Editor's Log: Baby Steps - The Fisherman

Editor’s Log: Baby Steps

Don’t forget, if you’re fishing marine waters you’ll need to either be licensed or registered to do so.  What’s the difference?  Well, I guess a “license” requires anglers to pay a fee (as Delaware does), while a “registration” for saltwater fishing (as in New York and New Jersey) is free.  That said, if you’re fishing in New Jersey marine waters, you need to register first by visiting saltwaterregistry.nj.gov.

It’s hard really to tell how the COVID-19 situation affected the number of actual registrations in New Jersey.  As of April 30, there were 53,736 individuals and 395 for-hire vessels registered for 2020.  During the same 2019 timeframe 60,745 individuals and 450 for-hire vessels had registered through the end of last April, which represents a 12% drop this season in both the number of anglers registered and the registered for-hire boats.  It will be interesting to track this data throughout the year; once the final numbers are in for 2020, I’ll share in a future edition.

The need to register came out of the 2006 reauthorization of the Magnuson Stevens Fisheries Conservation and Management Act (Magnuson Act) on Capitol Hill.  During the reauthorization debate, a study coordinated by the National Research Council on recreational data collection – specifically the Marine Recreational Fishing Statistical Survey, or MRFSS – found the federal survey to be “fatally flawed” (their words, not mine). As a result, the 2006 version of the Magnuson Act required states to implement a registration mechanism in order to provide contact information for follow-up surveys.

In theory, that contact information would allow NOAA Fisheries to do a better job of contacting individual anglers about their activities and catches.  Instead of MRFSS, today we are monitored using an updated methodology called the Marine Recreational Information Program (MRIP).  NOAA Fisheries refers to MRIP as “the state-regional-federal partnership responsible for developing, improving, and implementing surveys that measure how many trips saltwater anglers take and how many fish they catch.”  On the other hand, I often refer to MRIP as a silk pillow case; if old MRIP was a burlap sack carting a load of manure, what we have today is just a prettier exterior package for the same stuff.

Many of those who feel that management of black sea bass and summer flounder needs a regulatory overhaul also understand the rigidity of the Magnuson Act is ultimately to blame.  There has been legislation in Washington aimed at addressing the problems written into the last Magnuson Act, but partisan bickering and ideological differences within the angling and environmental communities have left those bills dead on the vine.

In 2018, passage of the Modernizing Recreational Fisheries Management Act was praised by many folks in the recreational fishing community as the cure for our fisheries ills.  Regrettably, most of the language included in the legislation was geared towards problems in the Gulf and South Atlantic, specifically related to red snapper.  That’s not to say that the Modern Fish Act is worthless for us in the Mid-Atlantic and Northeast; kudos to the Recreational Fishing Alliance (RFA) for leading the effort to get additional funding mechanisms written into the final version to support recreational data collection.

NOAA Fisheries recently announced that $3 million in additional funding was being made available for just those purposes outlined in the Modern Fish Act.  For East Coast anglers, the Atlantic Coastal Cooperative Statistics Program will administer $900,000 of this total sum “to improve the precision of landings and discard estimates, prioritizing species managed through annual catch limits.”

MRIP is far from perfect.  And to be perfectly frank, I think NOAA Fisheries completely botched the implementation of the Magnuson Act reauthorization to begin with; they should’ve just given angler research money back to the states to begin with.  But perhaps we’re moving in the right direction.  As the title implies, baby steps.

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