TRCP holds annual Western Media Summit Sept. 7-11, 2014

More than 60 members of the media and other stakeholders concerned about pressing sportsmen conservation issues attended TRCP’s annual Western Media Summit in Great Falls, Montana. The 10th annual summit explored public lands issues and water topics, including federal water budgeting, the “waters of the U.S.” rulemaking, BLM backcountry conservation and the agency’s Planning 2.0 process, and ongoing efforts to conserve sage grouse and sagebrush ecosystems. The following are highlights from the event with short presentation recaps and photos.

Monday, September 8 (Welcome Dinner)

Audience at 2014 TRCP Western Media Summit.

The opening night dinner followed a balmy day during which summit attendees toured the renowned elk hunting territory of Montana’s Missouri Breaks a small planes piloted by EcoFlight’s Bruce Gordon. That evening, TRCP CEO and President Whit Fosburgh welcomed guests at the dinner: “You guys – the writers, reporters and bloggers – are the first to get the word out on the issues we’re discussing here. We want you to leave the summit with plenty of stories that you can write about next week, next month or later this year.”

TRCP’s President and CEO Whit Fosburgh.

Dave Perkins, TRCP Board Chair, and Vice Chairman of The Orvis Co.: “Getting the word out is an important part of why we’re meeting this week.”

Dave Perkins, TRCP Board Chair/Orvis, Vice Chairman.

Laura Ziemer, Senior Counsel and Water Policy Advisor, Trout Unlimited’s Western Water Project: “The Sun River is a story of enduring conservation success. It’s with great pleasure that we have the opportunity to tell this story.” [ED: summit attendees will tour the site tomorrow]

Laura Ziemer, Trout Unlimited.

Jimmy Hague, TRCP’s Director of Center for Water Resources: “We need a unified voice in the sportsmen community to get our positions known (about water resources).”

Jimmy Hague, TRCP’s Director of Center for Water Resources

Joel Webster, Director of Center for Western Lands, TRCP: “Public lands are increasingly important for the sporting public.”

Joel Webster, TRCP’s Center for Western Lands Director

Leon Szeptycki, professor at the Stanford Woods Institute for the Environment, was the evening’s guest speaker. He spoke extensively about the severe drought conditions in the west, especially California, and contrasted with other regional droughts over the last 150 years. He noted that 80 percent of water usage in California is for irrigation. “The basic problem is we’re experiencing a bad drought, and it’s likely it will increase in severity and duration,” he said. Szeptycki offered several solutions to managing droughts including water markets, conservation and desalinization.

Leon Szeptycki, Stanford Woods Institute for the Environment

Geoff Mullins, Chief Operating and Communications Officer: “We try to make the media summits interesting and fun.  We try to get everyone out in the field with a gun or a rod.”

Geoff Mullins, TRCP’s Chief Operating and Communications Officer

Many journalists brought their dogs to the TRCP event. Wyoming freelancer Chris Madson traveled to the summit with Flick, his Brittany spaniel, who made an appearance at the conclusion of the dinner. And Montanan Jack Ballard frolicked in the hotel lobby with Percy, his English setter.

Chris Madson

 

Jack Ballard

Many thanks to our sponsors for making this event a success: Remington Arms Company, Pheasants Forever/Quail Forever, Patagonia, Inc., Costa, The Orvis Co., Outdoor Industry Association, Simms Fishing Company, Trout Unlimited, Great Falls Tourism Business Improvement District, and Bowser Brewing Co.

 Learn what happened at Day Two of the 2014 Western Media Summit.

Five Ways to Celebrate National Fishing and Boating Week

NFBW Fishing Family

Image courtesy of Take Me Fishing.

June 1, 2014, kicks off the yearly, weeklong celebration known as National Fishing and Boating Week.  Each year during NFBW, boating and fishing organizations and enthusiasts alike work to extol the benefits of recreational boating and fishing on environmental preservation and quality of life.

Why should you choose boating and fishing?

  • De-stress: Boating is ranked as one of the top three of all stress-relieving activities
  • Connect with nature: 90 percent of Americans live within an hour of navigable water
  • Help conserve: The funds from your fishing licenses and boat registrations go toward the conservation of our natural aquatic areas

Want to go boating and fishing during NFBW? Here are some great ways to get started:

Try fishing for the first time. Many states offer free fishing days that coincide with NFBW. These days allow individuals to fish without having to purchase a fishing license. What better time to try out fishing than when it’s free? For a full list of states’ free fishing days, visit TakeMeFishing.org. Make sure to check out the “How to Fish” section on TakeMeFishing.org so you can learn all of the basics before you head out on the water.

Attend an event. Besides free fishing days, many states hold special events during NFBW. These events may include boat parades, fishing derbies, family festivals and how-to clinics. Head to the Events Page on TakeMeFishing.org to find events close to you.

Mentor a new angler or boater. Use the week as an opportunity to get someone new out on the water.  NFBW offers an excellent chance to mentor a new angler or boater and teach him or her the importance of the activities and their benefits both to the environment and the public. Teach them to hook their first fish and they may just be hooked for life.

Promote fishing and boating. Use NFBW as a way to show your friends and family how important fishing and boating is to you! On social media, you can use the #NFBW hashtag to tag your tweets, pictures and posts in celebration of National Fishing and Boating Week. You also can share photos of your big catch or your relaxing day on the boat with us by adding them to the Big Catch Photo Gallery.

Celebrate conservation. By simply participating in the activities of fishing and boating, you are helping to conserve your local and national waterways. A portion of every fishing license, boat registration and boating and fishing equipment sale goes toward keeping our waterways clean, safe and full of great fishing through the Sport Fish Restoration Program.

Want to find even more ways to get involved? Visit TakeMeFishing.org/nfbw for ideas.

Big Swordfish, Tiny Boat

 

Here’s a fascinating fish story that’s clearly a case of don’t try this at your home port, but appreciate the skill involved.

Three anglers went about 18 miles offshore out of Pompano Beach, Fla., last week in a 19-foot skiff and came back with a 300-pound swordfish.

Daytime swordfishing, where anglers drop a bait to the bottom in 1,500-2,000 feet of water, is big in South Florida with recreational and commercial anglers.

Capt. Stan Hunt offers swordfish charters, as well as nearshore trips for sailfish, tuna, wahoo, kingfish and dolphin, on his 52-foot sportfisherman Rebound out of Hillsboro Inlet Marina.

With calm seas and no charter, Hunt and his mate Tom Bardes decided to try to catch a daytime swordfish in Hunt’s 19-foot Carolina Skiff, a boat that Hunt typically uses to fish for snook at night in the Intracoastal Waterway. At the last minute they were joined by Ryan Goldman, who works on charter and private boats.

They left Hillsboro Inlet at 5:30 a.m. and ran southeast for about 90 minutes in the 70-horsepower outboard-powered skiff, until they were 17-18 miles offshore and in the midst of the daytime swordfish fleet.

“We knew it was going to be nice,” Hunt said. “There was like a 2-, 3-foot rolling swell. It was beautiful out there.”

The trio made several drops to the bottom in 1,550-1,800 feet using dolphin bellies, snakeheads, squid and ribbonfish for bait. A swordfish whacked the bait on the second drop, but didn’t come back.

After two more drops, Bardes predicted that they’d get a bite at 2 p.m. At 1:45, the swordfish ate a large bonito strip in 1,750 feet.

Hunt and a friend had outfitted his boat for swordfishing by building a rod-holder with extra-strong support into the hatch in the boat’s seat. Goldman fought the fish on an LP electric reel spooled with 80-pound Diamond Braid line.

After the swordfish took off with the bait, it swam almost straight up to the boat. Goldman had the reel going as fast as it could and Hunt had the boat going backwards to keep tension on the line.

In less than 10 minutes, Goldman had about half of the leader on the reel and Hunt was able to remove the 10-pound lead weight from it and get a good look at the fish.

“We knew he was over 200,” Hunt said. “At that point he went down about 1,500 feet and started fighting like no other. It was intense.

“He had us doing 360s around him, following him, trying to get on him. He had us going inshore and offshore. He never jumped. He was a nasty fish.”

After about an hour, Goldman had the fish within 10 feet of the boat and about eight feet down. Bardes harpooned the fish, then the men had to figure out how to get the swordfish, which was bashing the boat with its bill, in the boat without tipping over.

“He was pretty hefty,” Hunt said. “With us three standing on the side of the boat and pulling him over, the rails were touching the water.”

Commercial swordfisherman Matt Gill came over to photograph the catch, then Hunt, Bardes and Goldman, who were then off Fort Lauderdale, made a few more drops, with no bites, before heading home with the fish, which Hunt cut up and gave to a number of his friends.

Fishing on other boats, Hunt had caught a 578-pound swordfish on rod and reel and a 483-pounder on an electric reel, but this fish was every bit as memorable.

“For us guys who have caught hundreds and hundreds of swordfish in bigger boats, it’s fun to catch a 50-pounder [in a boat that size],” said Hunt, who had previously caught swordfish from a small center console that he owned. “That was actually the first fish on that little boat and on my new sword rod.”

Asked if he ever felt that he and Bardes and Goldman were in danger during the trip, Hunt said, “Not one bit. Being in that boat especially, that thing is unsinkable.

“It was flat calm seas and we’re all very experienced. Being in danger never crossed my mind, until that bill was whacking the side of the boat.”

 

NUTS AND BOLTS… WHY NEW YORK GETS SCREWED

Summer Flounder state allocations are ridiculous, it’s time we address this

I’ve written about summer flounder here and elsewhere on more than one occasion, mostly as a management success story.  The species really is a good example of how fisheries management law can work if given a chance.  The National Marine Fisheries Service (NMFS) and the Mid Atlantic Council got sued back in 1999 over summer flounder, essentially forcing them to rebuild the stock.  And while there were some tough regulations, and much whining and gnashing of teeth during the recovery, we did indeed rebuild… to historical levels.  Without a doubt, we’re enjoying the benefits.  The stock is entirely different than it used to be.  There is an abundance of older, larger fish around.  So much so that it’s become a significant part of my “light-tackle” business.  Indeed that’s a good thing.

It’s not surprising that such a rebuilt stock looks quite a bit different than the badly overfished, truncated one did.  Not only are there more, older larger fish around, the stock seems to have expanded north and east.  Anglers have been noting such a shift for several years, and now the science is proving that this is indeed the case.  Recent research by Dave E. Richardson, et.al., has shown that the geographic distribution of the stock is unquestionably different than it was a decade ago.  According to the new science, the bulk of the population now appears to occur off Northern New Jersey, the south shore of Long Island and Rhode Island, where as ten years ago the bulk of fish appeared to be off of southern New Jersey.  Of course there are different theories on why this is the case.  Climate change is a likely culprit as similar patterns have been observed in other species in the Northeast US, but it’s intuitive that when a stock rebuilds after decades of overfishing, it expands and the dynamics of that stock will change.

Summer flounder is a jointly managed stock, with responsibility shared between the Mid Atlantic Fishery Management Council, which addresses fisheries in federal waters, and the Atlantic States Marine Fishery Commission (ASMFC), which generally manages the inshore fishery.  Before 1999, summer flounder were managed on a coast-wide basis.  In other words, there was a single size and bag limit for all anglers, wherever they might happen to fish.  But the abundance and average size of the fluke wasn’t the same in every state, so some of the states argued that the one-size-fits-all system wasn’t fair.  States with modest harvests objected to their anglers being penalized for another state’s overfishing in the prior year.

So, through an addendum, it was decided that states would get a percentage of the total quota based on their alleged share of the catch in a single “baseline” year, 1998, which was chosen because it was the last year in which every state fished under identical regulations.   According to that single year of MRFSS (Marine Recreational Fishing Statistics Survey) data, New York received about 17.5% of the overall harvest.  New Jersey got the lion’s share, a little under 40% – understandable, because that’s really where the center of the stock was back then.  Virginia’s allocation is about one percent less than New York’s.  All of the other states are minor players, with shares ranging from 2.95% in Maryland to 5.66% in Rhode Island.  From 2003 to 2013 each state has been adopting regulations based on that percentage of the overall quota that would theoretically keep its harvest within its historical share.  This is called “conservation equivalency.”

Because of the now well-documented geographic shift in the summer flounder population, today there are more fluke swimming off New York’s coast, and fewer off New Jersey’s.  But the current allocations don’t reflect that.    As a result, for many years, New York had the most restrictive regulations on the coast, yet still overfished its allocation by a significant amount, while New Jersey, which often had the most liberal rules, couldn’t catch its entire allotment.  Although that situation has changed in the past couple of years—New Jersey has relaxed its regulations enough that it is overfishing once again—New York’s rules remain the most restrictive, despite the increased number of fluke swimming off its shores, while New Jersey’s remain lax; even though it has fewer fish off its coast.  Jersey has been allocated such a large share of the summer flounder resource that it need not impose strict size and bag limits to stay within quota.  So New Jersey anglers end up with a much smaller size limit (often two inches below New York’s!) and a larger bag limit.  As regular readers of this column know, I’m all for constraining harvest to avoid overfishing, but this situation, besides being illogical, ends up being really unfair to New York’s anglers and angling related business.

I often find myself in the ridiculous situation where I’m fishing the New York side of Ambrose Channel in Lower New York Harbor and I’m tossing back dozens of 18” fish to get my 4 fish at 19”.  But 50’ to the west of me on the New Jersey side some guy is throwing those same 18” fish in his cooler (Jersey regs were five fish at 17.5” last year).  Similar boundaries—and regulatory disparities–exist between New York and Connecticut in Long Island Sound, New Jersey and Delaware in Delaware Bay, and Maryland and Virginia in the Chesapeake.  Not only is this sort of thing just stupid, it creates confusion and non-compliance.  For the enforcement guys its nightmare.  And it makes no sense because, despite the differing regulations, WE’RE ALL FISHING ON THE SAME STOCK OF SUMMER FLOUNDER!

Perhaps more important than all of this is the science.  It’s become a chorus amongst anglers, the recreational fishing industry, managers and the scientists themselves that we need better science in order to properly manage our fisheries.  Yet, under the state-by-state/conservation equivalency system we’re using a survey/data-collection system that never was intended to be used on a state scale.  The precision of such surveys (The Marine Recreational Fishing Statics Survey –MRFSS, and now Marine Recreational Information Program-MRIP) are simply not adequate to manage state-by-state quotas, nor have they performed well in that respect.   We have been told again and again that the larger the area, the larger the sample, the more precision with such surveys.  So from a science perspective, state-by-state allocation simply doesn’t work.

Recreational catch surveys have been widely criticized by the angling community for as long as I can remember; that criticism has been justified in some cases, and probably not justified in others, but it is absolutely justified here.  I always find it interesting that when such surveys indicate that a reduction in fishing mortality is needed, there are those who say that the surveys are “fatally flawed.” Yet when a state wants to hold on to its unjust summer flounder allocation, which is based on just a single year of MRFSS data, the same people argue that such allocation is completely justified by the data.  Hard to miss the hypocrisy here.

Yes, New York did actually support the state-by-state allocation system when it was hatched.  It voted for the 1998 baseline, because it believed at the time that this system would result in an equitable distribution of fishing opportunity among the states, while assuring that conservation measures needed to rebuild the summer flounder stock could be imposed.  But New York state officials also believed that allocation decisions could be revisited in the future.  Believe me, since the real-world consequences of “conservation equivalency” became known, New York has been aggressively seeking reconsideration of that allocation.  But the states that ultimately benefited from such an allocation (read New Jersey) have not allowed that to happen, even in the face of hard science indicating the practicality of revisiting such allocations.

What’s the real solution here?  When you take state politics out of the equation, from purely a science and management perspective, the reasonable thing to do would be to nix state-by-state/conservation equivalency entirely, and go back to coast-wide management for at least three years.  In other words, have the states fish under the same regulations for a significant amount of time so that we can get the catch data that would give us a much clearer picture of what the fishery really looks like today, not what it looked like 15 years ago.  That data would give us a new baseline that would take into account current ecological, fishery, and socioeconomic conditions.  The data collection surveys would be much more precise given the larger “coast-wide” scale, which in the end would give us better science.  Not to mention, going to a coast-wide measure would provide for some equity among anglers within a region by eliminating the current size and bag limit disparities.

All this said, because coast-wide measures would likely disadvantage some states in the short term, and because those states will most certainly argue that we’ll again be in a situation where some states will be paying for others’ overages, I seriously doubt that a motion to adopt coast-wide measures will have sufficient support at either the Council or ASMFC.  I say this with some certainty because during the last 5 years as a Council member from New York, we’ve advocated moving to such coast wide measures each year. Despite the consistent recommendations from Council and NMFS biologists that conservation equivalency should be abandoned, we always get shot down.

A regional approach certainly has a better chance of being accepted.  States could pool their allocations into regions that could account for the stock redistribution as well as the states’ shared waters.  Yet such regional management approaches have to be voluntary and thus far there hasn’t been any agreement between states to initiate such regions. Most states don’t appear give a crap about New York, especially if easing New York’s woes means that they stand to lose a half an inch or a few days in the season.

Still, there is some progress.  There was a recent addendum allowing for voluntary sharing of “unused” summer flounder quota from states that were under their target quota.  In other words, they could give that unused quota to those states that might have gone over.  That provided some relief for New York last year. But this of course is a short-term fix.   Yet, there has indeed been recent, serious discussion of the need for a longer-term solution.  As a result, ASMFC recently formed a Summer Flounder Working Group who, with the State of New York developed a number of options for regional management.  I suspect we’ll see robust discussion on the benefits and draw backs of each region at next week’s Mid Atlantic Council meeting.  Some of the regional proposals might stand a chance. It all depends on whether the states think that the tradeoffs are worthwhile and are willing to give up a half-inch here, a fish or two there and, most importantly, season length in the southern end of the range.

I guess the point of all this is that New York is pissed off.  We’ve been getting screwed under state-by-state/conservation equivalency for an awful long time.  As the stock expands and moves north and eastward the situation just gets worse.  It’s not just anglers, charter/partyboat owners and tackle industry folks. New York’s Governor is pissed.  And apparently so is Senator Chuck Schumer, who just introduced a bill which would require us to draft an entirely new Fishery Management Plan if this doesn’t get resolved…  this year.

There really is no management or biological justification for continuing with the current system.  It’s all come down to the special interests of individual states (So much for “cooperative management”).  This is not how the system is supposed to work.  The states know it.  The Mid Atlantic Council knows it, and NMFS knows it.  Year after year, the Council and ASMFC hear their staff biologists recommend that state-by-state management be abandoned; year after year, the majority of the Council and ASMFC vote in favor of it, simply to avoid two or three years of stricter limits, even though in the end coast wide management would result in better science, a better understanding of the stock dynamics, and a fair and equitable allocation.  What’s especially annoying is that NMFS knows that employing conservation equivalency is wrong but, to date, they haven’t had the courage to rise above state politics and impose coast-wide measures, although they certainly have the power to do so.

New York deserves and expects some relief in 2014, and we should get it.  As a Council, we have an obligation to work this out.  If we don’t, and the states continue to thumb their noses at us, I suspect there will be legal action, and it appears to be entirely justified.  The Magnuson Stevens Act’s National Standards are pretty clear.  National Standard 2 states “Conservation and management measures shall be based upon the best scientific information available.”  That’s clearly not the case here if we disregard the new science on stock distribution, and if we continue to use the MRFSS/MRIP data on an inappropriately small scale that leads to high margins of error.  National Standard four states “Conservation and management measures shall not discriminate between residents of different States. If it becomes necessary to allocate or assign fishing privileges among various United States fishermen, such allocation shall be (A) fair and equitable to all such fishermen; (B) reasonably calculated to promote conservation; and (C) carried out in such manner that no particular individual, corporation, or other entity acquires an excessive share of such privileges.”  That one is pretty darn clear.  Lastly National Standard 6 states “Conservation and management measures shall take into account and allow for variations among, and contingencies in, fisheries, fishery resources, and catches.” Thus, if the best available science suggests that distribution of the stock in 2013 is different than the distribution of the stock in 1998 we have to address it.

Yes, the state of New York sued a couple of years ago on this and lost.  There was enough on the record to support the current rule, and in such cases a court won’t substitute its findings for that of a Federal agency, particularly with respect to such agency’s area of expertise. To overturn an agency decision, that decision must be “arbitrary”, “capricious” or illegal, and the judge determined that the summer flounder rulemaking was none of those.  But there are two things that need to be emphasized this time: the legal requirements of the Magnuson Stevenson Act and refusal by NMFS to rise above the state politics. Also the new science proving the changes in the distribution, abundance and age structure of the stock.

Quite honestly, I’m not a fan of such lawsuits as they take a lot of time and resources, which would be better served elsewhere.  But if we can’t work it out, in this case it’s entirely justified.  I’m really hoping we can agree on some sort of solution next week.  But if we can’t… Well…

Stay tuned.  Next week I’ll explain what happened and if there was any resolution.

Coming to Justice

Photo courtesy of SC DNR

 

A couple of years ago, I wrote about four Maryland commercial netters – or should I say “poachers” – who were linked to illegally setting gill nets to catch tens of thousands of pounds of striped bass. The investigation was triggered by the discovery of an illegal net off Kent Island in the upper Chesapeake Bay in February of 2011. It turned up falsified catch documentation going back to 2007. Much of that illegal catch then was traced as being sold across state lines to New York, Delaware and Pennsylvania. Seemingly, that would violate the Lacey Act, which prohibits such actions.

In November a federal grand jury handed down an indictment on this long-pending case. The indictment alleges criminal conspiracy in the illegal catching of striped bass and the subsequent interstate sale of the illegal catch. My sincere hope is that these alleged criminals, masquerading as hard-working commercial fishermen, become wards of the federal government for a very long time. History, however, is not on the side of that outcome.

I applaud the Maryland Department of Natural Resources officers for putting a lot of long hours into researching this case. Their perseverance and dogged determination led to the indictment. Without their efforts it is likely that the alleged perpetrators would get only a slap on the wrist and have to pay a small fine, which only amounts to a cost of doing business. State and local judges have been reluctant to throw the book at this type of criminal activity. With this indictment, the case gets elevated to a federal court as a Lacey Act violation. That carries some real consequences.

Some might say that these DNR officers are only doing their jobs. Yeah, I get it. They are, but from my standpoint I don’t know what keeps them motivated when in the past their hard work has been largely disregarded by the state and local court systems. How many times have I read coverage about illegal fishing activities only to see those who got caught pay a small fine and be back at business as usual the next day. Why courts have been so reluctant to take a harsher stance is beyond me. Something akin to the three strikes kind of process would be a deterrent. First time … OK, it might have been a mistake, but a reasonable fine should get your attention. Second offense is not a mistake. You pay a hefty fine, do some jail time and lose your fishing permit for at least a year. Third offense: bye, bye. Pay a very hefty fine, do a big chunk of jail time and be subjected to a lifetime loss of all fishing permits.

I know, I know. Judges are very reluctant to take away someone’s ability to make a living. Can’t say that I understand why. I am unable to distinguish between stealing a public resource and robbing a 7-Eleven. The courts should understand that illegal harvest of common property resources takes away someone else’s ability to earn a living. It has a ripple effect far beyond the criminal activity itself.

I want to be sure that DNR officers, environmental police or whatever they are called in different states continue to be motivated to go the extra mile in pursuing a case. These folks are protecting our resources, and their job is not easy. In today’s world of bending way over backwards to protect the “rights” of the criminals, I wonder how we are trampling on the rights of the innocent – not to mention the condition of our resources. Too often, natural resource officers do whatever they can do to bring a case to justice, and all their work is negated by too light of a sentence. Those of us who would like to see our resources around for future generations need to support their good work.

The Many Fish of Louisiana

Photo courtesy of freepresshouston.com

Jeff Bruhl is a man who lives on the right side of life. In addition to his full-time job as a pharmacist, he is an avid tournament bass angler and manager of the popular marshbass.com website. Beyond all that, he never misses the chance to point his lightning-quick bass boat toward any number of bayous, lakes and bays across southeast Louisiana in search of hard-fighting and tasty speckled trout.

If he hasn’t yet realized it, his mantra has to be “que sera, sera,” an idiom to the Spanish loosely translated to “Whatever will be, will be.”

That’s why it was unusual to hear him mutter, albeit under his breath and all the time holding a fishing rod, some not-so-nice words after fighting 25-30 knot winds for five hours on a late-October journey into the marshes east of New Orleans.

Fishing is more than Bruhl’s pastime. More like a passion, maybe something approaching addiction, but enough was enough in the Delacroix marshes that morning.

Five minutes later, a solid seven-pound redfish filed off his rough edges brought on by fighting wind, grassbeds and trolling motor.

And that got me wondering just how many fishing folks around our country would react to this same trip.

We launched from Sweetwater Marina in Delacroix, an outpost in Louisiana’s St. Bernard Parish. Not too many years ago, it was a commercial fishing hamlet whose residents looked at recreational fishermen like most react to a painful corn on our little toe – you know, it’s bearable, but only slightly so, and it would be so much better if it went away.

During the mid-1990s, Louisiana’s fight over banning gill nets brought confrontation between these two fishery user groups.

That’s not the case today, and Bruhl was out that windswept morning on a quest to take a Delacroix “slam.”

The “slam” starts out with the basic three species – largemouth bass, speckled trout and redfish  and we chuckled about the mix of cultures that would label these fish “green trout, spotted seatrout and red drum.”

It took just minutes to locate the bass. A pound-and-a-half largemouth inhaled a locally made Creole shrimp-colored Matrix Shad, one of the dozens of soft-plastic minnow imitations available in south Louisiana.

It proved, at least to me, that bass in the marshes will eat shrimp, something that launches fishermen into provocative discussions about a largemouth’s diet. (My answer to the guys who believe bass dine only on finfish is that I would much rather eat a shrimp than a shad, so why wouldn’t a bass have that same preference?)

A speckled trout hit the same bait in the same canal five minutes later and an undersized redfish, maybe 14 inches long, grabbed it, too.

That was the “slam.”

But there’s more to Delacroix, like the “super slam” and the “grand slam” on the same trip by catching a black drum or a flounder to get to the “super” and both to get to the “grand.”

It’s been done, not just in Delacroix, but in the nearby Biloxi Marsh as well as the marsh-draining bayous on the north shore of Lake Pontchartrain, along and off the Mississippi River between Fort Jackson and the oft-mentioned fishing mecca of Venice.

One day, not too many years ago, on a trip with another fishing addict named Gary Twigg, we got the grand slam and more near Fort Jackson.

Fishing the rocks lining the Father of Our Waters – we were taught at an early age that was the translation of the Native Americans’ “Mississippi” – we put eight different species in the boat on a single, middle-of-the-fall adventure.

We hit the previously noted five species and added sea-run striped bass, white bass and spotted bass.

Maybe that’s why we Louisiana folks celebrate Thanksgiving with dishes like oyster dressing, crab- and shrimp-stuffed potatoes, and redfish courtbouillion. Yes, we’ll have turkey too, fried of course.

And the common bond that links all south Louisiana fishermen is that we’re thankful that our marshes are a year-round provider of fish and other seafood for our holiday tables, even on the days when winds howl and whitecaps cover our shallow, inland lakes.

And that’s something millions of our angling brothers and sisters don’t have.

 

Happy Thanksgiving.

ON RIVER HERRING AND SHAD, IT’S TIME TO MOVE ON

Fighting a shad — Photo courtesy of fishwithmj.com

Past votes won’t assure the river herring’s future

Yes, in my last blog, I said that this week I’d address some of the misconceptions on slot limits and gamefish for striped bass.  That’s not gonna happen, for a few of reasons.  One is that, well, I’ve already done it in a prior blog, although apparently not thoroughly enough.  So, I will indeed address this in the future… when it’s more appropriate.  As I mentioned in my last blog ASMFC Moves on Striped Bass, in February the board will consider an addendum that would simply seek to reduce fishing mortality (adoption of the new, more conservative fishing mortality reference points).  In May, a second addendum that would cover what regulations would get us to such a reduction will be considered.  Given the latter is when the slot-limit discussion will likely take place, it’s probably more appropriate to wait until then to cover it here.   Lastly, I’m not sure how I can justify writing for four consecutive weeks on striped bass without this becoming the John McMurray striped bass blog.  There are indeed other issues out there.  And this week I’m gonna cover a big one:  uhm, striper forage.  Okay, so this is related to striped bass, but there’s a much broader picture here. 

Before moving forward, in case you didn’t read it, here is my blog on the last Mid Atlantic Council meeting (River Herring and Shad Lose at the Mid ) where we considered adding river herring and shad to our federally managed stocks.  Perhaps more importantly here’s a darn good response to a post on Talkingfish.org written by a colleague and “recreational” council member. (note: scroll down to the end of the article to see the comment:  To My Fellow Recreational Fishermen).  I can’t say I disagree with some of what’s said there.  It’s true that “Recreational fishermen are appointed to bring the perspective and experience of a recreational fisherman to the council and to insure that the interests of recreational fishermen are addressed,” that fishery resources “belong to every American” and that “Council members are sworn to protect the resource first with the interests of all of those that benefit from the resource being the very next priority.”  It is also true that “We are to weigh all of the information and base our actions on what we believe to be the most reliable of that information” and that “a member has to respect each group’s concerns and try to formulate plans that work for everyone.”  And I agree with the statements about moving on and holding the council’s feet to the fire.   

Those are all good points.  Yet, the response missed the most important point of all:  As council members we have an overarching obligation to uphold the law – in this case the Magnuson-Stevens Fishery Conservation and Management Act – which clearly stipulates that we make decisions that provide for the greatest good of the nation. 

It is pretty darn clear at this point that large numbers of river herring and shad are being caught in federal waters, and that such fish are badly in need of conservation and management, and if that’s the case, it looks like the law requires that we manage them under a federal Fishery Management Plan (FMP).  Given all the data on the species, it’s difficult for anyone to credibly argue river herring and shad aren’t in a bad place.  Sure, there may be some isolated recovering runs in northern New England, but they are the exception to the coast-wide trend.  These species are unquestionably depleted and are caught and actually sold in large numbers so they are most certainly “in the fishery.”  And while they are already being managed in state waters by ASMFC, these fish do spend most of their lives at sea, they are being taken incidentally at sea and they need to be managed at sea; in fact, Magnuson-Stevens seems to require that they be managed at sea.  Yes, both New England and the Mid Atlantic Councils have implemented “catch caps” which would shut down the sea herring and mackerel fisheries if river herring or shad catch met or exceeded certain poundage limits, but without 100% observer coverage (or something close to it), and real measures to prevent net slippage/dumping of catch before it comes on board to actually be counted against those limits, the cap is simply unenforceable.  Yes, there are some voluntary bycatch avoidance efforts being made by the sea herring and mackerel fisheries, but they are just that–“voluntary”– they have yet to be proven effective, and are no substitute for legally mandated, enforceable conservation measures. 

While these are all points I’ve made before, the overarching point here is that this was not a case where a small interest group was petitioning for special protection.   Managing river herring and shad under a federal FMP seemed to be clearly in the wide public interest, and arguably a legal requirement.  So it’s a little bit irritating that the above referenced response seems to paint this as an environmentalist push to do something outrageous.  Moving forward with a stocks-in-a-fishery Draft Environmental Impact Statement (DEIS) had broad and diverse backing, and lost by only one vote at the Council.  The public comment/letters in the briefing book (over 37,000) showed overwhelming support and came not just from the environmental community, but from representatives of well-respected recreational groups, scientists, and even commercial fishing organizations.  The only organization that provided written comment in opposition was a commercial fishing organization representing corporations with a direct financial interest in avoiding restrictions on the fleet. (And by-the-way, no environmental group truly involved in council deliberations, as far as I know, ever wanted to shut down the fluke fishery… and while there’s some truth to the dogfish comment, it’s another red herring as the best available science at the time suggested that a population collapse was imminent). 

Protecting forage fish is unquestionably a priority for fishermen, because such fish are near the base of the food web and support the most important recreational as well as commercially valuable species.  A vote in favor of managing river herring and shad under a federal FMP in October, to me, would have represented a real effort to control at-sea catch.  It would have honored the conservation tradition of generations of anglers and the ongoing work and sacrifices of current anglers up and down the Atlantic Coast to conserve river herring and shad.  I do understand the justification for those who voted against it, but I couldn’t help but see a vote to manage them under a federal FMP as recreational priority, and somewhat of a litmus test.  And I’ve gotta say here that while of course we have to all work together to develop solutions that work best for everyone, a recreational seat does, indeed, exist to present and highlight, to a large extent, the interests of the recreational community, within the law of course, just as an industry seats frequently highlight commercial fishing interests.  Regardless, by taking real tangible steps to conserve and protect forage fish, you support conservation of other managed stocks important to anglers and commercial fishermen in an exponential way. 

At this particular meeting, we weren’t even voting to make river herring and shad federally managed stocks, just to move forward with a DEIS that would have simply given us a full analysis of what it would take to do this, enabling the council to make an informed decision.  As the response noted, a council member is obligated to decide issues based on “all of the information” and to give the greatest weight to “the most reliable of that information.”  I’m still having a hard time understanding why anyone would vote against a process designed to provide the council with more and better information about available management alternatives.  Sure it would have taken resources to develop such a document, but the public made it clear (with over 37,000 comments) that this was a priority worthy of resources. Instead, we now have an obligation to develop a “working group”, which, if it is to accomplish anything, would likely require resources as well—except with no commitment to them.  Moving forward with the DEIS was the next logical (and likely legally required) step in weighing all the information, and I thought we had formed a consensus to do just that when we voted to move forward with Amendment 15 in June of 2012.

At any rate, enough rehashing all this stuff.  I think at this point, we all understand each other, and to some extent it doesn’t really matter any longer.  Now that the council’s decision has been made (unless it is legally invalidated in court, where it is currently being challenged) we need to move forward.  It’s now imperative that we focus on the observer coverage issue (getting people on the boats to gage what the incidental river herring and shad catch really is).  We already voted such 100% coverage last year, but it’s pretty much a given at this point that NOAA Fisheries will say that even with industry sharing the costs,  it’s impossible given funding constraints.  We will almost certainly have to move forward with a provision that would require that the small mesh net industry pay 100% of observer costs if we are to hope for significant coverage.  In my opinion this is not unreasonable given that these fish are a public resource and we are allowing the large scale harvest of them for profit.  The people gaining from such a public resource should pay whatever price is required to make sure they are doing it sustainably while minimizing incidental catch.  I hope industry will step up and support such a proposal, and the initial indication is that they will.  The council also needs to pass a strong “framework” to address unobserved dumping or “slippage,” (releasing the net so that the catch cannot be accounted for). Allowing the net to be “slipped” before it can be sampled by observers undermines the potential for the cap to be meaningful; slippage allowances should really be limited to only true emergencies.

Yes, I was bummed that instead of going with the stocks in a fishery model, the council voted in favor of a motion to move forward with a “working group” to address river herring and shad incidental catch.  Because any recommendations coming out of such a working group will not have the force of law.  And really, history has shown that councils avoid making hard decisions unless the law requires them to.  With the obvious limitations in funding these days, I can’t help but see such an unfunded mandate in a rather dim light.  But perhaps I’m being too cynical here.  Indeed, this is a good step in the right direction.  Given the fact that the council will regularly review the process, and the fact that this working group has three years to show results before we consider the stocks-in-a-fisheries model again, I think there’s some real motivation for this working group to come up with something tangible.  In particular, I hope it can further develop the catch cap to serve as an enforceable science-based annual catch limit, in the way it would under law.  As the above referenced response notes, the public has to hold the council’s feet to the fire on this one though.  And I suspect they will.  

Hackles Raised Over Gill Netting in Florida

After an all-out gill net assault on Florida’s mullet population, order has been restored.

My blog last week told how a circuit court judge in Florida’s Panhandle ruled that the state’s constitutional net ban amendment, which has been in effect for more than 18 years, was not, in her opinion, being correctly interpreted and enforced by the Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission and therefore netters could once again use gill nets.

At that time, the state attorney general had filed an appeal, which put a stay on the judge’s ruling.  Problems resulted when that judge, Jackie Lee Fulford, rejected the appeal on the basis that she believed the netters who challenged the amendment would win on appeal and would be hurt if the stay on her ruling remained.

Netters wasted no time in pulling their old gill nets out of storage, buying up as many new nets as they could and killing as many mullet as possible, mainly in the Panhandle and Jacksonville area. Several netters posted photos of their nets filled with gilled mullet in their boats on Facebook.

Unfortunately, on Nov. 1, the FWC decided not to enforce the net ban amendment. According to a source with the FWC, the agency was afraid it might get sued if law enforcement officers arrested netters and the judge’s ruling was later upheld.

According to prominent Fort Lauderdale attorney Ali Waldman, the FWC had nothing to worry about.

“They should wait until the ruling has gone through all of the challenges, and all of the appeals, before they stop enforcing the amendment,” she said. “It’s silly.”

The state attorney’s office kept at it, and on the afternoon of Nov. 6, the First District Court of Appeals in Tallahassee, Fla., reinstated the stay of the judge’s ruling. Col. Calvin Adams Jr. of the FWC quickly sent out a memorandum that said, “Effective immediately, we are resuming enforcement of the net [ban] amendment and all associated statutes and rules.”

Adams went on to say that officers should use discretion in case they come across netters who are not aware of the stay, which will be the defense of every mullet netter they come across from here on out.

In the meantime, the appeals process must play out. Coastal Conservation Association Florida, which played a critical role in getting the net ban amendment passed by 72 percent of Florida’s voters in 1994, has intervened in the appeal.

My belief is that Judge Fulford has been grossly misinformed by the netters who sued the FWC and has no understanding of the issue. In her final judgement, she noted that the net ban prohibits all entangling nets except cast nets, so it is absurd that FWC allows netters to use seine nets, which occasionally entangle fish. She also wrote that it appears FWC is enforcing the net ban only to keep mullet fishermen from fishing.

The thing is, netters caught 12.5 million pounds of mullet in 2011 using seines and cast nets, so it’s not like they can’t catch mullet without a gill net. It’s just harder to catch mullet using those nets compared to gill nets, which catch more mullet with less effort.

Before the net ban, netters were catching upwards of 25 million pounds of mullet a year, which was hurting the mullet population as well as the populations of gamefish that feed on them such as redfish, snook and tarpon.

It certainly would be fitting if, because of the lawsuit and Fulford’s ruling, the FWC decides to outlaw seines. Of course, knowing the lengths to which netters will go to fight the net ban, the FWC might also have to outlaw dip nets because there is a chance that while netting a shrimp or crab, you could entangle a glass minnow.

“I Will Never Forget”

In many cultures, mountains and water have a special significance and attraction. In China, an ancient song titled “High Mountains and Flowing Water” represents cherished friendship. In the Bible, Psalm 23’s well-known verse three teaches, “He leads me beside quiet waters, he refreshes my soul,” and those of us who pursue fly fishing in the mountains around moving water know the therapeutic value of a day spent on the water.

In 2007, a group in Bozeman decided that this experience would help aid in the recovery of our nation’s wounded warriors from the injuries, both physical and psychological, that they received during the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan. From this idea sprang the Bozeman-based Warriors and Quiet Waters Foundation for which I served as both the volunteer director of fly fishing operations and a board member from 2007-2010. During that time, the program grew from two five-day events to eight events that served 40-50 wounded warriors and their spouses each year.

The typical fishing experience is a five-day event that begins with equipment fitting, compliments of Simms Fishing Products, followed by a day of fly fishing instruction on a local pond; we call it Fly Fishing 101. Events typically conclude with two days of guided fishing and a sight-seeing trip into Yellowstone National Park.

Participants with injuries ranging from bilateral amputations to post-traumatic stress disorder come from military medical facilities across the U.S. and are fully equipped, accommodated and cared for during their stay by a group of dedicated Warriors and Quiet Waters volunteers.

I’ve been fortunate to have been involved with Warriors and Quiet Waters and another great therapeutic fly fishing program, Project Healing Waters, for seven years. During that time, I’ve seen first-hand the palpable impact that time spent in the mountains, around flowing water and fly fishing has on these wounded warriors and vets.

I could tell their stories myself, but the most powerful testimonies come directly from the participants themselves.

Fly fishing has given me a chance to ease my mind. There is no peace quite like being on the river surrounded by surreal beauty with only a friend, Mother Nature and yourself. When I leave the river, I feel rejuvenated and optimistic.”

- Avery, a wounded U.S. Army soldier

“I really wanted to mention the day we had at the creek. I had a great time, and even if I had not caught a single fish it would have still been tops. The scenery was great, the wildlife was awesome and I could have just sat on the bank and imagined I was in heaven. I will never forget my day on the creek. It was like a year’s worth of therapy wrapped into a single moment.”

- John C., U.S. Army Sgt. 1st Class

Testimonies such as these underscore the importance of ensuring that all Americans can enjoy a day on the water or discover the camaraderie forged during trips afield. These experiences would be harder to come by if not for the groundwork laid by the forefathers of conservation like Theodore Roosevelt, Aldo Leopold and others. And groups like the Theodore Roosevelt Conservation Partnership and Trout Unlimited help uphold our nation’s great conservation legacy.

We do this because these high mountains and flowing water experiences change lives, and, in some cases, they even save them. I will leave you with the following story from Chris, a U.S. Air Force wounded warrior:

While I was in the ICU, I died three times, flat-lined. I don’t recall much, except for the last time. The last time I flat-lined I do recall accepting it that my body just could not handle the stress of it any longer. Things were going dark for me, but I remembered a Warriors and Quiet Waters fishing trip that I took to Montana. I was fishing at the place where they filmed the movie A River Runs Through It. I saw the old train tracks, and I saw myself sitting on a rock just fishing, not trying too hard, but just relaxing. It was the most relaxing place ever for me. But, I knew I was going to die and this was it. But when this happened, I pictured my son sitting on the rock with me smiling away as we were fishing. Then, all the alarms were going off in ICU, but I accepted it and then everything went black. Four days or so later I woke up. I was out the entire time. I was told by the nurse I flat-lined three times and almost died. In her words it was a miracle I am still alive.

Images courtesy Dave Kumlien.

Declining Stocks and Continued Pressure are Accelerating an Already Bad Situation

Things just don’t look good for striped bass right now

 

Man…  Epic fishing the last three days.  There are a ton of sandeels in “that spot” that remained a secret for, I don’t know, maybe 5 minutes before the word got out… and there were lots of bigbass on them.  I don’t think we caught one under 30-inches in the last three days.  Most were in the twenty to thirty pound class.  And it was almost all surface feeding fish, boiling and smashing sandeels for acres…. in the middle of the day!  But get this… there was chatter on the radio about bluefin in 70 to 80’ of water.  So, of course I took the ride, way past the three mile state-water limit, because I’m a full-on tuna addict.  We got to a spot at that water depth.  There were some birds and a bunch of boats set up, including a handful of party boats.  We dropped some tuna jigs down and were on pretty quickly.  Unfortunately, they weren’t tuna.  We released a striper that looked well north of 50lbs at the boat and one around 30.  Probably the largest striper my boat has ever seen.  Because we were in federal waters (EEZ – Exclusive Economic Zone), we were not supposed to be landing or even targeting striped bass.  I imagine readers of this column already know this, but in the unlikely case they don’t, fishing for striped bass in the EEZ is prohibited, and it should be as it’s really the last sanctuary they have…. assuming it is effectively enforced.  In some areas it is (see Justice Department press release).  Unfortunately in our area it isn’t.  Never really has been, and it likely never will be.  It’s just not an enforcement priority.

So yes, all those boats out there (and there were a lot) were targeting and keeping striped bass.  In fact I saw a few very large fish come to the gaff in those boats before I left in search of elusive bluefin.  As mentioned, included in the fleet were those party boats who are boldly advertising “limiting out” every day on the various internet forums.  Unfortunately, such fishing in the EEZ is not unique to this year, nor is it unique to this area.  Each year we have a brief but good run of big fish in late April/early May outside of Lower New York Harbor, often in that same 50 to 90’ depth.  Because it’s usually the only game in town every single party boat from central Long Island to Central New Jersey is on them.  And yes, it’s generally well outside of the 3-mile limit, most of the time in the old Ambrose Light Area.  And they are all advertising limiting-out as well.  But let’s not put the entire onus on party boats.  There are lots more private boats out there knocking the crap out of these fish also.  However irritating this is, I don’t want to focus on all the illegal EEZ fishing in this blog, because it’s just a small part of what is a much larger problem.  But the point is, striped bass, which are becoming more and more contracted/concentrated as they decline, and more and more susceptible, have literally no sanctuary anymore.

Moving on, I’m certainly not going to harp on what’s been a precipitous decline of the striped bass population for the last several years.  I’ve done it too many times in other blogs, and I have a feeling readers of this blog already know it all too well, more than likely from experience on the water, rather than from my incessant griping about it.  But I will note again that because of the bouts of good fishing I described above, it’s hard to convince managers that this is indeed a serious situation that requires management action now, rather than when they finally figure out that overfishing is occurring and/or that the stock is overfished.   As I’ve mentioned before, managers don’t have the perspective we have, and most just don’t spend the time on the water we do.

So yes, I’ve had some of the best days of striped bass fishing in my life in the last three years.  Days where I’ve seen more 40s and 50s in the space of a day or two than I’ve ever seen in my entire life.  The above described fishing is a good example of that.  But while such concentrations of fish are intense, they are restricted to very specific areas, and they are generally short lived.  And that makes sense given all the good year-classes we had in the nineties and even early two-thousands and the poor to average ones we’ve had during the last 8 years (with the anomalous exception of 2011 of course).   As we fish on these larger older fish, they get fewer and fewer, and show up in fewer places along the coast, but when they show up, boy do they show up.  And herein lies the problem, and why we will likely see an accelerated slide.

Years ago, when such bait concentrations occurred and stripers got on them, it was generally an island-wide event.  In the “good-old-days” in Oct we’d have solid fishing from Montauk to Sandy Hook, NJ.  In other words there was a wide distribution of fish, like there should be when you have a healthy population.  Now, because the stock has contracted (note, this is not anecdotal, a peer-reviewed stock assessment has confirmed a sharp decline since 2006), what we have are exactly these sorts of short but intense slugs of fish showing at very specific areas.  And here’s what really sucks about that.  Because of the internet, smart-phones etc., when such good fishing does occur, the word gets out so quick that every freak’n boat in the region is on them the very next day, if not that afternoon.  And they are all “limiting-out” (I hate that phrase!) every single day, especially the party boats, who often take in excess of 100 fares and run more than one trip a day.  Because we’ve had 8 years of average to below average young-of-the-year indices, we really just don’t have much in the way of schoolies anymore. So when these bodies of fish do show, they are pretty much all keepers, and most people feel entitled to keep their two per person.

Unfortunately, those of us who thrive on releasing most of the stripers we catch are without-a-doubt a minority.  For a long time the catch-and-release thing seemed like it was catching on/growing.  But it stalled once stripers got a bit more difficult to find.  I’d even argue that the catch and release crowd has shrunk during the last few years, for reasons of which I’m not quite sure.  What’s really irritating is that there are plenty of boneheads out there who refer to such anglers as “elitists” for not wanting to kill every darn keeper they catch.  You tell me how having some foresight, or simply wanting these fish to be around so that our kids might be able to catch a few is “elitist”!?

At any rate, the point here is that we are putting an awful hurting on those fish up and down the coast when they do show like this.   If you want to get angry and subsequently depressed, just take a look at any of the online forums/fish reports.  Lots of photos of dead bloodied fish, piles of dead stripers etc.  So many short-sighted folks out there bragging about “limiting out”.  And the party boats are doing their best to advertise such “limiting out”, so they can fill their boats, and take people out again to beat the crap out of these fish before they move on to the next region where they will likely get hammered.  It’s a real bummer.  Makes me want to drink.

I usually try and end these blogs on an upbeat note.  Like there IS something we can do.  But in this case, I’m not sure there is anything.  We now just have to wait and see what the ASMFC does at the meeting later this month (note:  for more information see CCA MD HAS IT RIGHT ON STRIPED BASS blog).   I really do hope that they vote to make a substantial reduction in fishing mortality, although judging by what I’m hearing from some of the managers themselves, I suspect they will “compromise” with something much less than what is required.  I don’t think they will balk and do nothing. I also don’t think we get what this fishery really needs to stem the decline which is somewhere around a 50% reduction in mortality.

For God’s sake please don’t respond to this blog with more talk about gamefish and slot-limits.  This is NOT the solution and was already covered in this blog:  THE STRAIGHT DOPE ON STRIPED BASS.  All we need is for significant number of managers at ASMFC to realize the importance of a significant reduction in mortality, now, before we find ourselves in a really bad situation with these fish.

Striped bass are so darn important to me and a huge constituency of anglers.  For a long time they defined who I was, and to a large extent they still do.  I not only built a business on striped bass, I built a lifestyle.  And over the years, I have developed a profound respect for the animal.  It’s so darn frustrating and infuriating to see managers sit there with their thumbs up their rears, and it’s equally maddening to see all those gaffed fish coming over the rails, all the photos of dead fish, all the bragging, and virtually no acknowledgement of the deteriorating situation.

Regarding this recent slug of fish off of Fire Island, keep in mind that it’s only been going on for a few days.  Assuming these fish stick around, (this may sound funny, but I do hope they move on) this weekend will be an absolute slaughter while these fish are so vulnerable.  And that really stinks.   The reality though is that I don’t blame those folks killing fish, at least those killing fish legally.  They are just doing what managers have allowed.  It’s the weak-spine managers that are really at fault.  How could they not know what the right thing to do is?  It’s become so obvious.

I can’t help but sit here and feel completely helpless about it all.  I would love to be able to say that we’re gonna go in to the next ASMFC meeting, guns blazing, and change things.  But having been involved in the management world, I’m jaded enough to realize that this simply isn’t the way the system works (it certainly doesn’t help that the October meeting is in St. Simons Island, Georgia).  Change can and does come, but it’s a slow process.  It certainly doesn’t happen quickly and managers certainly aren’t swayed by yelling and screaming at public meetings.   But I can say with some confidence, they have indeed gotten the message that a large portion of the recreational fishing community wants precautionary action on striped bass.  And while many, perhaps most, will choose not to represent those concerns, others will.

The striped bass situation will likely get considerably worse before it gets any better.  History has been pretty clear that ASMFC doesn’t take significant action until the situation is quite dire, and there’s no reason to believe it will be any different here. What’s really unfortunate is that managers are probably looking at such fishing reports off of Fire Island and thinking “there are plenty of fish around, the stock is fine”.

Yet, it’s not all gloom and doom.  I don’t think we’re stupid enough to allow another crash like we saw in the early 80’s, and while history does tend to repeat itself, striped bass has developed a constituency of zealous advocates.  Nothing generates more passion from fishermen than striped bass.  When push comes to shove, we will rally.  For that reason alone I have hope.

The ASMFC annual meeting starts Oct 28th.  There is still plenty of time to contact your state Commissioners and let them know how you feel about striped bass.  The stock needs a clear and significant reduction in fishing mortality (Again, for God’s sake don’t mention gamefish or slot limits or it likely won’t get read).   Managers just need to have the balls to push something close to a 50% reduction through.  You can help:  http://www.asmfc.org/about-us/commissionersPlease, take five minutes to write.