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Daily Fishing and Outdoor Report

A proposed new amendment to fishery management plans by the Mid-Atlantic Fishery Management Council (MAFMC) would use the "fatally flawed" MRFSS system to enact automatic September 1 closures of the black sea bass, scup and summer flounder fisheries. Known in management circles as the Omnibus Amendment, the proposal would modify all fishery management plans to enact provisions of the last Magnuson Stevens Act reauthorization regarding Acceptable Biological Catch (ABC), Annual Catch Limits (ACL) and Accountability Measures (AM).

A public hearing on the issue will be held at the Richard Stockton College of NJ's Lakeside Center at 7 pm on Tuesday, May 18.

"This is potentially non-survivable by industry," said Capt. Adam Nowalsky, chairman of the Recreational Fishing Alliance's New Jersey chapter (RFA-NJ). "You cannot run a business knowing you will potentially lose a major holiday weekend and prime fishing seasons subject to MRFSS."

The newly reauthorized Magnuson Stevens Act (MSA) in 2007 had mandated that certain key components of MRFSS be fixed by January 1, 2009, which would've been up to 2 years before the ABC, ACL and AM provisions contemplated in the Omnibus Amendment were to be utilized. According to the RFA however, the National Marine Fisheries Service (NMFS) has failed to reach their congressionally mandated requirements. "MSA gave the Secretary of Commerce a strict deadline of January 1, 2009 to complete a national registry program to improve MRFSS, but that hasn't happened," said RFA's Executive Director Jim Donofrio, while adding "it's the same federal fisheries law also called on the Secretary to submit a report to Congress describing how progress has been made in achieving these goals and objectives, but that's not been accomplished either."

"With Environmental Defense at the helm there at NOAA, the only MSA mandates that NMFS actually follows under this Administration are the ones which close down our seasons and deny Americans access to healthy fisheries," Donofrio added. "They're certainly not responding to the Congressional mandates for better science, that's become pretty apparent."

Capt. Nowalsky attended the most recent MAFMC meeting in North Carolina last month on behalf of the RFA and the RFA-NJ chapter, and specifically requested the New Jersey hearing. Hearings were initially scheduled only in Virginia and out on Long Island.

In addition to the proactive in-season Accountability Measures, reactive measures are also described that will call for recreational anglers repaying any overages of Annual Catch Limits indicated by MRFSS by way of reduced quotas in up to the 3 subsequent years. "If MRFSS reports high enough landings, you could see your quota theoretically go to zero, even for healthy fisheries," commented RFA-NJ Board member and United Boatmen President Capt. Tony Bogan. "The black sea bass closure last year was just the tip of the ice berg if we do not address provisions of this amendment," Bogan added.

The Omnibus Amendment also proposes institutionalizing excessive precaution in management of the Mid-Atlantic fisheries through a four-tiered grading system that would be assigned to each stock assessement by the SSC, with #1 being the best and #4 being the worst. "In a region such as the Mid-Atlantic where overfishing has been ended for all species under its jurisdiction, most annual catch limit recommendations presented to the council members will carry an artificial stigma associated with a poor assessment grade," explained RFA's head of Fisheries Policy and Science, John Depersenaire. "With the council make-up leaning less towards active fishing participants, this Omnibus Amendment could provide the justification to severely reduced quotas even in completely rebuilt stocks, and based solely on precaution."

Ironically, RFA claims that NOAA ultimately controls the ability to free up funds necessary to move stock assessment from the lower levels up to the #1 and #2 levels. As evidenced by their annual budget for fiscal year 2011, NOAA Fisheries is cutting millions of dollars from corporative research programs and reallocating those funds towards the implementation of catch shares," Depersenaire said, while adding "stock assessment improvements are clearly not a NOAA priority."

The MAFMC has been one of the most successful regional fishery management councils in addressing overfishing; none of the species they manage are presently experiencing overfishing. Nevertheless, the last reauthorization of MSA in 2006 called for new regulatory measures to be put into effect irregardless of past successes to end and prevent all overfishing from occurring. These new measures, applicable to both recreational and commercial fisheries, include the concepts of frameworks, control rules, and risk policies. Each new layer adds another corrective factor to address uncertainty in reducing fishing levels from the Maximum Sustainable Yield to Annual Catch Limits, Annual Catch Targets, Landings Levels, and, ultimately, Recreational Harvest Limits.

More information about the proposed new amendment and directions and contact info for Tuesday's public hearing can be found on the MAFMC website at
www.mafmc.org/fmp/omnibus.htm. All recreational and commercial angling interests are encouraged to attend.

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