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For Immediate Release March 9, 2009

Contact: Jim Hutchinson, Jr. 888 564-6732

Recreational Fishing Alliance Challenges Summer Flounder Conservation Problem

The 2008 summer flounder fishing season marked a bleak new era in the history of coastal fisheries management, going down in the books as the first year that the mortality associated with recreational discards of summer flounder equaled the overall harvest mortality. Based on the statistical numbers from the Marine Recreational Fishing Statistical Survey (MRFSS), nearly 50% of the total recreational mortality is attributed to regulatory discard, the highest level of discard mortality for this sector in the 27-year history of MRFSS.

"Current management in the recreational summer flounder fishery has created an unnecessary conservation problem," said Jim Donofrio, Executive Director of the Recreational Fishing Alliance (RFA). "Recreational anglers caught an estimated 25 million summer flounder in 2008, with 2.38 million of those fish harvested and the remaining 23 million discarded due to burdensome regulations." Since the National Marine Fisheries Service (NMFS) assumes that 10% of all recreational summer flounder discards die, Donofrio explains that managers must then assume that 2.3 million summer flounder were killed by recreational anglers in 2008 in order to comply with fishing regulations.

Deemed by federal regulators as the best available science for tallying the recreational catch, MRFSS has also been called "fatally flawed" by fisheries managers due to its random collection methodology. However, the data is still used to set annual fishing quotas which results in increasing size limits and shrinking seasons. "Fishery managers are forced to work within mandated rebuilding deadlines that are arbitrary and not based on science," Donofrio explained in a recent letter to the Mid Atlantic Fishery Management Council. "The result in many fisheries is wasteful, inefficient management and a less vibrant recreational fishing industry. Current and anticipated management of the recreational summer flounder fishery is clearly inconsistent with the spirit and intent of the Magnuson Stevens Fishery Conservation and Management Act where conservation and access is the goal."

Unlike other recreational fisheries including striped bass and bluefish, as well as highly migratory species like marlin and sailfish which boast a high level of voluntary discard by dedicated catch and release sportfishermen, there is no value to summer flounder discards. "An excessive level of discarding as we currently see in this fishery is a deterrent to participation and impedes conservation objectives contained within the fishery management plan," Donofrio explained.

Donofrio points out that the RFA has long lobbied on behalf of this issue, saying that NMFS dismisses recreational summer flounder discards by claiming that the poundage is minimal due the small size of most discards. "Regardless of the pounds, a fish removed from a stock prior to spawning ultimately reduces the spawning potential of the stock and its ability to replenish itself," he said. "The current regime makes no sense and has been discussed within the recreational community for many years."

The RFA charges that the best available science proves recreational anglers are landing fewer fish while at the same time discarding more of the smaller fish due to mandated size limits. In 1993, 6.49 million fish were landed, estimated to be 8.84 million pounds of fish. In 2007, only 3.39 million fish were landed, almost half of the amount landed in 1993. However, the estimated weight on those fish was 9.86 million pounds. "In terms of number of fish landed, recreational harvest is a fraction of the historical mean yet overfishing is linked to pounds landed," Donofrio said. "This cycle must be broken; it's ridiculous and simply defies common sense."

Donofrio explained that lobbying efforts by members of the environmental business community during the last Magnuson reauthorization cycle left regional councils with a broken management tool which has ultimately lead to this serious conservation problem. "We lobbied to get this flexibility language included in the Magnuson Act to help protect our coastal fisheries, but too many conservation groups erroneously claimed we were more interested in protecting the fishermen as opposed to the fish," he said. "RFA will continue to take the lead to protect the whole fishery, fish and the fishermen alike."

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