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News: MAFMC meets in Baltimore Dec. 8-11 to manage Atlantic states’ forage fish

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What are you doing on December 8th? Oh, you’re feeling sick and need to call out of work for a little?   Perfect!   The CCA will be at the The Royal Sonesta Harbor Court Baltimore  located at 550 Light Street in Baltimore, and here’s why:

Thanks to the new changes at the Atlantic States Marine Fisheries Commission (ASMFC) in the Atlantic Striped Bass Fisheries Management Plan, stocks of Striped Bass will see decreased fishing mortality over the next few years, and the population of Striped Bass should halt its widely noted coast wide decline.  Anglers up and down the coast overwhelmingly supported the changes, and want more Striped Bass.

If you paid attention to the Striped Bass debates, you probably heard things like—

  • “If we rebuild the Striped Bass population, what will that do to the species they prey on?”
  • “How many Striped Bass is enough; the ecosystem can only handle so many?”
  • And yes, we’ve all heard the claims in the Chesapeake region that “Rockfish ate all the crabs”.

Welcome to fisheries management folks, a world of opinions, conjecture, grey areas, and best available science, or maybe very little science at all.   With stakeholder groups of all sizes, backgrounds, regional areas, and opinions, I still can’t understand how fisheries managers don’t go postal.

With the economic importance of the Striped Bass in Chesapeake Bay, let alone the Atlantic Coast, you would think that more would be better, right?   That’s not a conclusion everyone comes to, and frankly it makes me scratch my head.  Maybe it’s the optimist in me, or heck, call me naïve, but my simple logic leads me to one solution for all of the problems that come along with more Striped Bass.  Manage for more food, or as managers call it, “forage”.  I’m talking about bait fish of all sorts of shapes, sizes, species, habitats, etc.

Menhaden have had the big management spotlight on them for decades and even though they are well below historical abundance levels, there are still industrial purse seine boats sucking them up from Mid-Atlantic waters to be ground up, or shipped all over the world in various forms.   ASMFC recently took management action to reduce our overall take of Menhaden, but we still don’t fully take in to account their true role in the ecosystem, and we still have some people thinking that since the sky hasn’t fallen yet, so things are just fine.

Here in the Mid-Atlantic it’s easy to get stuck with Menhaden tunnel vision, and rightly so; there is plenty of work to be done to properly manage them as a species by themselves, as well as for their importance to the ecosystem.   What we tend to forget are all of the other species that are also at historic lows; species that used to fill the voids that now exist in the overall food web.   Two kinds of forage that come to mind are species that are at such a low abundance that most Atlantic states are under harvest moratoria for them within their state waters. I’m talking about River Herring (Blueback and Alewife) and Shad.  The great hope, from a management perspective, for River Herring and Shad, might just be the recent actions of the Mid-Atlantic Fisheries Management Council (MAFMC).  The MAFMC, which manages fisheries outside of the three mile state water limit, recently instituted management action to place a cap on the bycatch of River Herring and Shad.  More work needs to be done to make sure the cap is complied with and calm the nerves of the many groups that want to see their numbers increased, but at least we’re heading down that road.   Federal fisheries observers ride along with the commercial fleet in a number of fisheries up and down the coast.   These observers collect catch data, and are one of the tools available to insure that management actions are being followed.  Observers have a tough job at sea, but one of their biggest hurdles in recent times has been funding.  In the recent economic times everyone has been doing a good bit of tightening their budgetary belts, all while in many cases not seeing their work loads decrease.  The constant battle of wants, needs, and the money to pay for them, is playing out related with the observer coverage needed to make the new river herring and shad cap reliably effective.  Unfortunately without an adequately monitored cap, the biggest losers are the river herring and shad stocks, and ultimately all of the species that feed on them, and coastal anglers that enjoy pursuing them.

The MAFMC isn’t stopping with river herring and shad management changes.   At the October meeting of the council, a Forage White Paper was released to inform council members on some interesting facts about forage, and it’s role in the ocean.  The white paper talks about a number of forage species, how predator fish interact with them, what forage means to sea bird nesting success, and even the dietary habits of marine mammals.   The paper talks about a number of species, most of which are considered “unmanaged”.

If you’re still with me, I won’t risk losing you now, and must direct you to a recent article by blogger, fisherman, and one of NY’s MAFMC members, Capt. John McMurray at (http://www.reel-time.com/articles/conservation/forage-fish-managing-unmanaged/).   Capt. McMurray expertly explains what unmanaged forage is, and why managers should be looking to protect these species before they fall prey to the ocean’s greatest predator, man.

All of the concepts of fisheries management can be as simple, or as complex as you want to make them, and both the ASMFC and the MAFMC will continue to manage fisheries whether people pay attention or not.   As the MAFMC meets in Baltimore Dec 8-11th, your representatives will make decisions that will affect our fisheries, and it’s up to you to decide whether or not they speak for you.   No, you’re not going to find a link to some form letter, and no, I’m not here to tell you what to say.   If you want more Striped Bass, or any other fish you like to catch, it’s probably in your best interest to start paying attention to how we manage their food.  There is a lot of work left to do to better manage the forage species we already do, and we need measures to stop any efforts to open new forage fisheries before we have some idea of what effect we’re having by harvesting these fish.

Get up to speed on the issue, and tell your representatives how you feel, and take a few hours to come to Baltimore on December 8th.  Recreational anglers need to be heard.  Remember, ten people who speak make more noise than ten thousand that are silent.

Click here for more information about meeting dates and times…

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