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The longest government shutdown in U.S. history is already having an impact on coastal communities, and could further affect our 2019 fishing regulations and enforcement.
By Jim Hutchinson, Jr.  |  January 21, 2019
While U.S. Coast Guard functions as a branch of the U.S. military, since the agency is actually managed under Homeland Security there have been no paychecks for those working to protect mariners and vital ports since the beginning of the New Year. Photo courtesy of USCG.

While the federal government shutdown should have little to no impact on our winter show schedules, it is greatly affecting the discussion around the show booth.

“So what’s our fluke season look like this year,” is probably the number one question for The Fisherman staff and the boat and outdoor shows every winter.

When you pick up a copy of the January or February edition of the magazine and leaf through to the report section, you’ll notice that we have the regulations already printed as if they’ve been set.

Remember that the regulations online at TheFisherman.com and in the print edition are still in effect until the state and federal government come together to implement new regulations. Until that takes place, it’s all status quo, as is, same old.

Regrettably, the regulatory answers seem to be coming later and later every year, sometimes within just days or hours of the actual opener. Those looking for timely answers to what used to be somewhat reasonable regulatory questions in the past will find it difficult this winter, as the 2019 government shutdown is expected to have a rather significant impact on the regulatory process.

The Mid-Atlantic Fishery Management Council (MAFMC) is one of eight regional councils responsible for marine fishery management within U.S. federal waters from 3 to 200 miles off the coasts of New York, New Jersey, Pennsylvania, Delaware, Maryland, Virginia and North Carolina. While MAFMC Council members are appointees from each representative state, they’re also paid a daily fee from the federal government. Members of the Atlantic States Marine Fisheries Commission (ASFMC) on the other hand do not get paid a daily rate, though state-appointed members who are ultimately responsible for conservation and management of nearshore fish species in state waters (from shore out to 3 miles) are paid expenses. Outside of what either councilors or commissioners are paid, the advisory roles they perform are ultimately dependent upon information coming from federal staffers within NOAA Fisheries and the Department of Commerce.

Toby Lapinski, managing editor of the New England edition of The Fisherman helped kick off his region’s show season this past weekend at the CMTA Hartford Boat Show, and said there was a lot of talk about 2019 fishing regulations. “From questions relating to what happened to the striped bass and how the ASMFC might move after the Benchmark Stock Assessment is released at the Winter Meeting in Virginia on February 5-7, to how soon might we see a more relaxed bag limit on the over-abundant black sea bass, there was a good supply of fishy talk to be had,” Lapinski said.

While there’s a lot talk within the angling community, things inside the management community have quieted down to a rather deafening silence. As of January 18, 2019, two upcoming meetings have already been postponed due to the government shutdown, the January 28th meeting of the Scientific and Statistical Committee, and the February 1st joint meeting of the MAFMC and ASMFC Summer Flounder, Scup, and Black Sea Bass Advisory Panels.

We’re fairly certain you can see where this is going. The longer this federal shutdown drags on, the more likely it is that assessments and stock reviews for coastal fisheries will not be available for review,

ASFMC’s Tina Berger recently told the Asbury Park Press of New Jersey that she was unable to speculate as to what the shutdown could mean for 2019 fishing seasons if the fishery managers don't have time to set measures due to the shutdown. "Basically, we're all waiting on the benchmark assessments and stock reviews," Berger told the Asbury Park Press.

Also hanging in the balance is the status of the striped bass benchmark assessment which was expected to be taken up for discussion when the ASMFC convenes for its annual winter meeting from February 5-7 at the Westin Hotel at 1800 Jefferson Davis Highway in Arlington, VA. Without the input of NOAA Fisheries whose staffers are not working now due to the shutdown, it’s hard for anyone to predict what will happen at this meeting, or if it will even take place.

So to answer your question, until federal employees head back to work, last year’s regulations on black sea bass, fluke, cod, porgies, bluefish and striped bass remain the same.

As for enforcement personnel at the federal level, active members of the U.S. Coast Guard are still on the job, but they’re not getting paid. Despite a one-time emergency payment on January 1, there’s no money left to pay active duty members and those deployed overseas. Meanwhile, the Coasties whose duties have been deemed “non-essential” like academy maintenance workers have been officially furloughed.

"To the best of my knowledge, this marks the first time in our Nation’s history that service members in a U.S. Armed Force have not been paid during a lapse in government appropriations," wrote U.S. Guard Commandant, Admiral Karl Schultz in a recent tweet.

While U.S. Coast Guard functions as a branch of the U.S. military, the agency is not actually part of the Defense Department. Instead the agency is managed under Homeland Security, one of the key agencies caught in the crosshairs in the ongoing political saga in our nation’s capital, and thus is not being funded during the government shutdown.

On January 8, newly elected New Jersey democrat, Rep. Jeff Van Drew, introduced the Pay Our Coast Guard Act of 2019 (HR.350) in the House to provide continue funding appropriations to the U.S. Coast Guard and would apply to pay and allowances for members of the Coast Guard, civilian employees, and contractors. A similar version of the bill was introduced in the U.S. Senate by South Dakota republican John Thune (S.21).

“It is unacceptable for the men and women who protect us to be treated like second class citizens over partisan bickering,” Van Drew said in a statement. “We need to re-open our government. This is shameful.”

According to the Wall Street Journal, a White House official has said that President Trump would be willing to sign bipartisan, stand-alone legislation that restores their pay.

Meanwhile, the non-profit Coast Guard Foundation announced plans to send an initial $250,000 in family support to assist Coast Guard families impacted by the government shutdown. Founded in 1969, the Coast Guard Foundation provides education, support, and relief for Coast Guard members and their families.

“We are here to support the brave men and women of the United States Coast Guard, who continue to stand the watch during this challenging time,” said foundation president, Susan Ludwig. “While these funds will not cover the $150 million it takes to fund the Service's payroll, we can send our help to those who continue to put their lives on the line every day and serve our nation with pride.”

The Coast Guard Foundation is partnering with the U.S. Coast Guard Chief Petty Officers Association to distribute the support to members around the country.

Learn more about making donations to the Coast Guard Foundation.

(EDITOR'S NOTE - On January 22, 2019 at 4 p.m., the MAFMC announced that their February 2019 meeting has been cancelled due to the government shutdown. According to the press announcement, the Council is considering rescheduling some of the planned agenda items for a shorter meeting tentatively scheduled for March 6 and 7 in Virginia Beach. However, that too will be "highly dependent on when the government reopens." For updates about cancellations and rescheduled meeting dates as they're posted, go to www.mafmc.org/newsfeed/2019/federal-shutdown-effects-on-mafmc-meetings.)

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