The Mid-Atlantic Fishery Management Council and the Atlantic States Marine Fisheries Commission (ASMFC) have launched an ambitious joint effort to fully assess and revamp their summer flounder management strategies in response to a number of factors, including changes in the distribution and center of fluke biomass, “possibly related to the effects of stock rebuilding and/or climate change.”
As a first step, the council and ASMFC are conducting a “scoping” process. Hearings are now underway and will continue through late October with a public comment deadline of Oct. 31 (see Coming Events page 37). It is important that commercial fishermen engage in this process, especially since one of the issues flagged for possible change is the allocation of quota between the commercial and recreational fisheries.
Since 1993, annual fluke quotas have been split between the two groups, with the commercial fishery receiving 60% of total allowable landings (TAL) and the recreational fishery receiving 40% based on the historical uses of the resource. However, in their joint scoping document, the council and ASMFC noted that the characteristics of the summer flounder stock and participation in both the commercial and recreational fisheries have changed significantly over time.
According to ASMFC, the summer flounder spawning stock biomass (SSB) has increased approximately six-fold since 1998. The 2013 benchmark assessment indicated that, in 2012: SSB was roughly at 52,238 metric tons; the stock was not overfished or subjected to overfishing; the number of fluke age classes in the population had increased; and the stock’s geographic range had expanded.
As this rebuilding took place, the number of recreational fishermen casting for fluke jumped from an estimated 4.6 million in 1998 to 6.2 million in 2012.
So, the council and ASMFC are asking if the existing TAL allocation between the commercial and recreational fisheries is still appropriate and, if not, how should the allocation be revised?
The two management bodies also want feedback on how the commercial quota should be distributed and what other measures, such as gear requirements, minimum fish sizes, and time/area closures, should be considered in regulating the commercial fishery. And, they want to know if the number of commercial permits should be limited based on stock size.
In June, the council asked the National Marine Fisheries Service (NMFS) to establish a new control date for the commercial fishery in federal waters to replace the one set in 1990.
NMFS published the control date on Aug. 1, 2014. While the date itself does not limit access to permits, fishermen who obtain permits after then could be treated differently in the future if the council decides to adopt a limited-entry plan.
So there’s a lot on the line here. In 2013, commercial fishermen landed 12.49 million pounds of summer flounder, which generated $29.2 million in revenues. Top fluke landing ports were identified in Virginia, Rhode Island, New Jersey, New York, Massachusetts, Connecticut, and Maryland.
Recreational fishing interests will be keen to emphasize the importance of their fishery during this scoping process. Commercial fishing interests must do the same. For more information and a list of public hearings, visit the Mid-Atlantic council website at <www.mafmc.org> or call the council office at (302) 674-2331.
Read much more in the October issue of Commercial Fisheries News.
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