representing Science Center for Marine Fisheries (SCeMFIS.org), reported on their efforts to develop a model that can give a much better picture of the stocks of summer flounder.  This model will include sex of both male and females, length of fish and discard information.  All of this information is to give us a better picture of fluke stocks that we don't currently have that can be useful in making a case against the reductions we are currently facing.  Dr. Sullivan reported his new model  is not expected to be in place for 2016, but hopefully in the near future.

   John Manderson from NMFS and Josh Kohut from Rutgers talked about the difficulty in getting the right data to develop a good picture of fishery stocks and the time it takes to decipher what they see and what fishing managers  use to develop our fishing regulations.  They also pointed out that climate change is altering their information with fish on the move from their traditional grounds and moving northward.

   Attending this Workshop was a Dr. Kevin Chu, Assistant Regional Administrator for Constituent Engagement, and he said that he has heard this lack of confidence statement a number of times and asked how this situation can be improved.  While the obvious answer is to "get the right data", I said that I have attended many management meetings and the groups running them like the MAMFC and others ask for public comment, but in most cases never look at the person making the comments and don't even make the Thank You comment at the end of the comments.  This lack of engagement gives the person making comments that his comments are worthless, decisions have already been made and the managers running these meetings know everything and we know nothing.  Mr. Chu thanked me for this information and said he would pass it to John Bullard, Director of NMFS.  Hopefully, we will at least see some changes in how meetings are conducted.

 

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Fishing Mismanagement

By John Toth

   The Eble family has been operating their Doris Mae IV fishing boat from Barnegat Light for nearly 70 years, but they recently called it quits and sold their beloved boat to another captain.  "I wanted to stay in the business for another five to ten years, but the National Marine Fishery Service's rules and regulations are killing us.  They're putting us out of business" said Captain Charlie Eble. "We're shut down on sea bass. What am I going to fish for from now until Spring" added Captain Eble.

   The sea bass season was closed on January 1, 2015, but the bills for captains like Charlie Eble continue;  insurance, docking fees and the maintenance of their boats so that they are ready for the beginning of the fishing season. With a spotty bluefish season last year and the closure of the sea bass at the beginning of the year, that was the last nail in the coffin for the Doris Mae. 

   What is really incredible about this picture is that while the party and charter boat industry is being hurt by the continued closures of the black sea bass seasons over several years, this fishery is in excellent shape!  Overfishing for sea bass is not occurring and they are not overfished said Brandon Muffley, Administrator of NJ's Bureau of Marine Fisheries at a January 29th meeting of the New Jersey Outdoor Alliance meeting.  The real problem is that federal regulators do not have a reliable method to know how much sea bass are being caught, especially during the winter harvest. Federal regulators are tasked to use the best available science to manage fisheries by the Magnuson-Stevens Act. Since these regulators do not really know the status of the sea bass stocks, they take a cautionary approach and cut back on the quota for sea bass to prevent possible overfishing.  This year, the quota for sea bass has been cut by 33%.  This is the bleak picture the for-hire industry and saltwater anglers face for 2015.

   At the time of this writing, there are proposals to cut the bag size down to 2 fish from July 1st to July 31st and a minimum size of 12 1/2 inches.  The sea bass season would be closed during August and September.  You can barely feed  a family with two sea bass, so it becomes an incidental catch during the fluke season.  Also, who can remember all those dates when the sea bass seasons opens and closes!  At a NJ Marine Fisheries Council meeting I attended on March 19th with other members of the fishing community to discuss the sea bass options for 2015, there was a strong feeling that we should not take this mismanagement anymore and that we should vote to be out of compliance since these new regulations do not make sense and they are putting captains (just recently the Tiderunner out of Bahr's Landing) and tackle shops out of business.  In the end, the advisors did not agree to be out of compliance since the sea bass season would close very early because of it and hurt the charter/party boats going for sea bass during the Fall season.    

   While I focus a lot on sea bass, mismanagement extends to other fisheries including fluke and spiny dogfish.  There is much more that I can add to this column on the mismanagement issues, but I am providing just a snapshot of it.

  Fluke - the increasing minimum size of fluke (17 1/2 inches in 2014 to 18 inches for 2015) results in more discarded fish and resulting deaths, especially of spawning size-females.  An 18 inch fluke and over  is a lot more difficult fish to catch, especially for anglers who are just beginning to fish or for tourists during the summer season.  When anglers cannot catch fish to take home for dinner, they are not that receptive to go fluke fishing again and the party/charter boat industry suffers as a result.  I have personally witnessed many times the disappointment of anglers who go home without any fish. Also I have seen many times disappointment  of captains who see the same thing and the continual throwbacks of undersized fluke that are in the range of fish that could be taken.  At the end of the day, when an angler spends $65 or more to fish plus gas, tolls, lunch, rigs and other expenses and goes home with nothing, is that angler very motivated to go fishing again?  During the last summer season, I saw a number of empty spaces on party boats when these boats should be full of anglers.

   Another problem is that under a new regionalization program introduced last year, Delaware has a 16 inch size limit for fluke and a bag limit of 8 fluke, while New Jersey has an 18 inch size limit and a 5 bag limit that will cause many NJ anglers to fish in Delaware.  Our representatives to a recent meeting of the Atlantic States Marine Fisheries (ASMFC) tried to get a lower size limit for southern NJ anglers (16 or 17 inches) so that the party/charter boat industry can be more competitive with Delaware, but the ASMFC did not agree with their motion.  So, the party/charter boat industry in the southern part of our state is looking at tough times for their business as it slips away to Delaware.      

  Spiny Dogfish - the stocks of these fish were thought to be in trouble in the 1990's and fishing for them was severely restricted.  The stock of these fish have exploded and now these fish are seen by anglers in areas where they have never been  before.  Just ask any angler who fishes for blackfish or sea bass!  Spiny Dogfish are voracious eaters and gobble up fluke, blackfish, sea bass - the stocks of fish that we want to improve!  Why save spiny dogfish that is not in trouble, and let the population of it explode so that it damages other fish stocks that are the mainstay of the recreational fishery like fluke and sea bass?

  Poor Data -  is at the root of fishing mismanagement and, when fishing models are based on faulty data, the result is inaccurate quotas that have a very negative effect on our entire fishing industry.  Until this improves with more funding or methods to improve data collection, we will see more sad cases like the Doris Maes going out of business.  I have not met one angler that has complete confidence in the data that is used to determine the upcoming quotas for each fishery.  I usually hear "Do you believe this crazy data"!

  Tone Deafness - of fishing managers to what fishing captains and recreational anglers have to say about fishing restrictions that are about to be placed on them is another problem.  I have been to a number of meetings and have seen first-hand how speakers offering their opinions on proposed regulations are not recognized by at least a "thank you" or even totally ignored.  The socio-economic impacts of new fishing regulations should be taken into account with proposed regulations but they are totally ignored.

  Look at the Whole Picture - fishing managers look at managing one species at a time instead of seeing how all the fishing stocks interact together!  Let one stock explode, like spiny dogfish and then try to save fluke stocks by cutting back on the quotas for recreational anglers.  We have been seeing closures of sea bass leaving anglers not much too fish for until another species comes around like striped bass. What if the stripers do not show up as we expect them to? We have these gaps in our fishing seasons that we did not have in the past.  Al Ristori, writer for the Star Ledger and other fishing publications, has been saying for years that fishing managers need to look at the Big Picture to manage our fishing species since they interact together in the ocean and not independently of each other!     

   Will this fishing picture get better?  I have briefly touched on a few issues in this column and there are certainly more that can fill a book.  Changes to our fishing prospects will not happen tomorrow, but hopefully they will in the very near future. 

The Salt Water Anglers of Bergen County holds it's regular meeting on the third Tuesday of every month.

   The regular meetings of our club are always held on the third Tuesday of the month starting at 8:00 p.m. located at the American Legion Post # 170 located on 33 West Passaic Street in Rochelle Park, NJ 07662 and the public is always invited to these meetings. (The only exception is the club’s Past President’s Dinner held in March at the Mountainside Inn in Clifton).  Educational meetings (knot tying etc.) when held, start at 7:30 p.m. before the start of the 8:00 p.m. regular meeting.  Speakers are scheduled at our meetings to talk about a wide range of subjects such as “How To” catch various species such as fluke, environmental issues like menhaden and legislative concerns such as the Pots Off the Reef issue.  Refreshments are served at the conclusion of the meetings.

   For more information on these meetings or the club in general, please contact John Toth at (732) 656-0139 or Chuck Santoro at (201) 446-9047

American Legion Post # 170

33 West Passaic Street, Rochelle Park, N.J.07662

 

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