21 January 2003
Volume XII, No. 1
Mr. Colvin stated that DEC needed to act quickly if certain revised finfish regulations that people had been calling for were to be implemented this year. He noted that some have asked to change the striped bass season opening date up to April 15 and that date may end up being the control date on all the other regulatory changes. He then led the Council through a species-by-species review of the proposed regulation changes for 2003.
Black Sea Bass (Recreational)
In 2003, the recreational fishery for black sea bass will be closed from 02 – 15 September and for the entire month of December.
Black Sea Bass (Commercial)
Mr. Colvin informed the Council that 2003 marks the first year that states will receive individual commercial harvest quotas for black sea bass. New York’s 2003 quota for this species is 210,142 lb. The current (Period 1) trip limit is 500 lbs. The state is examining two different approaches to dividing up this quota over the year: Proposal 1 includes 4 harvest periods; Proposal 2 includes only 3 harvest periods.
Councilor Jordan stated that the 150 lb. trip limit for Period 2 under Proposal 2 is way too high. Mr. Mihale agreed, saying he had spoken with DEC staff suggesting a different period division than is contained in either proposal under consideration: Period 1 from January through April; Period 2 from May through July; Period 3 from August through October, followed by November and December. Mr. Mihale felt that such a distribution should work for offshore and inshore fishermen. He also agreed with Councilor Jordan on the need for lower black sea bass trip limits, suggesting a limit of 50 lbs to ensure that the fishery stays open.
The Council discussed the desirability of making the recreational and commercial minimum size limits on black sea bass the same, at 12.” Mr. Delanoy stated that party boats are affected when they fish over artificial reefs alongside commercial hook and line boats, with the latter keeping 11” sea bass, while fares aboard the party/charter boat fished with a 12” minimum size limit.. If commercial fishermen take all the 11” fish, the charter/party boats never see any 12” fish.
Summer Flounder (Recreational)
At the December 2002 meeting of the Mid-Atlantic Regional Fishery Management Council (MSFMC) and the Atlantic States Marine Fisheries Commission (ASMFC), it was decided to retain the state-by-state conservation equivalency target quota approach in 2003 that was first adopted for fluke several years ago. The difference between New York’s 2003 fluke quota and the predicted 2003 catch with no changes to the regulations is 4%. The predicted catch is 4% below the quota. Technical guidance on how states develop conservation equivalency proposals was received a week ago. DEC staff person Ms. Alice Weber tried to adapt it to ideas that had previously been suggested to DEC for fluke, such as a) more or less status quo and b) reducing the recreational minimum size limit to 16.5 inches. DEC must submit a proposal on 2003 fluke measures ASMFC by the end of the month.
One fisherman opposed dropping the recreational minimum size limit on fluke
to 16.5.” He feared this might result in catches in 2003 substantially
in excess of the recreational quota, resulting in a lowered quota for 2004.
He notes a suggestion from the ASMFC Fluke Advisory Board that regulations
should remain constant for three years. He recommended no change in the recreational
fluke regulations in 2003.
Councilors Joe McBride and Sandy Mason asked about the possibility of a split recreational open season for fluke. Mr. Mason suggested that different minimum size limits might apply to the split seasons, such as 16” for May, June and July and 17” for August and September. Mr. Colvin responded that the ASMFC has historically not favored split seasons and when the projected catch reduction numbers are analyzed, it usually doesn’t do much for you.
Several fishermen suggested creating a slot size limit for recreationally-caught fluke. Mr. Colvin commented that the term, “slot size,” has different meanings to different people. Technically, a slot size has not been proposed. What has been discussed is two different size limits: one size limit that will allow an angler to keep a small number of fish above 16” or 16.5” and a larger number of fish at a higher minimum size.
Mr. Neil Delanoy noted the black sea bass season closed (for two weeks) on 02 September 2003 and the 16.5” minimum size limit fluke proposal also had that fishery closing the same day (for the rest of the year). Party and charter boats cannot handle being deprived of these two valuable species at the same time.
Ms. Weber of DEC stated that the best information available to the Department raised concerns in their minds that lowering the fluke recreational size limit ran a real risk of overharvesting the quota in 2003. She stated that the Department was more confident that remaining at a minimum size limit of 17” did not run a serious risk of exceeding the quota. Mr. Delanoy stated that in 2002, New Jersey reduced the minimum size limit on recreationally-caught fluke in its waters and the resulting catch was under that state’s 2002 quota. He maintained that the option that including reducing New York’s minimum size to 16.5” had the same conservation equivalency as leaving the current regulations in place.
Chairman Wise asked if retaining the current recreational fluke minimum size and possession limits (17”/7 fish) allows a year-round season in 2003? Ms. Weber replied that a year-round season is projected to increase the recreational fluke catch by only 2.5% above last year’s catch and the current projection is that status quo will produce a 2003 catch 4% below that of 2002, so an year-round season could be accommodated.
Councilor Jordan said he could not support an approach to 2003 recreational fluke regulations that has a high propensity to send the state over the recreational quota because the commercial fishing sector would have to help pay this catch overage back in 2004. Mr. Colvin confirmed Mr. Jordan’s statement: any state’s recreational harvest that exceeds it’s assigned quota lowers the species biomass projections on which the following year’s coastwide quota is calculated and this produces a lower quota.. 2002 was the only year in the last four or five years that the recreational fluke fishery, on a coastwide basis, stayed below its quota. Mr. Colvin commented that he attributed this to each state recognizing that overages cost other state quotas. He also pointed out this year may be the last year when that situation applies. The ASMFC Fluke Management Board is developing an addendum to the fluke fishery management plan which will lay out the basis by which a state may be penalized for exceeding its recreational quota. Hopefully, this will begin with the 2004 fishery.
It was motioned that the Council recommend to DEC that for 2003, the present 17” minimum size limit for fluke be retained and the season remain open year-round. The motion was adopted by a vote of 11 in favor; 1 opposed; 0 abstentions.
Summer Flounder (Commercial)
Mr. Colvin said that New York’s final 2003 commercial fluke quota was 1,064,869 pounds, similar to the preliminary quota. He asked whether the Council wished to suggest any changes to the distribution of this quota among the 4 quarterly harvest period or to the initial trip limits established for each quarter. Neither issue has attracted much comment from fluke special commercial permit holders. The Council made no recommendation on either the quarterly quota distribution or on the size of trip limits.
Mr. Colvin spoke of the current commercial fluke quota set-aside for the hook and line fishery, saying the Department needed to discuss this set-aside with the Council before the beginning of the 2004 fishing season. Two issues have been raised: 1) when the season opens and 2) whether the set-aside should be continued or not. The number of fishermen declaring for the hoof and line category is very small. When the hook and line set-aside was originally instituted, for two consecutive years the hook and line fishermen were fishing at by-catch much of the season. He asserted that, over the last two years, DEC has done a much better job of managing the quota and the number of weeks where fluke fishermen were fishing at by-catch levels has been minimal. It was agreed to have a discussion of the commercial hook and line set-aside for fluke at the next Council meeting.
Mr. Colvin referred the Council to the ASMFC Scup Monitoring Committee Report, distributed earlier, and his handwritten notes at the bottom of the first page. ASMFC’s final decision on scup management for 2003 has not yet been made. If states go with a state-by-state conservation equivalency approach again using the same formula as in 2002, New York’s projected harvest this year can increase by 89%. At a minimum, DEC is anticipating expanding the recreational open season for this species. The 2002 scup quota went up; between that increase and the lower-than-expected recreational scup catch in 2002, DEC is looking at a substantial reduction in the closed season, probably no closed season at all. The other option that ASMFC may decide on is a single set of coast wide management measures. The ASMFC Scup Management Board meets in February and the 2003 recreational scup management picture will then clarify.
Council Kerry Sullivan suggested a 10” recreational minimum size limit, a 50-fish possession limit and the longest possible open season should be New York’s target. Mr. Colvin replied that these are the measures New Jersey is likely to implement, as are Connecticut and Rhode Island. The 10” minimum size and 50-fish possession limit will also be in effect in the EEZ.
A fisherman asked when New York will ever reduce a minimum size limit, even when this would be acceptable in conservation terms? Higher size limits means a lot of fish tossed back over the side. Mr. Colvin stated that, if the scup biomass continues to grow, we should get to the point where a size reduction can be considered. One option may be with a season reduction. He pointed out that one of the more frequent messages DEC gets, not only from the charter and party boat industry, but also from private fishermen, is a preference for longer open seasons than smaller size limits. There may come a time when that message changes but, as of today, that is what has been conveyed to DEC.
New York does not yet have a final 2003 summer scup allocation for the commercial scup fishery because NMFS made a mistake. When the agency issued the final quotas for 2003, it neglected to subtract from the landings the quotas that had been reserved for the set-side program. However, the summer allocation will probably be close to the preliminary quota of 768,543 lbs.
Councilor Jordan felt that the initial scup trip limit of 125 lbs is too high for all three periods. If you look at last year’s summer scup quota of 477,000 lbs, and divide it by available poundage, you get approximately 6,800 trips last year, which included a 2-month closure. Applying the same division to this year’s number quota with a 125 lb trip limit reduces the amount of trips available from 6,800 to 6,150. This almost guarantees a doubling of the closed period at a 125 lb. trip limit. Lowering the trip limit to 100 lb. actually increases the trips available by about 800 trips and results in a closure that would probably be two weeks, not two months.
Amendment 4 to the Weakfish Fishery Management Plan was adopted last fall. Mr. Colvin noted that New York’s present recreational measures are constrained by what is written into statute in the Environmental Conservation Law (ECL). DEC is not looking for options to alter recreational weakfish management measures at this time. There isn’t any staff time for this. For the commercial fishery, the management plan allows an increase in the by-catch to 300 lbs, but adds a stipulation that any fisherman landing by- catch would have to land at least an equal amount of other species of fish.
One fishermen stated that weakfish minimum size limits in New York should be the same as those in New Jersey. He maintained that New York was always overly restrictive in its marine fishery management measures. The state should allow fishermen to fish under the least restrictive rules possible under the ASMFC fishery management plans for various species. New York’s restrictions place its party and charter boat industry at a competitive disadvantage compared to the industries in neighboring states.
Mr. Colvin reiterated that the Department was not looking for suggested changes to weakfish measure at the present time. However, such changes could be recommended to the State Legislature; if the current limits and the law were changed, DEC could entertain changes at that point. He pointed out that the current state recreational minimum size and possession limits for weakfish (16”/6 fish) were, in fact, more conservative than required under Amendment 3 to the Weakfish Fishery Management Plan, but the idea of relaxing these measures was never raised in the public discussion surrounding the development of Amendment 4 to the FMP. He suggested that, if the user community is well served by and satisfied with the state management program in place, and we are in a state where, by law, our management policy is to put the resource first, why should we feel obligated to kill every fish that you possibly can?
Mr. Colvin stated that the new addendum to the Blackfish Fishery Management Plan requires DEC to have management measures in place by this spring that reduce exploitation by 25% to achieve a 29% fishing mortality rate. For recreational measures, several alternative combinations of minimum size limits, possessions limits, and open-closed seasons have been reviewed and approved as conservation equivalent by the ASMFC’s Tautog Technical Committee.
Councilor Dearborn stated that any alternative that closes the recreational fishery in December would be very hurtful to the charter and partyboat industry and should be dropped from further consideration. All those in the audience who were associated with the charter and party boat industry agreed with this view.
There ensued an extended discussion of the relative merits of the remaining tautog recreational measure alternatives, how each might affect fishermen and charter/party boat operators in different waters around Long Island. At the conclusion of this discussion, a motion was made that the Council recommend the following set of measures to DEC for the 2003 recreational blackfish fishery: 14” minimum size limit; a closed season from 01 June through 30 September; and a 10-fish possession limit from 01 October through 31 May. If further examination of the mortality reduction likely to occur as a result of this set of measures reveals that this reduction will not meet the required 25% reduction target, the Council would recommend the following, alternative set of measures: 14” minimum size limit; 10-fish possession limit from 01 January through 31 May; season closure from 01 June through 24 September; 1-fish possession limit from 25 September through 06 October; 10-fish possession limit from 07 October through 31 December. This motion passed by a vote of 12 in favor; 0 opposed; 0 abstentions.
Striped Bass (Recreational)
ASMFC adopted Amendment 6 to the Striped Bass Fishery Management Plan in December 2002. Mr. Colvin stated that, at this time, there is no requirement to make regulatory changes for recreational fisheries for 2003. Changes required by this amendment will most likely be mandatory in 2004. For recreational fisheries, there are three different areas in New York State: the Marine District, the Hudson River, and the Delaware River. The ASMFC Striped Bass Management Board adopted a standard coastwide regulatory regime of 28” minimum length, 2-fish possession limit, and a conservation equivalency approach that would enable some use of alternative size and bag limits that achieve consistency with 28/2, for example, perhaps 1 fish at a 24-26” size limit and 1 fish > 40.” The tables for these choices have not yet been developed. The Hudson River is operating under an 18” minimum size limit and 1-fish possession limit and there may be strong pressure for this to change under the new coastwide management regime. Mr. Colvin stated that DEC will probably not agree to a possession limit greater than 1 for striped bass in the Hudson River, due to PCB contamination concerns and the fact that this is an important spawning area for this species.
One change that is under active consideration by DEC is opening the recreational striped bass season on 15 April instead of 08 May. The creel limit could also go to two fish for everybody, not just party & charter boat fishermen.
Councilor Danielson suggested that, since the Hudson River is a recognized spawning area for striped bass, a maximum size limit might be established to help protect large spawning females. Mr. Colvin responded that a temporary commission on future management of striped bass in the Hudson River made preliminary recommendations including raising the minimum size limit to 24”, closing certain sections of the river to fishing because of the presence of actively spawning fish, and restricting the use of bait in recreational fisheries for striped bass in the River. He suggested that a substantial dialogue with Hudson Valley anglers would be necessary before a specific set of revised striped bass angling measures for the river would be produced.
Councilor Melton expressed a concern that allowing a split size limit (e.g., 1 fish @ 28” and 1 fish > 40”) would virtually guarantee that any fish caught that is larger than 40” would be kept and these were the most valuable spawners. Councilor Sullivan agreed.
Mr. Delanoy supported the idea of opening the striped bass season on the earlier date of 15 April. He stated that this would relieve fishing pressure on winter flounder, which is about the only other species available in mid-April.
Capt. Bill Rickert of Montauk asked whether, if the recreational possession limit on striped bass is increased to 2 fish for everybody, there would be a reduction in the cost of the charter/party boat operators license, as heretofore charter and party boat anglers only have been allowed to keep two bass. Alternatively, some continued preferential treatment of charter and party boat fares in terms of possession/size limits might warrant retaining the present operators license fee. Councilor McBride agreed with the concept of lowering the license fee for charter and party boat operators if their fares lose their extra fish. Mr. Colvin reminded the Council that DEC had originally proposed a bass possession limit of 2 fish several years ago, but there was widespread opposition to allowing more than 1 fish in possession. The two fish granted to charter and party boat anglers was done so as to keep these operations in New York competitive with those in neighboring states.
A motion was made that the Council recommend to DEC that the following measures be instituted in the recreational fisheries for striped bass in the Marine District and Hudson River:
1. Open the season on 15 April
2. Increase possession limit to 2 fish at a minimum size of 28”
Chairman Wise spoke against the motion on the basis that increasing the recreational striped bass possession limit was a big item that required much more extensive discussion by the Council, DEC, and striped bass fishermen. Councilor McBride supported the motion as these measures were already approved as acceptable under Amendment 6. Councilor Danielson opposed the motion because he felt that the effect of raising the possession limit on fishing mortality rates was not fully understood. Councilor Jordan said he had no problem with the earlier opening, but he could not accept increasing the possession limit on striped bass for recreational anglers until there was greater parity in the allotment of available striped bass between commercial fisheries and recreational fisheries. Commercial quotas have just reached the baseline years under Amendment 6. Councilor Relyea suggested that perhaps a possession of 1 at a minimum size smaller than 28” should be examined. Mr. Colvin commented that ASMFC may establish a floor below which no state-established size limit for striped bass would be approved.
The above motion was revised. The revised motion was to recommend to DEC that the opening date of the recreational striped bass season be 15 April. The revised motion was adopted by a vote of 9 in favor; 1 opposed; 2 abstentions.
Striped Bass (Commercial)
Amendment 6 to the Striped Bass Fishery Management Plan provides for a 43% increase in the annual striped bass commercial quota. New York’s commercial quota in 2003 will be 843,822 lbs. DEC staff member Vic Vecchio explained that, assuming the same number of striped bass special commercial harvesting permit holders in 2003 as in 2002, the higher quota would result in an allotment of 145 tags/each full-share holder and 28 tags/each partial-share holder.
Mr. Colvin directed the Council’s attention to several issues that the Department was seeking input on affecting the management of the commercial fishery for striped bass. He noted that the Council’s recommendations on special harvesting permit eligibility could not be considered in 2003 because the 2003 annual quota was lower than the 1,059,900 lbs. the Council recommended as a threshold for issuing new striped bass permits.
Mr. McBride saw no significant problem with the proposal to require full-share holders to requalify to retain a full share. He opposed including retirement pay and pensions in the basis of the 50% fishing income requirement to receive a full-share tag allotment. He felt this would result in many seniors who fish part-time being disqualified as full-share holders. This issue was discussed by the Council’s Striped Bass and Fluke Special Harvesting Permit Subcommittee and that group decided not to recommend this. Mr. Vecchio stated that many full-time commercial fishermen felt that the requirements for receiving a full-share tag allotment needed to be made more rigorous. Councilor Jordan stated that he would oppose any attempt to revise the income qualifiers for striped bass tags to include anything other than earned income. In his view, the Council had dealt with this issue recently when it approved revised commercial fishing license eligibility requirements that made reference solely to earned income. Chairman Wise observed that the Council’s resolutions on this issue nearly always featured a split vote, reflecting the conflicting views of individual councilors.
Commercial fishermen Tim Froehlich supported the idea of making it more difficult to get a full-share allotment of striped bass tags. Preference should be given to those whose overall income is most heavily dependent on fishing; including retirement pay and pensions into the calculation helps determine this for individual permit applicants.
Commercial fisherman John Mihale suggested ending what he saw as the discrimination against partial-share holders of striped bass tags. He asserted that many of these people, now getting older, once viewed striped bass as their “bread and butter” fish. Once the fishery was shut down because of PCB contamination, these individuals had to find other sources of income and now, under the striped bass tag allotment rules, they can only secure a partial share. Mr. Mihale felt this was unfair and wrong.
In response to a question from Mr. Gordon Roman, it was clarified that Social
Security income was not being proposed for inclusion in the striped bass tag
The Council took no position on any of the striped bass commercial fishery issues.
DEC is not proposing any specific changes to current winter flounder regulations. Mr. Colvin and Mr. Wise made reference to an earlier Council work group on winter flounder that sought to assess what might be the reasons behind what was viewed at the time as the species’ generally low stock abundance. An updated stock assessment for winter flounder in southern New England and the Mid-Atlantic and the Groundfish Assessment Review Report (GARM) both concluded that the stock is overfished and overfishing is occurring. The stock assessment is not final. Also, the new interim groundfish regulations affect the winter flounder fishery in two ways: mesh size increases and limits the proportion of the allowable days at sea that can be used when flounder fishing in state waters. Some fishermen holding federal groundfish permits but whose only groundfishing is done for flounder in state waters have asked DEC to explore an exemption for this activity under the Groundfish Fishery Management Plan. DEC is exploring whether this exemption is even feasible, but the new assessment on winter flounder may not make such an exemption a good thing to do.
Chairman Wise noted that the Council’s winter flounder working group looked primarily at non-fishing factors that might be affecting winter flounder stock abundance, including such things as warmer water temperature, increased abundance of predators on juvenile and adult flounders, contamination impacts, power plant entrainment, etc. He stated that he needed to bring that group back together and finish its report.
Mr. Delanoy suggested that perhaps a moratorium on fishing for winter flounder is the most appropriate way to affect fishing mortality on stressed winter flounder stocks.