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WILL ANGRY ANGLERS RESPOND TO FLUKE FIASCO?

NOAA Fisheries is proposing a 30% reduction in the 2017 fluke quota, but with recreational overage penalties it could ultimately reduce angler access by 40% or more.
By Jim Hutchinson, Jr.

I’m about to really tick you off.

Seriously, reading any further is just going to make you incredibly angry.

There’s no way to sugarcoat this, the coastwide quota for summer flounder (fluke) in 2017 is expected to be cut by about 40%. That means a shorter season, lower bag, an increase in size limits, or any combination of the three.

Pardon my French, but I told you that you’d be pissed!

The question is, what are you – what are we going to do about it?

NOAA Fisheries recently announced that their July 2016 summer flounder assessment shows continued overfishing and a fluke stock biomass in decline; in response, the federal government proposes a 30%reduction from catch limits previously implemented for the 2017 season, along with a 16% reduction from current 2018 allocations.

Because the Marine Recreational Information Program (MRIP) showed gross overharvest in the recreational sector in 2016, that means we’re officially “overfishing” the fluke stock. That’s not to say the stock is in trouble, but because MRIP showed anglers caught too many fish this past summer, we now have a summer flounder stock that is experiencing statutory overfishing.

Combine a quota reduction in both the commercial and recreational sector with penalties for recreational overage stemming from the latest MRIP numbers, and we’re looking at a total cutback somewhere in the neighborhood of 40%. The result would be something in line with a two-fish bag limit for New York, New Jersey, Connecticut and perhaps even Rhode Island, a 19-inch minimum size and a three-month season spanning June, July and August at best; all along the Atlantic Coast, states will invariably be forced to increase the size limit at minimum.

Imagine of course when summer visitors see the “Two Fish at 19-Inch” size limit on the sign at the party boat dock – alongside the already anemic seasonal black sea bass regulations which are also set to get cut back again in 2017. Makes you wonder if this 40% hit will actually result in something more in line with a 70% to 80% reduction by way of lost business stemming from decreased angler interest and effort.

Not to mention the cost and expense to the private angler, paying $50 for a tank of gas, bait, ice and the tackle required for the opportunity to bring home just two fish (three if you’re lucky enough to get your weakfish bag limit too) – the American public is essentially being denied access to a natural public resource based on trawl surveys, mesh sizes, historic trends and sometimes arbitrary reference points.

So, are you happy with our federal government? Do you trust the data? Think one more cutback in the recreational harvest of summer flounder will be the last? Remember those days when they pledged, “sacrifice today, rebuild the fluke and sea bass fishery, and in a few years you’ll have the best regulations you ever had”? Sounds more like a campaign pledge, doesn’t it?

If you’d like to do something about, here are two preliminary options.

First, NOAA Fisheries is currently accepting public comment on this proposed rule to revise the summer flounder specifications for the 2017 and 2018 season. It’s as easy as clicking on the e-rulemaking portal and entering your comments, along with your contact information.

I could tell you to make some reasonable argument about fluke population dynamics, climate change, the “fatally flawed” MRIP data, or the inherent issues with NOAA’s trawl survey methodologies and its socioeconomic impact on coastal communities. But the sad fact is there’s not much that can really be done in time for the next Mid-Atlantic Fishery Management Council (MAFMC) meetings in December.

But that doesn’t mean that you shouldn’t – or aren’t allowed – to provide feedback, scathing or productive, just so long as you’re on record.

Personally, I can’t help but think of General Anthony McAuliffe, the U.S. General at Bastogne in 1944. Surrounded by enemy forces, McAuliffe received notification from the Germans that the only way to avoid “total annihilation” was to completely surrender his position. General McAuliffe’s response back to the German Commander was short, sweet and to the point:

NUTS!

Perhaps it wasn’t the most cordial response, but it felt good to get it off my chest.

Here at The Fisherman, we’d encourage you to adapt and improvise a bit, put your own thoughts on the state of the summer flounder fishery into your own words. The more comments submitted before Wednesday, November 30, 2016, the better.

The second thing we can do now is plan to show up in force when the MAFMC meetings will be held from December 12-15 at the Royal Sonesta Harbor Court in Baltimore, MD at 550 Light Street.


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