February 15, 2008

Federal plan for allocation of fisheries resources moves forward

By SUSAN WEST


The South Atlantic Fishery Management Council plans to develop a comprehensive method for allocating fishery resources between commercial and recreational fishermen.

In the past, allocation decisions have been included in amendments to fishery management plans.

But Gregg Waugh, deputy director of the South Atlantic Fishery Management Council (SAFMC), said the council will have to work at an accelerated pace to meet new management directives in the 2006 Magnuson-Stevens Fishery Conservation and Management Reauthorization Act.

The 2006 reauthorization act requires the South Atlantic and other regional federal fisheries management councils to adopt annual catch limits set by scientists to prevent overfishing.

Catch limits must be in place by 2010 for species where overfishing is taking place, and by 2011 for all other federally managed species.

“Then the council will have to figure out how to divide that total poundage between recreational and commercial fishermen,” Waugh told the audience at a SAFMC scoping meeting in New Bern on Feb. 7.

Waugh explained that the council must also develop measures to ensure that allocations are not exceeded by either sector.

“We’ve had accountability mechanisms to limit the commercial sector for a long time, and now to meet the new requirements, we’ll have to do the same for the recreational fishery.  I think the agency (National Marine Fisheries Service) has made its position clear,” he said.

The SAFMC has identified four different methods of allocation – basing allocation on historical landings data, on catch and discard mortality data included in stock assessments, on percentages determined to be fair by the council, or on economic and social analyses.  

Waugh said the council has heard concerns about all four methods, ranging from concern over inadequate data to questions over the council’s judgment of fair allocations.

In the past, the council has used landings data as the basis for determining allocations.

But last year the council agreed to explore other options.

“I believe we should be managing our fisheries resources looking forward as opposed to looking backward,” explained George Geiger, SAFMC chairman, in a recent council publication.

The Coastal Conservation Association of North Carolina (CCA-NC), a recreational fishing organization, would like the council to consider economic impact, demographic information, and other factors, while minimizing the use of past landings in setting allocations.

“We would prefer to set allocations which reflect how managers and fishermen would like the fishery to look in the future,” explained Stephen Ammons, CCA-NC executive director, in an e-mail.

Sean McKeon, president of the North Carolina Fisheries Association, a commercial fishing trade organization, said the council would use a focus on demographics to strip harvest quota from the commercial fishing sector and redistribute it to the recreational sector.

“Remember that current demographics are a direct result of the regulatory burden placed on the commercial fishing industry by the very council now wanting to reapportion quota,” he said.

“In other words, the SAFMC created the diminutive effort in our fisheries through draconian regulations and now claim the increased recreational effort justifies taking more and more fish from our folks and handing them over to the recreational sector,” McKeon explained.   

Jeff Oden, an Outer Banks commercial fisherman, believes the SAFMC is set on a course to reallocate the resource largely to the recreational sector, no matter which allocation method is used.

He said the snowy grouper fishery has been a traditional commercial fishery with more than 90 percent of landings by commercial fishermen.

“Now they are saying that all of a sudden in 2006, the fishery is now 40 percent recreational,” he continued.

“They said recreational fishermen landed 168,873 pounds in 2006, exceeding their harvest limit by 35 times, yet NMFS (National Marine Fisheries Service) Southeast Regional Administrator Roy Crabtree sat in a meeting in Washington last fall and said the recreational community was well under its 4,711 pound target for 2007,” Oden explained.

“The one thing that jumps out at me us how conveniently the numbers change and how subjectively they are applied,” Oden said.



   

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