ASMFC 2021 WINTER MEETING SUMMARY & ACTION

ATLANTIC STRIPED BASS MANAGEMENT BOARD MEETING SUMMARY

The ASMFC’s winter meeting took place last week and the Atlantic Striped Bass Management Board convened and there are some important takeaways for those of us interested in the health of the fishery. Below you will find a summary of the results of the meeting and, based on these developments, some suggestions for how we can keep fighting to influence better policy.

At the bottom of this summary you will find links to the meeting documents as well as the YouTube link to view the meeting recording. If you missed the meeting we encourage you to take a look.

Recreational Release Mortality Still a Matter of Debate

The meeting opened with a presentation of stock assessments based on alternative recreational release mortality data. In short, when best-case and worst-case scenario data were used to calculate the effect on Striped Bass, the results were just about the same as they are believed to be today—which is not good. But the presentation revealed several important deficiencies: fisheries managers regard a fish released properly the same as one subject to the abuse common to those caught and released from a party boat (angler behavior), high-temperature/low-oxygen conditions and size/age of the fish. It’s unclear how usable or valuable this data is without taking those criteria into consideration. There’s nothing much we can do about it except collectively practice good catch-and-release techniques.

Stock Assessment Delayed

The technical committee voted to delay updating the Striped Bass stock assessment that had been scheduled for this year. Because of the new regulations and effects of the pandemic, the assessment was delayed until 2022 with the hope that the data will be better. There is also a “two stock” model for evaluating both ocean and Chesapeake Bay stock health that may be used in the 2022 assessment if it passes peer review.

Circle Hook Exemption Debated

There was a lengthy debate over a proposal by Massachusetts and Maine to exempt “tube and worm” rigs from the circle hook mandate for bait fishing. The two states want two years to study whether tube and worm rigs, which are popular with the for-hire fishery, result in deep-hooking of fish. Most agreed that, because tube & worm rigs are fished actively—trolled or retrieved—the danger of deep hooking was minimal, but some expressed concerns that the exemption would be used as a loophole.

This debate took almost 2 1/2 hours and led to almost 100 public attendees leaving the meeting, likely out of pure frustration. Much like conservation equivalency, as soon as 1 or 2 states asked for the exemption the rest followed suit. No doubt this was a massive waste of time for both the board and the public. This study could have been conducted in 1 state as the results could be applied to the entire fishery, there is no need to make this into a coastwide ‘study’.

Ultimately the exemption passed and now we are faced with the possibility of loophole, compliance and enforcement issues. Not to mention making already complex regulations more confusing to the public. We will continue to follow this issue and update when necessary.

Public Input Encouraged for Upcoming Management Changes

The most consequential item discussed during the meeting concerned adoption of a “public information document” (PID) to be issued in advance of work on Amendment 7 to the Striped Bass management plan. A PID is issued to help inform the public prior to the solicitation of input for the drafting of a new management plan. That PID has since been issued (link below), and soon the ASMFC will schedule public hearings and ask for suggestions that will help shape the future of striped bass fisheries management along the Atlantic coast.

Stripers Forever is reviewing the PID and will make recommendations for how we can be an important part of that discussion and make sure the recreational fishing community is heard on this matter. It will be vital that we speak in one clear voice when the time comes. We welcome your input and ideas during this time, please email us at stripers@stripersforever.org.

It was clear during the meeting that there are still those intent on putting pressure on the Commission to increase the commercial harvest, arguing that the stocks are fine and recent cuts are due to miscalculations. John Clark, fishery manager from Delaware, claimed that there were so many striped bass in Delaware Bay they were emaciated because of a lack of forage. Because people like John are relentless in their efforts, we all must be as well.

Speak Loudly and Be Heard

We know that conservation-minded, recreational anglers constitute an overwhelming majority of the striped bass fishing public. We know we can be a powerful voice for protecting these valuable fish for the future. We will do what we can to have our collective voice of conservation heard and heeded.

Stay tuned. We will keep you all informed through email, social media, and our website. Thanks for your participation in the conservation of Striped Bass…Make it a Game Fish!


LINKS


 

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IMMEDIATE ACTION REQUEST- MADMF COMMERCIAL SEASON EXTENSION

On August 10 the Massachusetts Division of Marine Fisheries (DMF) issued an advisory of a proposed in-season adjustment to the commercial striped bass fishing regulations for 2020 that would open up a third day to commercial fishing. It offered justification that because of COVID-19 and the likelihood that Mass would, for the third year in a row, fail to catch its striped bass quota, the move would provide some financial relief to commercial fishermen.

The advisory included a 14-day period for public comment, but DMF reneged on that promise and decided after only 10 days to adopt the proposal, increasing fishing pressure on breeder-sized female striped bass.

You spoke out in numbers during that abbreviated window and we know many of you planned to send your notes in opposition during the last weekend. You were not only ignored, but you were denied your voice on this important issue.

We think you deserve to be heard. That is why we sent the following letter to Gov. Baker, Lt. Gov. Polito, Sec. Theoharides, and Dir. McKiernan asking for an explanation, an accounting, and a reversal on the decision.

We’ve sent a copy of the letter (below) to local and angling media and now we are asking for you to also let the Commonwealth know that you are not happy with this decision, and that you are not happy with the process leading up to it.

Please send a copy of the letter and a brief, personal note to Governor Baker and Director McKiernan letting them know how you feel. Be polite. Keep it clean. But make it clear you believe the decision to increase commercial fishing pressure on breeding-size female striped bass was a mistake.

The policy is scheduled to go into effect September 1, so PLEASE ACT NOW to make sure they get the message.

Thank you!

EMAILS SHOULD BE SENT TO THE FOLLOWING ADDRESSES:


Dear Governor Baker:

On August 10, 2020, the Massachusetts Division of Marine Fisheries issued an advisory entitled, DMF Proposing In-Season Adjustments to the 2020 Commercial Fishing Limits for Certain Quota Managed Species. Among the proposals was opening additional days to the commercial striped bass season. Justification for the proposal was “with consideration of market impacts resulting from the COVID-19 pandemic” and to “provide active commercial fishermen with additional access to these quota managed fisheries during the fall.”

The advisory stated that “DMF will be accepting public comment on these proposals through 12PM on Monday, August 24, 2020.”

On Friday, August 21, DMF issued a follow-up advisory entitled, DMF to Make In-Season Adjustments to 2020 Commercial Striped Bass, Black Sea Bass and Summer Flounder Limits. That advisory stated that “the Marine Fisheries Advisory Commission (MFAC) approved several recommendations made by the Division of Marine Fisheries (DMF) to make in-season adjustments to 2020 commercial fishing limits for striped bass, black sea bass, and summer flounder. This action was taken four days before the end of public comment with no indication as to whether the public was for or against the proposals and in what numbers.

Furthermore, the justification for adding a third open day for commercial striped bass fishing was that, “This action also accommodates commercial fishermen who seek to conduct their fishing activity over consecutive days to take advantage of night fishing opportunities that may otherwise be limited by having non-consecutive open fishing days.”

In 2019 the Atlantic States Marine Fisheries Commission (AMFC) found that the Atlantic striped bass population was in trouble. Stocks have been in decline for some time, as has spawning success. The ASMFC declared that striped bass were “overfished, and overfishing is occurring.” The Massachusetts delegation to the ASMFC annual meeting was among the more vocal groups advocating for the most aggressive harvest reductions as public support for strong conservation measures was overwhelming. As a result, regulations were changed coastwide to reduce both recreational and commercial harvest.

An indication of the dire situation was the fact that Massachusetts had failed to meet its quota in either 2018 or 2019. There were simply not enough fish available to the commercial fleet. Despite a reduction in the commercial quota, it appears that Massachusetts will fall short again in 2020.

Stripers Forever would like to know why DMF rushed to make their decision while the period of public comment was still open and how, when public support for harvest reductions and conservation was overwhelming less than a year ago, their decision seems to indicate that support has vanished. Our members made it clear to us that they were opposed to the proposal, and we even heard from individuals who have traditionally opposed our efforts to end all commercial fishing for striped bass that the proposal was illogical and that they, too, would speak out in opposition.

If DMF believes striped bass are “overfished, and overfishing is occurring,” increasing fishing pressure on the already beleaguered population at this time makes no sense. The 35″ minimum size limit for commercially harvested striped bass all but ensures every striped bass caught for market in Massachusetts is a breeder-sized female—the very fish on which the future of the species depends.

Incidentally, the justification to allow fishermen targeting striped bass on overnight trips to land and sell their fish the morning after their catch makes no sense. A commercial fisherman who wants to fish at night and sell their catch in the morning could strike out, begin fishing at midnight, and return to dock in the morning after filling their limit. There is no advantage to fishing earlier since there is a daily limit on fish; one day’s catch is all that could be sold.

If it is economics the Commonwealth is concerned about, it is worth noting that studies have shown the recreational value of a robust striped bass fishery to be over one billion dollars to Massachusetts’ coastal communities, whereas the commercial fishery generates only a few million dollars in economic activity.

Stripers Forever and our 2,000+ Massachusetts members would like to know why DMF denied the public four days of its stated public comment period and would like to know what percentage of comments received by August 20 were in support of or opposed to the in-season changes to the commercial striped bass regulations.

We believe the decision was wrong. We believe the process was not proper. And we are disappointed that the decision undermines our potential leadership position on striped bass management. Stripers Forever urges Director McKiernan to provide these answers, to provide an accounting of public comment, and to reverse this decision in the best interest of the fishery.

Regards,

Dean L. Clark, MA State Co-Chair, Stripers Forever

Frederic B. Jennings Jr., Ph.D., MA State Co-Chair, Stripers Forever


 

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ACTION REQUEST- MADMF COMMERCIAL SEASON EXTENSION

ACTION REQUEST

Oppose Plans to Increase Commercial Fishing Pressure on Striped Bass

On August 10, and with the commercial striped bass quota at almost 25%, the Massachusetts Division of Marine Fisheries (DMF) proposed adding open fishing days to the commercial striped bass fishing season. By opening more days to commercial harvest of striped bass, DMF says it will provide more opportunities for participants in the fishery to fill the annual quota of 735,240 pounds. It is likely that the state will fall short of meeting its quota for a third consecutive year.

Stripers Forever adamantly opposes this proposal, believing that increased commercial fishing pressure on striped bass is a mistake. In October of 2019, in response to years of diminishing numbers, the Atlantic States Marine Fisheries Commission (ASMFC), declared that the population of wild Atlantic striped bass was “overfished, and overfishing is occurring.” Commercial and recreational regulations were changed to reduce fishing pressure and begin the process of rebuilding a healthy, sustainable striped bass fishery.

Massachusetts’ failure to catch its full commercial quota is an indication of the declining quality of the fishery. In past years the entire quota of over a million pounds of striped bass was caught within a few weeks. Furthermore, the minimum commercial size limit of 35” means nearly all striped bass harvested in Massachusetts are mature, breeding female fish—the very fish needed to propagate the species back to abundance.

Stripers Forever encourages its members to express their opposition to the proposal. Whether you are a resident of Massachusetts or you travel from out of state to fish for striped bass, let them know how you feel. Our numbers have influenced public policy with regard to striped bass in the past (keeping the Block Island EEZ closed and adoption of the most conservative options for ASMFC regulation changes in 2019). Let’s let them hear from us again.

ACT NOW! Submit your comments to the MADMF:

The DMF is accepting public comment on these proposals through 12PM on Monday, August 24, 2020.

ADDRESS ALL COMMENTS TO: Director Dan McKiernan

EMAIL: marine.fish@mass.gov

POST MAIL: 251 Causeway Street, Suite 400, Boston, MA 02114

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ASMFC Summer Meeting Update

Good News for Forage Species

There was good news for forage species from the Atlantic States Marine Fisheries Commission (ASMFC) Summer Meeting. In a change of posture, the ASMFC adopted Environmental Reference Points (ERPs) for the management of menhaden. This change reflects the vital role “the most important fish in the sea” plays in maintaining a healthy coastal ecosystem.

An abundant menhaden population is necessary to support an abundant and healthy population of fish, birds, and marine mammals. They are also play a vital role in keeping coastal waters, including vital estuaries like the Chesapeake Bay, clean and oxygenated. Adoption of ERPs signals ASMFC’s recognition that ocean fisheries are not simply isolated resources to be exploited for commercial gain, but an intricately connected network of species that coexist in a delicate balance.

Stripers Forever thanks everyone who spoke up in favor of ERPs and helped to send an important message to the ASMFC, especially our friends at Menhaden Defenders who have tirelessly fought to protect these important fish. Your voice matters.

Update on Striped Bass Conservation Equivalency

In other news from the ASMFC summer meeting, proposals to amend the rules associated with the controversial “conservation equivalency” provision of striped bass management were postponed. Citing the lack of reliable data due to COVID-19, the striped bass technical committee decided to take no action. Status quo will remain in effect for now.

This is not good news, but it is not bad news. In the past, conservation equivalency has been used as a loophole to allow for convoluted formulas that, on paper, allow states to adopt alternative means of remaining compliant with striped bass management rules, but that have resulted in harvest increases well beyond target limits. We will continue to follow this issue when it returns later this year.

Thank you for your continued support of striped bass and of our efforts to see striped bass recognized as a game fish along the Atlantic seaboard.

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CONTACT INFO

Stripers Forever | 209 Winn Road Falmouth, ME 04105
stripers@stripersforever.org

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