Atlantic Beach, NC 10/25/06- Just when recreational anglers had the chance to keep the 2007 summer flounder season viable, the Atlantic States Marine Fisheries Commission (ASMFC) Summer Flounder Management Board dropped the ball. In a last minute motion offered by Gordon Colvin of the New York State Department of Environmental Conservation (DEC), the ASMFC overruled a motion that would have set the commercial and recreational summer flounder quota for state waters at 19.9 million pounds. Had the ASMFC set the total allowable landings (TAL) at 19.9 million pounds, recreational anglers and fishing businesses dependant upon reasonable access to summer flounder would have been able to scrape by and remain in the fishery. However, ASMFC’s failure to set the 2007 quota makes the likelihood of a 12.9 million-pound TAL a reality.
“This represents a lost opportunity to restore the faith of fishermen in the ASMFC,” stated RFA Executive Director Jim Donofrio. “It is obvious that the recreational fishing industry can not look to the ASMFC for leadership. Time and time again, certain commissioners have proven their lack of interest and understanding of the industries’ needs by failing to consider our testimony or comments during their deliberations and purposely swaying the commission position away from measures that would have less severe impacts on the industries.”
The Mid-Atlantic Council approved a 19.9 million-pound TAL for 2007 at their August meeting based on the findings from the Summer Flounder Monitoring Committee, which included current high level of abundance and the unnecessary economic impacts that would occur with a drastic reduction in TAL. The National Marine Fisheries Service (NMFS) immediately indicated that based on their revised estimates that a TAL of 12.9 million pounds must be set to ensure a 75 percent probability of meeting the rebuilding target. NMFS claims such a position is necessary to comply with the statutory framework and to avoid a lawsuit from environmental groups. ASMFC is not bound by the same legal constraints as NMFS and could have used their best judgment and an ounce of common sense to set the summer flounder TAL in state waters at 19.9 million pounds for 2007.
“The ASMFC has become a rubber stamp for NOAA policy,” continued Donofrio. “Anglers from New York and other states that voted in favor to reconsider the 19.9 motion should contact their Governors and ask them to question the actions of their state representatives on the ASMFC.”
Reasons for the drastic cut in quota stem not only from a rebuilding target that is set extraordinarily high but more importantly from an arbitrary 10-year rebuilding timeframe. The summer flounder population has been rebuilt to its highest level ever recorded, yet the Magnuson-Stevens Fishery Conservation and Management Act requires that we continue to rebuild the resource and that it be completed by January 1, 2010. The current problem with summer flounder illustrates the importance of amending Magnuson to include flexibility and economic consideration for rebuilding fish stocks.
“NMFS’ hands are tied and the ASMFC is not going to help us,” said Donofrio. “This fix will not come from the regulatory agencies but from putting in long hours speaking with Members of Congress on how important this fishery is to the Mid-Atlantic. Recreational anglers need to ban together to fix this looming disaster.”
On the heels of this setback, RFA met with key Members of Congress to inform them of the negative impacts on jobs and the economy that will occur if the NMFS recommendations are put in place. “Our meetings were extremely positive,” continued Donofrio. “A great deal will depend upon the outcome of the election, but the RFA will not give up on exploring any and every option to fix summer flounder.”