ASMFC 2023 Spring Meeting Action Alert

ACTION ALERT


ASMFC 2023 Spring Meeting


Taylor Vavra | Vice President

Technical Committee Meeting Summary

Gonna keep this simple and get right to the point. On March 30, 2023 the ASMFC striped bass technical committee met, it was clear from the start that this was going to be a tough one. A review of NOAA preliminary 2022 MRIP data has revealed that harvest sky rocketed in 2022, total harvest in pounds went from 15.8M in 2021 to 35.3M. (see NOAA chart below) Harvest more than doubled and that will have a grave effect on the probability of rebuilding the stock, reducing it by 83-86%. We are now looking at a 14.6% probability of rebuilding, even less if Addendum 1 (commercial quota transfers) is approved. Many of us suspected would happen, the 2015 year class (eighth largest on record), entered into the slot and provided some areas on the coast with some incredible fishing last season. A double edged sword of sorts, great fishing translated into a LOT more fish being harvested.

‘We have to give something to get something.’

Yet again we have been delivered some really bad news and find ourselves at a cross roads with the striped bass stock. The current management plan has failed and now it’s a matter of when, not if the board moves to initiate Addendum 2. The requirements of Amendment 7 clearly state that the stock must be rebuilt within a 10 year period and with a 50% probability of success. If the board does not take immediate action at the May 2nd meeting there is a very strong likelihood we will not rebuild (reach target biomass) by 2029. One reason for delayed action could be a motion to postpone until the next stock assessment. Another would be to wait for final MRIP numbers, that seems less likely as a correction would be minimal and we are dealing with a very large shift from 2021 to 2022. The technical committee clearly stated that they are very concerned about any delay in addressing this. Yet again it will be up to the board to fulfill their responsibilities and act now.

I prefer not to use the phrase “I told you so” but at this point that’s kinda how we are feeling. Time after time we go in circles, tweaking and adjusting a management plan that shows little sign of working. This type of management is not sustainable, it is not good for the stock, it is not good for the people who depend on fishery to feed their families and it is not good for the anglers who want to see an abundant population of striped bass so they can enjoy it and see their kids do the same. Many years ago we funded a study by the Southwick Associates to compare the relative economic values of commercial and recreational striped bass fishing, but it also takes the important step of determining what the socio-economic landscape would be like if commercial fishing for wild striped bass were to cease and the fishery managed purely for recreational/personal-use fishing. To cut to the chase, a striped bass is worth way more in the water than it is on a plate. Our goal is to create an abundant striped bass fishery that serves the greatest economic good, protecting the jobs and industries that need a quality fishery to operate and flourish.

We have to give something to get something. This translates to having a long term vision for the fishery and giving back for a period of time in order to reach our collective goal. During the process that led up to Amendment 7 to the management plan for striped bass, we strongly suggested that an equitable (commercial and recreational) harvest moratorium be put in place for a period of time. To this date, it is the only clean and clear cut approach that has in fact rebuilt the stock back to abundance. Remember those phenomenal years of fishing in the late 90’s and early 2000’s? We also suggested seasonal harvest closures, particularly in and around spawning areas. Coming off four straight years of very poor spawning success in the Chesapeake, the Hudson River has become one of the most important spawning areas on the coast. Those fish both pre and post spawn stage in the NY bight, a vast majority in Raritan and Jamaica bays. These areas need protection in the early spring when fish are moving in and out to spawn. The upper Hudson river, where the majority of spawning takes place, needs to be protected with both a no target and no harvest closure in the spring while spawning is taking place. The concern over enforcement is irrelevant. Put the measures in place, many will comply, some may not and get caught, some may get away with it. At the end of the day and at this point in time, anything will help in getting us back on track.

ACTION ALERT – ‘Be part of the process’

We submitted a letter (see below for letter, link to view the PDF is at the bottom of this page) to the board and it has been included in the supplemental materials for the May 2nd meeting (link also below). In our letter we are calling on the board to fulfill their responsibilities and act now. We are asking them to take Addendum 1 (commercial quota transfers) off the table and instead initiate Addendum 2 to address the MRIP harvest data and increase the rebuilding probability to ensure that it happens by 2029.

Now we are asking you to step up, be part of the process, make your voice heard and email the ASMFC Atlantic Striped Bass Management Board members with your thoughts. Let them know that the current management process is failing and that they should do everything in their power to act swiftly and act now. Let’s flood their inboxes in the days before the meeting, the more that speak up the better. This is a really important time for the future of striped bass, we cannot take the foot off the gas. And if a new addendum is initiated, we will be following it closely and yet again asking for your participation to create the best outcome possible.

Below you will find the email addresses for all currently listed commissioners, administrators, governors appointees, legislators and proxies. Please copy and paste that list into your email and send ASAP. It is best that you use your own words but please feel free to use our letter for guidance.

Megan.Ware@Maine.gov, FVHATTIEROSE@aol.com, Allison.hepler@legislature.maine.gov, Cameron.reny@maine.legislature.gov, Cheri.Patterson@wildlife.nh.gov, renee.zobel@wildlife.nh.gov, groutnhfish@gmail.com, r-dwhite@comcast.net, dhw@cisunix.unh.edu, swamper199@gmail.com, Dan.mckiernan@state.ma.us, ray@capecodfishermen.org, Sarah.Peake@mahouse.gov, sarah.ferrara@mahouse.gov, jason.mcnamee@dem.ri.gov, lizzy.2@charter.net, sen-sosnowski@rilin.state.ri.us, Ericreidri@gmail.com, justin.davis@ct.gov, matthew.gates@ct.gov, hyattwilliam01@gmail.com, robert.lafrance@quinnipiac.edu, Basil.Seggos@dec.ny.gov, ech12@cornell.edu, joseph.cimino@dep.nj.gov, Heather.corbett@dep.nj.gov, tfote@jcaa.org, Peter.clarke@dep.nj.gov, sengopal@njleg.org, captadamnj@gmail.com, tischaeffe@pa.gov, kkuhn@pa.gov, senseofwonder@pa.net, john.clark@state.de.us, fishmaster70@comcast.net, william.carson@state.de.us, crabman31@aol.com, lynn.fegley@maryland.gov, michael.luisi@maryland.gov, MARYJDIZE@GMAIL.COM, robert.t.brown@shopcove.net, mbrassil@house.state.md.us, davidsikorski@ccamd.org, jamie.green@mrc.Virginia.gov, pat.geer@mrc.virginia.gov, bplumlee@pbp-attorneys.com, District01@senate.virginia.gov, kathy.rawls@ncdenr.gov, Chris.Batsavage@ncdenr.gov, jmannen@yfmlaw.com, sengopal@njleg.org, thomascd@roadrunner.com, bellm@dnr.sc.gov, rhodesmm@musc.edu, RonnieCromer@scsenate.gov, Doug.Haymans@dnr.ga.gov, Trey.Rhodes@house.ga.gov, jessica.mccawley@myfwc.com, GJENNINGS@ASAFISHING.ORG, Thad.Altman@myfloridahouse.gov

In the additional links section below you will find links to our letter to the board, meeting materials and a link to May 2nd webinar meeting. We will follow with another reminder on the meeting itself, as always we encourage you to attend.

Thank you for your continued support!


ADDITIONAL LINKS


Tuesday May 2, 2023 Spring Meeting Live Streaming (8:30AM – 12PM EST)

 

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Addressing Common Misconceptions About Stripers Forever

Photo- Taylor Vavra

 


Addressing Common Misconceptions About Stripers Forever


Mike Spinney | National Board Member

 

After more than twenty years involved in striped bass conservation (including before Stripers Forever was founded), I’ve learned to laugh at the ways our opponents attempt to discredit our efforts to effect a radical change in the way striped bass are managed. What choice do I have? During that time I have personally endured insults, threats, and lies about my character. I recall once while testifying at a public hearing on legislation Stripers Forever had worked to introduce before the Massachusetts legislature, one man made the ridiculous claim that if we were to succeed, he would be unable to have children.

Laughing at the absurdity doesn’t mean such mischaracterizations aren’t frustrating. Especially when they seem intentional; as a means of attacking the legitimacy of our organization and the credibility of the policies we believe hold the key to long-term recovery and abundance of wild striped bass. No policy or approach that Stripers Forever advocates is without successful precedent. Our critics know this, but they refuse to say so publicly.

Make it a Game Fish

Stripers Forever was founded in 2004 and from the start our motto has been “Make it a Game Fish.” This approach is commonly derided as a resource grab by a small group of “elitist” anglers who want all the fish for themselves, or as an attack on commercial fishing and the fishermen who target them. It is also implied that we believe game fish to be a magic bullet and that all fisheries managers need to do is to deny the commercial fleet access to striped bass and all will be fine.

Truth is, designating striped bass as a game fish is merely a tool to give fisheries managers the means to make better decisions without having to address the conflicting goals of trying to balance abundance and “maximum sustainable yield” or MSY. Once a species is protected as a game fish, regulations such as size and bag limits can be quickly adopted to ensure a single goal is achieved. To deny that this is the case is to deny history.

Redfish are one of the most popular game fish along the U.S. Gulf Coast. Well regarded as table fare, they were also targeted as a commercial resource. Much like striped bass, most redfish were harvested by recreational anglers, but the conflict of managing for both abundance and MSY saw redfish in steep decline until efforts by recreational fishing groups saw redfish declared a game fish, starting with Texas in 1981 and eventually coastwide. Since then, and with a singular management focus, redfish have flourished, growing to wide abundance and generating a robust recreational economy. In fact, in dollar value, redfish are the country’s top saltwater sport species generating more than $4.8 billion in economic activity per year.

Recognizing the overwhelming value of an abundant economic fishery, species like tarpon, bonefish, and snook are also protected and managed exclusively as game fish. If striped bass were afforded game fish status and the population were to return to post-moratorium abundance, it is estimated they would be the focus of a recreational angling economy worth more than $6 billion.

When We Say Moratorium

During the initial public comment period in the lead-up to the Atlantic States Marine Fisheries Commission’s (ASMFC) draft and adoption of Amendment 7 to the Interstate Fishery Management Plan for Atlantic Striped Bass, stripers forever generated a lot of attention when we called for a ten-year harvest moratorium for striped bass. Throngs of anglers, frustrated with decades of ASMFC failure, rallied to the cause while our critics howled with outrage—and distortions.

They claimed we wanted the fishery shut down completely for ten years, but that is not what a harvest moratorium means—and they know it. A harvest moratorium would allow angling for striped bass to continue on a catch-and-release basis, which already constitutes the majority of recreational angling for stripers. But recreational anglers account for most fishing mortality, they claim, so nothing will change. Fish will still die!

What will change is that 100% of the coastal commercial quota—nearly two million pounds of breeding sized female fish—will remain in the water, alive, and able to return to the Chesapeake Bay and Hudson and Delaware Rivers to spawn. This is a vital component to any recovery plan. You need big, mature females to reproduce and keep new generations of fish in the pipeline. Looking at the results of the Chesapeake Bay young-of-year surveys since 2012, six were de facto failures (including the worst year on record), two were below average, and three were just above average. That does not bode well for the future.

(It’s worth noting that the strong 2011 year class disappeared and that the ASMFC admitted it failed to act fast enough to protect the 2015 year class. Given concerns over warming oceans and inconsistent water quality in the vital Chesapeake nursery areas, there are too many variables to risk focusing a commercial fishery on fecund female fish.)

And as with our position on game fish, the idea of a harvest moratorium is not without a successful precedent. Even though the moratorium that was imposed in 1985 after striped bass stocks collapsed was not coastwide, it was enough to relieve pressure on striped bass—especially in Chesapeake Bay. As a result, striped bass rebounded and produced strong spawns in 1989, 1993, and 1996. The ASMFC declared striped bass “recovered” in 1995 and resumed active monitoring of the species. Ironically, striped bass have been in steady decline ever since.

We Remain Steadfast

Today, Stripers Forever remains steadfast in our belief that the best path to recovery for striped bass begins with game fish designation, at which point common sense management protocols designed to encourage species abundance can be implemented. These policies are already supported by an overwhelming majority of the 300,000 strong recreational angling community who recognize that effective fisheries management often requires sacrifice. How can you characterize as selfish so many who have, for years, demanded more restrictions on themselves even as the commercial fishing lobby keep asking for permission to kill more fish?

Rest assured, Stripers Forever will continue to fight for the recovery of striped bass. We will continue to be a voice for those anglers who want to see a healthy, abundant striped bass population that they, their children, and their children’s children can enjoy for generations to come.

Thank you for your continued support!

 

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ASMFC Winter Meeting Summary – Addendum 1: Commercial Quota Transfers


ASMFC Winter Meeting Summary – Addendum 1: Commercial Quota Transfers


Taylor Vavra | Vice President

 

We asked you to step up and be part of the process on Addendum 1, you did in a big way. After sending in written comments and eight public hearings, over 98% of comments supported Option A (Status Quo) – Transfers not permitted. Unfortunately on Tuesday January 31st the ASMFC Striped Bass management board choose to completely ignore our collective voice. This was not the first time and unfortunately it likely won’t be the last. Ultimately the board elected to postpone action on Addendum 1 until May. They have tasked the technical committee (TC) with further analysis and projections on how commercial transfers might affect the stock and rebuilding plan. To say that we were disappointed with this result would be a major understatement.

The meeting started out with a summary of Addendum 1, the options available to the board and eventually the results of the public comment period. It remains unfathomable, but that would be the last mention of those results for the remainder of the meeting. Not one board member recognized the overwhelming support for Option A and the desires of the public to prioritize the rebuilding of the stock over maximizing commercial harvest. It is an embarrassment to the ASMFC that Addendum 1 is even being discussed as the stock is currently over overfished and supposedly in the process of rebuilding. Aside from Option A, this addendum does nothing but jeopardize the large breeders that make up the spawning stock biomass (SSB). Whether or not the TC estimates support that, the board should be playing it safe and remain solely focused on protecting the SSB and rebuilding the stock.

It was no surprise that John Clark, Delaware’s fishery manager, started off by making the motion that the board approve Option D. His general argument being that it was the most conservative option available. He knew that this would be the best shot at getting Delaware the increase in commercial quota which they have long desired. This was not how we had hoped the discussion would begin. It remains unclear how many votes this motion would have received because soon after Dr. Jason McNamee, Rhode Island’s fishery manager, provided a substitute motion. Seconded by Dr. Justin Davis, Connecticut’s fishery manager.

We are not against having as much information as possible to make an important decision but in this case it might have been a good idea to have done this prior to asking for public input. When the data becomes available in May, it was made clear that the board can act on it without public input. It feels as though it was a colossal waste of time holding the hearings and gathering written comment when it was completely ignored and we will not be given a second chance to weigh in on this. In addition to that, it has also become clear that this works in the favor of those who would like to see commercial quota transfers approved. Most likely the TC will find that this increase will be minimal in comparison to the 2022 recreational landings data (MRIP) which will also be available at that time.

But the expectation is that 2022 recreational landings combined with catch and release mortality will be greater than 2021. Those numbers could have a big impact on the rebuilding plan and possibly indicate that the stock will not rebuild by the 2029 deadline. If so, it could in fact force the board to initiate a new management action to get back on track and meet the deadline for rebuilding. Whether or not that comes in the way of a moratorium of other reductions in F (fishing mortality) remains unknown. The bottom line is, the future of the stock continues to exist in a cloud of uncertainty under the management of the ASMFC.

The motion to postpone passed with a 15-1-0-0 vote. I feel like a broken record in saying, they’ve done it again, kicking the pro-verbal can down the road. The board asked for public input and we gave it to them in form of overwhelming support for Option A (status quo) – no commercial quota transfers. It was their responsibility to take action, one way or another, they choose to leave this issue unresolved. Two parties pay the price for that, the angling public and Striped Bass. This was an unfortunate turn of events and we are saddened by having to report back with the news. Rest assured, we will stay on top of this and be there when MRIP data the the TC projections are made public. Stay tuned!

Thank you for your continued support!


ADDITIONAL LINKS


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

ACTION ALERT

PUBLIC COMMENTS DUE BY JANUARY 13, 2023


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

Email: comments@asmfc.org

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).



ADDITIONAL LINKS


Category: Featured, News Updates · Tags:

CONTACT INFO

Stripers Forever
57 Boston Rd
Newbury, MA 01951
stripers@stripersforever.org

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