ASMFC Nov. Meeting Summary & ACTION ALERT- Addendum 1: Commercial Quota Transfers



ASMFC Nov. Meeting Summary & Addendum 1: Commercial Quota Transfers

Taylor Vavra | Vice President

Let’s begin with a quick summary of the important takeaways from the November 80th Annual meeting of the Striped Bass Management Board.

We were pretty surprised when the stock assessment update was released ahead of the November ASMFC meeting and it indicated that the stock is overfished but that overfishing was not occurring. So the SSB (spawning stock biomass) is below both the target and threshold but F (fishing mortality) is also below both the target and threshold. To put it simply, according to the update, our large spawners are still in trouble but overall we are killing fewer fish. Based on that and other data being considered, the stock assessment update states that Striped Bass have a 78.65% chance of being above the target by 2029. Seemed like pretty good odds and initially we were very happy to hear this.

Then came the meeting on November 7th and the presentation of the stock assessment update. It soon became clear that things were not as positive as that 78.65% chance had first indicated.  The percent chance of getting SSB above the threshold and target hinges on F (fishing mortality), this is to be expected. It should be understood that F (fishing mortality) directly correlates with effort, the number of anglers targeting Striped Bass. The greater the effort, the more fishing mortality. While effort and F can be estimated or forecasted for future years, there really is no way to know exactly what that number will be. Looking at commercial landing/discard and recreational landing/release mortality charts you will see that almost no two years are the same.

As you can see in the series of graphs and chart below, only the slightest change in F greatly reduces the percent chance of bringing the SSB above the threshold and target. When I say a slight change, we are talking about F changing from 0.1363 to 0.2013, resulting in a dramatic change in the percentage chance of getting the SSB above the threshold and target. We quickly go from a 96.7% probability of getting the SSB above the threshold to 59.4%. The probability of getting the SSB above the target goes from roughly 78.6% to a scary 30.5%.

Mike Armstrong of MA said the following directly after the stock assessment update presentation, “The projections seem really sensitive to F, which you know, is a no brainer. But, we’re talking about operating in the hundredths place and a few point change there really changes the course of how we recover. I conclude with, its just this board should be very cautious, cause it doesn’t take a lot to change the course of the recovery. A very relatively minor rise in F will put us back in the recovery period.” We applaud Mr. Armstrong on his conservation minded approach and strong words for the board as things move forward. Unfortunately the reality of this situation is that it may be too little, too late.

Following Mr. Armstrong some more questions and comments were taken. Here is where we have a little bit of good news. Emerson Hasbrouck of New York, jumping off Mr. Armstrong’s previously quoted comments, asked to put some guardrails on F. “So, if the retrospective pattern is showing, or is telling us that we tend to over estimate SSB and underestimate F, we are getting close to being on the razor’s edge here.” He went on to ask if the board was going to get another update on F next year or if it would be the usual 2 years. Mr. Hasbrouck then asked for an interim update to see where things are so that if needed the board to make adjustments to the management plan to try and stay on track with the rebuilding. This was the most positive aspect of what was otherwise a very disappointing meeting.

So how did we get to this point and why didn’t the ASMFC take more aggressive preventative steps in recovering the stock? The ASMFC has a long track record of mismanagement, let’s not forget that it was their actions, or lack thereof, that put us in this position. The writing was on the wall for years prior to the board even acknowledging there was a problem with the stock. Then came the years-long delay in getting management plan in place. While we cannot fully explain why things are this way we can certainly say that we made our best attempt to pursue and support a simpler plan in the way of an equitable commercial and recreational harvest moratorium. This coupled with required angler education on best practices for catch and release would have given the stock the best chance at recovery.

While we will not deny that recreational catch and release plays a significant part in F we cannot be blind to the fact that the commercial sector is largely targeting and harvesting breeders (SSB) over 35″. So currently the ‘slot’ really only applies to the recreational sector while the commercial sector continues to decimate to the spawning stock biomass (SSB) which is already in trouble. On top of all that, we have had four straight years of very bad recruitment in the Chesapeake. Maybe I am wrong but at the moment it seems hard to find any positive news coming out of the ASMFC and we have not even gotten to the good part yet. (Read on below)

Based on this so-called 78.6% chance that the stock will be at or above the SSB target in 2029 no further reductions are needed at this time. While, as stated earlier, we would have liked to have seen a more aggressive and preventative approach to come out of Amendment 7, this seemed to be expected. Entering from stage left…conservation equivalency (CE). To our surprise and horror, this conclusion of no further reductions needed, meant way more than we ever could have imagined. A technicality or accurately a loophole in Amendment 7, means that states can continue to make use of CE in 2023. How could this be? There was over 98% agreement amongst the public and conservation organizations that CE has no place in the management of an overfished stock currently experiencing overfishing. Is it a surprise that the ASMFC has yet again failed to recognize the public’s outcry to take CE off the table? Unfortunately not. This has become standard practice for the ASMFC and the management board, it has come to be expected.

And unfortunately that is not the the end of the story. Aside from what we would call a massively misleading figure with regards to rebuilding probability and the loophole of CE emerging from the grave, the board is now considering Addendum 1 to Amendment 7, commercial quota transfers. In one of the most ill timed and astonishing moves the board is actually considering maximizing commercial harvest in the midst of the rebuilding of a stock that not long was considered both overfished and experiencing overfishing. This Addendum runs contrary to nearly everything conservation organizations and the public wants. How it even saw the light of day at a time like this remains unexplainable.

We are not going to get into extreme detail on this, quite frankly it doesn’t deserve it. Here is the simple truth; for years now the ocean commercial quota has not been fully met and usually rests somewhere around 65%. If Addendum 1 were to be approved states would do everything they could to grab unused quota and harvest more Striped Bass, most importantly and as we discussed earlier, breeder sized fish 35″ and bigger. This would do further damage to an already unstable SSB during a time of poor recruitment. The impact that this would have on the rebuilding plan is unclear but it would be safe to assume that this would work directly against it.

So, yet again, we ask that our supporters be part of the process and make your voices heard. Take a few moments to write your comments and send them off to the ASMFC. Let them know that there is no place for such an addendum while the Striped Bass stock is recovering and rebuilding. Below is the info you will need to do so. There is only one option to support, Option A (status quo): Commercial quota transfers are not permitted. Below you will also find a list of the remaining scheduled hearings. You do not have to be a resident of a given state to attend in person or online and give your comments. We do suggest that either way you email your comments, the more comments received by the ASMFC, the more likely this addendum never sees the light of day.

Thank you for your continued support!

Link to Addendum 1 to Amendment 7: DRAFT ADDENDUM I TO AMENDMENT 7


Subject Line: Striped Bass Addendum I

Support: Option A (status quo): Commercial quota transfers are not permitted.

Comments will be accepted until January 13, 2023 at 11:59 p.m. (EST).


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