The Mid-Atlantic Fishery Management Council is holding hearings to gather public input for the Bluefish Allocation and Rebuilding Amendment. The Council is developing this action in cooperation with the Atlantic States Marine Fisheries Commission. Public comments during scoping will help the Council address issues of public concern in a thorough and appropriate manner.
Several months ago, the Mid-Atlantic Fishery Management Council (MAFMC) recommended, and the ASMFC approved, new recreational fishing regulations for the 2020 Atlantic bluefish fishery based on the results of a recently concluded operational assessment of the fishery that found bluefish overfished but not experiencing overfishing. Those new regulations included a 3-fish bag limit for private boat and shore-based anglers, and a 5-fish bag limit for for-hire fishermen (those fishing on open or charter boats). This would represent a major reduction from the 15-fish bag limit that has been in effect since 2000. Conservation equivalency woulda allow the possibility of modifying those regulations, provided they meet the required 28.56 reduction in harvest.
Many anglers are no doubt pondering how the fishery could be overfished when bluefish have been close to non-existent in the region for several years now. One of the answers to the overfishing question can be found in Table 5 of an MAFMC report which reveals 64 percent of the harvest used in the assessment were actually fish ranging from 4 to 12 inches. If you include 13 inches, the percentage of harvest jumps to 70 percent. Most people in the fishing world classify blues 12 inches and under as snappers. States will have the option of conservation equivalency and they may be able to adjust the regulations to meet the required 28.56 reduction. The for-hire sector, which accounts for less than 4 percent of the harvest, is concerned that even the 5-fish bag limit is too low to draw anglers for bluefish trips. Tackle shops, which rely on snappers to help carry them through the summer months will no doubt see their business suffer with a three fish bag limit.
Given the state of the fishery in recent years, is a bag limit really going to have much impact on restoring the fishery? Just setting an 8-inch minimum size would result in a 28.62% reduction, meeting the 2019 harvest reduction goal of 28.56. An 8-inch size limit might impact too much on the snapper fishery, but the combination of a 6 or 7-inch minimum size combined with a more reasonable bag limit that would benefit the for-hires (remember they make up a very small percentage of the harvest) and the snapper fishery should meet or exceed the required reduction. Including a size limit seems to make a lot of sense since how many other fisheries allow anglers to harvest such immature members of a fishery? Regulations aside, should anybody be killing 4-5 inch snappers?
You can have your say on how best to restore the bluefish fishery at the scoping meeting being held this Thursday, February 27 from 7:30 to 9:30 p.m. at Stony Brook University, School of Marine and Atmospheric Sciences, Room 120 Endeavour Hall, Stony Brook, NY 11794. You may submit written comments by 11:59 pm EDT on Tuesday, March 17, 2020 to: http://www.mafmc.org/comments/bluefish-allocation-rebuilding-amendment or email firstname.lastname@example.org. You can also mail or fax to Dr. Christopher Moore, Executive Director, Mid-Atlantic Fishery Management Council, 800 North State St. Suite 201, Dover, DE 19901 – FAX: 302.674.5399. Include “Bluefish Scoping Comments” in the subject line for email or fax, or on envelope if mailing.