Daily Fishing and Outdoor Report


Monday, January 09, 2012:


Bass are still in the ocean and even along the beachline. I had a decent number of reports indicating those angler willing to put in the time are getting their first January NJ stripers.


I’m hoping to get some January clams down Holgate way, reopened today.




News wires:


[Washington Post] by Juliet Eilperin - January 9, 2012  

In an effort to sustain commercial and recreational fishing for the next several decades, this year the United States will become the first country to impose catch limits for every species it manages, from Alaskan pollock to Caribbean queen conch.


Although the policy has attracted scant attention outside the insular community of those who fish in America and the officials who regulate them, it marks a monumental shift in a pursuit that has defined the country since its founding. And unlike most recent environmental policy debates, which have divided neatly along party lines, it is one that was forged under President George W. Bush and finalized with President Obama’s backing. 

“It’s something that’s arguably first in the world,” said Eric Schwaab, the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration’s assistant administrator for fisheries. “It’s a huge accomplishment for the country.”


Five years ago, Bush signed a reauthorization of the Magnuson-Stevens Act, which dates to the mid-1970s and governs all fishing in U.S. waters. A bipartisan coalition of lawmakers joined environmental groups, some fishing interests and scientists to insert language in the law requiring each fishery to have annual catch limits in place by the end of 2011 that would end overfishing.


Although NOAA didn’t meet the law’s Dec. 31 deadline — it has finalized 40 of the 46 fishery management plans that cover all federally managed stocks — officials said they are confident they will have annual catch limits in place by the time the 2012 fishing year begins for all species. (The timing varies depending on the fish, with some seasons starting May 1 or later.) Some fish, such as mahi-mahi and the prize game fish wahoo in the southeast Atlantic, will have catch limits for the first time.

Until recently the nation’s regional management councils, which write the rules for the 528 fish stocks under the federal government’s jurisdiction, had regularly flouted scientific advice and authorized more fishing than could could be sustained over time.


Joshua Reichert, managing director of the Pew Environment Group, said the law’s ban on overfishing forced fisheries managers to impose limits that some in the commercial and recreational fishing community had resisted for years.


“This simple but enormously powerful provision had eluded lawmakers for years and is probably the most important conservation statute ever enacted into America’s fisheries law,” Reichert said.


And unlike many environmental regulations, which are written and enforced by Washington officials, the fishing limits were established by regional councils representing a mix of local interests.


“Because the final decisions were left on the local level, you have a higher assurance of success,” said James L. Connaughton, who helped craft the reauthorization bill while chairing the White House Council on Environmental Quality. “If it had been imposed in Washington, we’d still be stuck in 10 years of litigation.”


But the changes have not come without a fight, and an array of critics is still seeking to undo them. Some commercial and recreational operators, along with their congressional allies, argue that regulators lack the scientific data to justify the restrictions they’re imposing. And they suggest the ambitious goals the law prescribes, including a mandate to rebuild any depleted fish stock within a decade, are arbitrary and rigid.


Rep. Frank Pallone Jr. (D-N.J.), who has sponsored legislation along with Rep. Walter B. Jones (R-N.C.) to relax some of the new requirements, said his constituents are increasingly concerned that their fishing will be curtailed without sufficient justification.


“As more of these limits go into effect, they get more upset,” Pallone said in an interview. “I don’t think it’s fair to put in place a system that’s not scientific and rationally-based.”


Counting all the fish in the sea is an imperfect science to begin with, and even federal officials acknowledge that they lack the data they’d like for most species. Because of budget limitations, NOAA conducts stock assessments of commercial species only every few years, using independent trawl surveys, official landing data, ecological data and interviews with operators, among other things.


Its data on recreational fishing is even spottier. NOAA has created an expanded dockside survey and will use new methodology to analyze its results, but officials say they only this year are implementing it widely. After an annual catch limit is set for a recreational fishery, managers can adopt several measures, such as limiting the season or the size of fish that can be hauled in, to ensure anglers don’t exceed the overall threshold. 


Steven D. Gaines, dean of the Bren School of Environmental Science and Management at the University of California at Santa Barbara, said researchers are now developing more effective tools to estimate fish populations, by looking at the size of the fish and how fish are faring inside compared with outside marine reserves. “It’s really transforming the opportunity for us to assess where the fisheries are at the moment and take corrective action early on to correct overfishing,” he said.


Even when NOAA receives fresh data, moreover, the agency often comes under fire for finding a population is doing much better or worse than expected. 


Just this year, for example, NOAA determined the amount of cod in the Gulf of Maine had declined roughly two-thirds since 2008. Local fishing interests and area lawmakers, including Sen. John F. Kerry (D-Mass.), have blasted the assessment and warned NOAA against setting cod catch limits too low this year. The current cod catch limit is 12,000 metric tons; since the recent assessment says that only 11,400 metric tons are left, Kerry wrote that this “could require a fishing limit as low as 1,000 metric tons of cod.”


“Are the laws sustaining stocks and also the fishery, or are we just looking at what is biologically reasonable and then decimating small businesses at the same time?” asked Northeast Seafood Coalition Executive Director Jackie Odell, whose group represents groundfish vessels operating along the Atlantic seaboard from Maine to New York. 


Anglers have also questioned why they need to restrict their take once a stock appears on the rebound. Summer flounder, or fluke, a popular recreational fishing target in the mid-Atlantic, had been so overfished that its 1989 population was 88 percent below healthy levels. After a series of efforts to regulate the catch, an assessment in October showed the species had been rebuilt, with an estimated 137 million pounds of mature summer flounder in the region.


But because the assessment showed the fish has not rebounded as much as scientists expected, managers are not raising the catch limit as high as they initially planned. This has angered James A. Donofrio, executive director of the Recreational Fishing Alliance.


“We’re only asking for access to stocks that are in good shape anyway,” he said, adding that federal officials have too strict a definition of the the term “overfishing.”


“When we don’t see the fish and we can’t catch them, then we know there’s overfishing,” he said.


Environmentalists and many researchers disagree. Brad Sewell, a senior attorney at the advocacy group Natural Resources Defense Council, said regulators need to take a precautionary approach because all fishing targets aim to achieve the “maximum sustainable yield” without pushing a species to collapse. “You’re fishing right on the edge,” he said.

European Union member states are debating whether to adopt a law mandating the same sort of catch limits embraced by the United States.


Stricter limits have helped several species in the Washington region rebound, including mid-Atlantic bluefish, and this fall regional managers took the unprecedented step of cutting the take of menhaden, a forage fish, for the sake of other species that consume it.


Mark Spalding, president of the Ocean Foundation, said that although people on both sides of the debate need to acknowledge that the United States is facing the same transformational moment in fishing it did a half-century ago in forestry. Until the mid-1960s, the government allowed loggers unfettered access to public lands, he said.


“We had to have this wrenching, put-the-brakes-on-and-turn-the-truck-around” process, he said, adding that when it comes to setting universal catch limits, “this is a monumental achievement.”





[Gloucester Times] by Richard Gaines - January 9, 2012 

A former mayor of New Bedford, John Bullard, and George LaPointe, who recently ended a lengthy run as director of marine resources in Maine, are the finalists for appointment to the Gloucester-based hot seat as next regional administrator for NOAA's National Marine Fisheries Service, sources told the Times on Friday.

The position became vacant last month with the retirement of Patricia Kurkul, who had been regional administrator since 1999. Kurkul had announced in July that she was leaving by the end of 2011.

Lapointe was the state of Maine's representative on the New England Fishery Management Council for 11 years through 2009 while he was heading Maine marine resources.

Bullard, who served as mayor of New Bedford from 1986 to 1992, is president of the Sea Education Association.

The selection process was opened for advice from stakeholders for the first time, a byproduct of the tumultuous times that accompanied the transformation of the New England groundfishery into a catch share management system and the uncovering in 2009 by a federal inspector general of a fisheries law enforcement system that victimized many fishermen and treated them often as criminals.
Sources at the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration said they expected an appointment to the administrator's post by March or April. Until Kurkul's successor is named, Dan Morris, the assistant regional administrator, is serving as acting administrator.
The short-term future for NOAA's Northeast region — which runs from Maine to the Carolinas and is regulated out of the agency's regional headquarters in Blackburn Industrial Park — is laden with crises, not the least of which is a pending final release of a Gulf of Maine cod assessment that is expected to show a precipitous decline in the size of the spawning cod.
If the finding is confirmed under the precepts of the Magnuson-Stevens Act's reauthorization in 2006, it would require an extreme reduction in the catch allocation for New England's fishermen.
The assessment and the start of the debate over possible options is expected during the late January meeting of the New England Regional Management Council.
The cod crisis overlaps and complicates a larger systemic failing of the commercial fishing industry, according to a filing with federal Secretary of Commerce John Bryson by Gov. Deval Patrick, who has asked for a declaration that emergency disaster has befallen the industry — and for economic relief and perhaps higher catch limits.
The unexpectedly dire cod assessment, however, contradicts findings just three years ago that showed New England's primary groundfish stock to be relatively well rebuilt. The study has drawn skepticism from fishermen who report finding no signs of any decline in numbers of cod they're finding.
The concern about the administration's fisheries policies has been bipartisan, but in Massachusetts, the leaders of the campaign for the fishing industry have been among President Obama's most important allies in Congress — notably Sen. John Kerry and Congressman Barney Frank — along with the Democratic Gov. Patrick, a friend of the president.
Meanwhile, NOAA administrator Jane Lubchenco announced a series of moves of top-level administrators into interim positions that, together, were said to marshal resources for the study of the cod crisis and the best approach through it.

The shifting began with boosting Eric Schwaab, Lubchenco's choice to head the National Marine Fisheries Service, one step up the row to be acting Undersecretary of Commerce for conservation and management.

"This allows (Schwaab) to be the point person on most pressing issues, notably Gulf of Maine cod," said a NOAA source who asked not to be identified.

As part of the shift, Sam Rauch moves up from his deputy administrator's role to fill in at Schwaab's old position, while Alan Risenhoover, the head of sustainable fisheries, temporarily moves up behind Rauch into his former seat. 



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