IMPORTANT MESSAGE REGARDING 2017 BOOKINGS
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Q: Who decides how many fish anglers can catch?
A: The goal of fisheries managers is to build sustainable fisheries. Based on scientific data regarding the health of the stock and management objectives, an annual quota is established for total landings. This quota is then divided into allocations for each state and sector (i.e. commercial vs. recreational) based on percentages of historical landings. Overages in the previous year's quota result in deductions for the next year. (Ex. - The 2009 overall Summer Flounder quota increased by 3 million pounds from 2008, but due to a 2008 overage, New Jersey's quota was reduced by 4%.) Quotas are typically set in December for the following year.
Q: How are the options for season, size and bag limits determined?
A: Once NJ's recreational quota is determined, a number of different regulations with varying seasons, size and bag limits are developed by state fisheries biologists. These proposals are based on "Conservation Equivalency", state specific measures that differ from each other but all provide for estimated landings within the quota. Once crafted, these proposals are submitted to the Atlantic States Marine Fisheries Commission (ASMFC) for approval, usually in early February. The NJ Marine Fisheries Council then narrows the approved options down with the help of an advisory panel later in February. Final regulations are voted on at the Council's ensuing meeting, the first Thursday of March in Galloway, NJ. This meeting is open to the public.
Q: How is stock size determined?
A: Trawl surveys are conducted through the year to collect Summer Flounder (and other species) samples. The number of fish captured is then fed into complex computer algorithms that generate models of what the overall population (biomass) is believed to look like based on these limited samples.
Q: Summer Flounder regulations are becoming more restrictive every year. Does this mean the stocks are in a continual state of decline?
A: ABSOLUTELY NOT! Measured levels of Summer Flounder stocks decreased significantly through the 1980's, reaching a bottom at the end of that decade. Summer Flounder stocks steadily increased from through 2005, INCREASING SEVEN-FOLD in a 15 year span (from 15.5 million pounds of spawning to stock biomass to near 105 million pounds). Summer Flounder stocks currently remain at ALL-TIME HIGHS. More restrictive regulations on Summer Flounder are currently the product of the Magnuson-Stevens Act requiring the stock be rebuilt to a HYPTOTHETICAL level within an ARBITRARY TIMELINE (specifically, to an SSB of 132.4 million pounds by 2013).
Q: Why, then, is the New York Times and other media outlets publishing articles saying the stocks are "overfished" and "overfishing" is occurring?
A: The terms "overfished" and "overfishing", when used in Summer Flounder Fisheries Management, are defined based on a HYPOTHETICAL TARGET and an ARBITRARY TIMELINE, respectively. Specifically with Summer Flounder, "overfished" means that the current calculated Spawning Stock Biomass (SSB, or those fish capable of reproducing) is less than the HYPOTHETICAL SSB. "Overfishing" means that at current levels of fishing effort, the calculated Spawning Stock Biomass (SSB) will not reach the HYPOTHETICAL target SSB within a given ARBITRARY timeline (by 2013 for Summer Flounder). Change either the target or the timeline and the species no longer meets the criteria of either term. These terms are very misleading to the casual reader and are often utilized without fully defining them, creating the ILLUSION that the fish themselves are in trouble. Summer Flounder stocks are currently at ALL-TIME HIGHS.
Q: If stocks are not in trouble, why do regulations continue to become more onerous?
A: Management officials' hands are tied because they are legally bound by the Magnuson-Stevens Act to set regulations based on the "best available science". Despite being relatively well-studied compared to other fishes, a high degree of scientific uncertainty remains with respect to the science of the Summer Flounder. Fisheries biologists simply do not have the funding required to improve the science. Scientists have stated they believe the Summer Flounder stocks to be healthy, but cut backs continue because they do not have funding to lessen the degree of scientific uncertainty.
Q: What is the "best available science" with regards to Summer Flounder?
A: In 2007, the SSB was calculated to be 95.6 million pounds, with a target SSB of 197.1 million pounds. The SSB had essentially "plateaued" over the previous 5 years, despite tighter regulations. Technically speaking, a retrospective bias in the analysis showed an unaccounted natural mortality. (That is, despite less fish being harvested, stocks weren't growing, which led scientists to the conclusion that tighter fishing regulations alone would not allow stocks to reach their HYPOTHETICAL SSB target level within the ARBITRARY timeline.) It is unknown if given the abundance of other stocks and habitat and forage limitations if the stock can EVER reach the target, even with zero fishing effort. As a result, fisheries scientists and managers at the 2008 Stock Assessment Workshop (SAW) decided to LOWER THE TARGET SSB to 132.4 million pounds, a near 35% reduction.
Q: In 2007 the government said Summer Flounder stocks were less than 50% of their target levels and weren't growing, but in 2008 they decided stocks were at nearly 75% of the desired levels? What happened?
A: With the help of money raised by the Save the Summer Flounder Fishery Fund (SSFFF), Dr. Mark Maunder was hired to work at the 2008 SAW. It was his work that highlighted the unaccounted natural mortality, directly resulting in the target SSB downward revision of near 35%. This HYPOTHETICAL TARGET has changed frequently during the management of Summer Flounder as more data has been collected, providing for improved biomass calculations by the models. The target SSB could have been revised downward even further, but more data needs to be collected to further refine the models.
Q: What happens now?
A: Federal law mandates that the HYPOTHETICAL target SSB be reached by the year 2013 (an ARBITRARY TIMELINE), and the government is empowered to shut the fishery down to make that happen. The SSB is not growing, and in fact, many scientists believe the stock may now be at its maximum size and is not going to grow significantly, irregardless of fishing effort. More scientific data (especially with regards to determining the male-female ratio at various sizes, a specific concern presently is that almost all fish harvested over 18" are female) is needed to continue to improve the scientific models that generate these numbers. Only when the current SSB reaches the target SSB will the fishery be declared rebuilt, and anglers can hope to see less restrictive regulations. The issue of an ARBITRARY TIMELINE for rebuilding also needs to be addressed. The public should not be SHUT OUT OF A HEALTHY RESOURCE.
Q: How can I help?
A: GET INVOLVED. Make a commitment to attend fisheries management meetings that are open to the public to show you care. Support efforts to improve the science and provide flexibility in rebuilding timelines for healthy stocks. The SSFFF has successfully improved the science, and continues to do so. Visit www.ssfff.net for more info and to make a donation. Meanwhile, the RFA is working hard on the front lines and behind the scenes on the flexibility issue. Contact your legislator and have them support the Flexibility in Rebuilding American Fisheries Act. This bill was introduced in 2008 and has been reintroduced by Frank Pallone in the 111th Congress. 2008 demonstrates the positive impact the public can have, and your continued help is needed to prevent a CATASTROPHIC SHUTDOWN OF THE SUMMER FLOUNDER FISHERY.