ASMFC Continues Effort to Increase Commercial Bass Harvest

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FOR IMMEDIATE RELEASE: May 7, 2010     CONTACT: Ted Venker, 1-800-201-FISH

ASMFC Continues Effort to Increase Commercial Bass Harvest
Gamble to increase commercial take by up to 50 percent heads for public hearings

 WASHINGTON DC – Anglers will soon have the opportunity to comment on a new effort to increase the coastal commercial harvest of striped bass by 20 to 50 percent, after the Atlantic States Marine Fisheries Commission’s (ASMFC) Striped Bass Management Board voted this week to send the proposal out for public hearing.

Last February, conservationists were stunned when the Board chose to ignore a litany of significant concerns from scientists and enforcement officers about the health of the striped bass population, and instead directed its staff to draft the proposal. This week’s 10-6 vote to send the proposal out for public hearing indicates that many members of the Board are committed to ramping up commercial harvest even as anglers are seeing serious warning signs on the water.

“This is the wrong message at the wrong time for striped bass, but it is not surprising,” said Charles Witek, chairman of CCA’s Atlantic Fisheries Committee. “When recently faced with even worse situations involving weakfish and the southern New England stock of winter flounder, both very badly depleted and both faced with apparent increases in natural mortality, ASMFC ignored clear scientific advice and voted to maintain harvest at unsustainable levels. Our greatest conservation challenge may simply be to convince managers at ASMFC to do their jobs.”

Among the recent information presented to managers was a report on the declining trend in the striped bass Juvenile Abundance Index, a report from law enforcement personnel on “significant and unreported” poaching in the Exclusive Economic Zone, and a report on the potentially devastating impact of Mycobacteriosis in Chesapeake Bay, the primary striped bass spawning ground for the entire Atlantic Coast, where 70 percent of the fish sampled had lesions associated with the disease. In aquaculture, Mycobacteriosis infections are virtually always fatal.

“While the stock is still not overfished nor undergoing overfishing, ASMFC’s Striped Bass Technical Committee recently issued a report which predicts that the number of adult bass will steadily decline through the year 2015.  Clearly, a cautious approach is warranted, yet the Board has chosen to roll the dice with the most important recreational species on the East Coast,” said Richen Brame, CCA’s Atlantic Fisheries director.

Unlike the 1970s when rampant overfishing was the primary cause of the stock collapse, the current wide variety of factors that are negatively impacting striped bass will be much more difficult to address. Nonetheless, Connecticut, Rhode Island, New York, Delaware, Maryland, the Potomac River Fisheries Commission, the District of Columbia, Virginia, North Carolina and the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service voted to push forward with increasing commercial harvest. 

“This is a dangerous, unnecessary gamble,” said Brame. “We will be doing our part to make sure managers know that anglers do not want to risk the future of this fishery by increasing commercial harvest.”

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CCA is the largest marine resource conservation group of its kind in the nation. With almost 100,000 members in 17 state chapters, CCA has been active in state, national and international fisheries management issues since 1977. For more information visit the CCA Newsroom at www.JoinCCA.org

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After obtaining an undergraduate degree in Political Science from Loyola College in Maryland, Captain John McMurray served in the US Coast Guard for four years as a small-boat coxswain and marine-fisheries law enforcement officer. He was then recruited to become the first Executive Director of the Coastal Conservation Association New York. He is currently the Director of Grants Programs at the Norcross Wildlife Foundation in New York. He is the owner and primary operator of “One More Cast” Charters. John is a well known and well published outdoor writer, specializing in fisheries conservation issues. In 2006 John was awarded the Coastal Conservation Association New York Friend of Fisheries Conservation Award.

Posted in Articles, Conservation, Saltwater Fishing
3 comments on “ASMFC Continues Effort to Increase Commercial Bass Harvest
  1. avatar Bill Hubbard April 5, 2010 says:

    What has happened to ASMFC’s Striped Bass Management Committees’ concern for the future of the species?

    On the one hand, they note the serious effect of Mycobacteriosis in Chesapeake Bay, the primary striped bass spawning ground for the entire Atlantic Coast. On the other, they hear from the scientific community and their own Technical Committee(Biologists) that predicts that the number of adult bass will steadily decline through the year 2015. But, despite those dire warnings and opposition from many anglers at their last meeting; they now have backed a proposal to double the commercial harvest, much of which is aimed at the same large breeders whose numbers are already in serious decline.

    For a number of years, since I served on the Striped Bass Advisory Panal; I have thought the Management Board was working for the betterment of the species. Many times I have defended their actions to my fellow anglers. Now, I am shocked by their most recent actions. Only the commissioners from Maine, New Hampshire and Massachusetts voted against the commercial proposal.

    The 10-6 vote by the managers to send the proposal out for public hearing indicates that many members of the Board are committed to ramping up commercial harvest even as anglers are seeing serious warning signs on the water as noted in the CCA. news release.
    I certainly hope the anglers in Connecticut, Rhode Island, New York, Delaware, Maryland, the Potomac River Fisheries Commission, the District of Columbia, Virginia, North Carolina take note that their commissioners at ASMFC are the ones who voted to push forward with an increased commercial harvest.

    Every one who cares about the future of recreational Striped Bass angling must plan to attend the public hearings to be held in his state and speak up against this outrageous action by ASMFC. Complaining on line or writing a letter won’t cut it this time. You must take the time to attend that public hearing and either speak out or personally deliver a written protest to this action.

    If you really care, you will be there!

  2. avatar Charles A. Witek, III says:

    In recent years, ASMFC seems to have lost its commitment to conservation, and rather to support the interests of anyone who hopes that their economic condition rises with the number of dead fish that people are allowed to take. Please understand that when I say that, I’m not singling out commercial fishermen, but rather wish to include anyone who views the worth of regulations not in accordance with how such regulations might help, rebuild and conserve a public resource, but rather by how such resources might benefit their bank accounts.

    I believe that a lot of the problem is due to the ASMFC’s “caucus” voting structure, which gives equal weight to all three of each state’s representatives, and thus permits the amateurs–who often have and economic interest in the outcome of a vote, or represent those to do–to override their state’s fisheries professionals. Add to that the fact that ASMFC is not bound by the rebuilding and conservation mandates of the Magnuson Act, and you have the makings of real trouble for coastal fish stocks. We have recently seen how conservation issues can be swept under the rug when ASMFC ignored the need to half fishing for weakfish (3% SPR) and Southern New England winter flounder (8% Bthreshold), and maintained fisheries that should have been completely shut down. (Yes, the recent decision to revisit the menhaden reference points was a welcome exception to ASMFC’s general lack of concern for conservation issues, but we all must remember that only one state has a really substanial commercial menhaden fishery, meaning that few oxen would be gored by more restrictive menhaden regulations, so self-interest played a much smaller role).

    When ASMFC recoveered the striped bass, caucus voting had not yet been implemented. There is good reason to wonder whether the bass recovery would ever had occurred if caucus voting was already the rule.

  3. avatar Bill Hubbard April 5, 2010 says:

    Charlie,
    You probably have a good point there abouth the “caucus” voting at ASMFC. They started that back when I was on the Advisory Panal and, I never could see why.

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