New fishing data has sobering effect
On Monday, January 6 the Marine Fisheries Division of the Rhode Island Department of Environmental Management (DEM) held a workshop to discuss items that will appear on the Feb. 10 public hearing agenda including recreational tautog, bluefish, scup, black sea bass and summer flounder (fluke) regulations for 2020. The regulations with all public comments go before the RI Marine Fisheries Council on March 2 for their recommendation and then on to Janet Coit, DEM director, for her final relegation decisions for the 2020 fishing year.
The good news is that this year recreational regulations for scup, black sea bass and summer flounder will be similar to last year for all coastal states.
However, regulations will likely not be the same for the 2021 fishing season. NOAA Fisheries is expected to clamp down on harvest limits due to improved data collection methods through the Marine Recreational Information Program (MRIP) that has given fish mangers a better idea of how many fish anglers are harvesting.
Enhanced data collection obtained through the use of mail surveys sent to the homes of licensed/registered fishermen along with an enhanced volume of intercept surveys shows that recreational anglers have harvested a lot more fish than originally estimated. With some species anglers harvested two to three times the amount of fish managers originally thought they harvested. The enhanced catch also indicates to scientists that there were and are likely more fish in the water than they originally thought (which is a good thing).
In summary the new MRIP data indicates anglers caught more fish than originally thought, that the fish in the water are more abundant that originally thought, and in many cases the enhanced abundance has and will enhance commercial harvest limits with recreational harvest limits remaining the same or reduced because they have already taken their share.
A hypothetical example may help to explain. With 100 fish allowed to be caught the recreational share or allocation is 40 percent (40 fish) and the commercial fishing allocation is 60 percent (60 fish). However, with enhanced MRIP angler data collection methods fish managers now estimate that recreational anglers have caught 80 fish, add the commercial allocation of 60 percent to this (120 fish) and we come up with a total of 200 fish that can be extracted, not 100. So, the recreational harvest limit stays the same as they have been catching it right along (80 fish). And, the commercial allocation catch limit of 60 percent increases from 60 fish to 120 fish, a 100 percent increase. As noted this is a hypothetical example.
Based on the new MRIP data commercial summer flounder (fluke) allocable catch limits increased by about 68 percent in 2019, and this year in 2020 the commercial black sea bass allocable catch limit will likely increase by about 50 percent. Some recreational anglers are concerned about increasing commercial allowable catch limits based on recreational fishing estimates. Anecdotally, they say based on the 2019 fishing season performance there simply are not that many more fish in the water and we may jeopardize the health of these fish stocks with these dramatic increases in allocations.
Rich Hittinger, 1st vice president of the RI Saltwater Anglers Association said, “We can’t afford to repeat the loss of winter flounder and squeteague in our bays, the loss of pollack and mackerel at Block Island or the loss of cod near Cape Cod. I want my grandchildren to be able to catch fish and enjoy the ocean like I have, but this looks like the biggest catastrophe for recreational saltwater fishing that I have witnessed in the 20 plus years.”
At the January 6 public workshop meeting some angles felt that we simply do not have the fish to dramatically increase summer flounder catch by sixty-eight percent. When asked about the size of the biomass in the water Jamie McNamee, Chief of Marine Resources Management for DEM, said, “New stock assessments that incorporate new MRIP data indicate we do have the fish to support enhanced commercial increases.”
The scientific soundness of the new MRIP data is not being questioned by NOAA, its regional councils, or me, however, the allocation between the commercial and recreational sectors is being questioned. The new MRIP data has given us better data on the amount of fish being taken and therefore the abundance of fish in the water. However, commercial allowable catch limits and recreation harvest limits do not reflect new allocations based on what commercial and recreational fishers were actually catching when allocation shares were first set or established.
New amendment to consider reallocation based on new data
The Mid-Atlantic Fishery Management Council (Council) that mangers fish in federal waters (3 to 200 miles offshore), and the Atlantic States Marine Fisheries Commission (Commission) that regulates fishing in state waters (from the coast to 3 miles offshore), have scheduled a series of scoping hearings in light of new MRIP data. The aim of the hearings is to gather public input on the range of issues and information to be considered in the Summer Flounder, Scup, and Black Sea Bass Commercial/Recreational Allocation Amendment.
The amendment will consider potential modifications to the allocations of catch or landings between the commercial and recreational sectors for summer flounder, scup, and black sea bass. The commercial and recreational allocations for all three species were set in the mid-1990s based on historical proportions of landings (for summer flounder and black sea bass) or catch (for scup) from each sector.
In July 2018, MRIP released revisions to its time series of catch (harvest and discards) estimates. As noted above, these revisions resulted in much higher recreational catch estimates compared to previous estimates, affecting the entire time series of data going back to 1981.
In a January 7 press advisory the Council and Commission said, “Some changes have also been made to commercial catch data since the allocations were established. The current commercial and recreational allocation percentages for all three species do not reflect the current understanding of the recent and historic proportions of catch and landings from the two sectors. This amendment will consider whether changes to these allocations are warranted.”
All fishermen are encouraged to submit comments in person or in writing on which options may or may not be useful or practical for meeting the goal of the amendment.
Fly fishing Napatree Point, Westerly
Join the Rhody Fly Rodders Tuesday, Jan. 21, 6:30 p.m. at the Riverside Sportsmen’s Association, 1 Mohawk Drive, East Providence, for a presentation on fly fishing Napatree Point during the fall for striped bass, bluefish and false albacore. Expert fly fisherman, guide and accomplished drone photographer Capt. Ray Stachelek will share how a southwest wind pushes the bait close to the sandy beach shore which is easy to walk and wade and has beautiful scenery. Emphasis will be on bait, flies and techniques. For information contact Peter Nilsen at firstname.lastname@example.org.
Dave Monti holds a captain’s master license and a charter fishing license. He is a RISAA board member, a member of the RI Party & Charter Boat Association, the American Saltwater Guides Association and the RI Marine Fisheries Council. Forward fishing news and photos to Capt. Dave at email@example.com or visit www.noflukefishing.com and his blog at www.noflukefishing.blogspot.com.