Days after the May Day decision by the Atlantic States Marine Fisheries Commission (ASMFC) and its Striped Bass Management Board (Board) to ratchet down the high end of the striped bass slot to 31 inches, The Fisherman staffers were having an internal debate about certain regulatory nuances, so I offered to call ASMFC’s Director of Communications, Tina Berger, for answers.
“Hello, this is Tina Berger,” came the voice at the other end of the line.
“Hi Tina, this is Jim Hutchinson from The Fisherman Magazine,” I replied.
“Oh,” was her one-word response.
It’s hard to actually read an “oh” in print. For example, there’s the “oh” you let out when wait staff offers you complimentary drinks and dessert, or the excited “oh, jumbo fluke, get the net!” However, Berger’s “oh” upon hearing my voice was more like the kind of “oh” you’d give the mechanic upon learning that you need a new lower unit, or as in “oh, so now you’re leaving me and taking the dog.”
Most lifelong bureaucrats see me in the same disdainful and disgusted way; to be fair, it’s not as if I’ve written flowery prose in support of government’s often myopic and disengaged view of our recreational fishing community, so yeah, I get it. But based on recent events at ASMFC and a new disclosure from NOAA Fisheries, I’m not about to get all weepy about their feelings.
When the Board voted on August 1 to continue the emergency striped bass measures for another year, questions were asked about the impacts of catch and release mortality, along with redirected harvest effort (for example, if shorebound anglers have difficulty finding a keeper slot, what then?) One ASMFC staffer offered a great example of the disconnect from angling reality when she said anglers who wish to harvest a table fish can switch over to black sea bass or bluefish.
First of all, if one of these gubmint folks would like to write a “how to” article for The Fisherman on surfcasting tactics for fall black sea bass, I’d love to print their byline. But given the fact that these same management experts won’t allow New Jersey’s black sea bass season to open until the third weekend in May, the idea of “redirecting” effort from stripers to sea bass in March and April is simply ludicrous. As for switching tactics from targeting stripers to bluefish, c’mon man!
When it comes to addressing release mortality in the striped bass fishery, ASMFC’s exact words at their August hearing were “We focused on the harvest component because that’s what we can do in this limited amount of time,” while further adding “Our management tools are not effective at controlling releases.”
The 14-2 vote to extend the emergency striped bass action into 2024 included an “aye” vote from NOAA Fisheries. But the following week, NOAA Fisheries made the rather unprecedented announcement that their highly-touted recreational management tools were not effective in monitoring recreational fishing effort either. Bottom line, the emergency decision to cut recreational harvest of striped bass was based on NOAA Fisheries management tools that are wrought with “reporting errors and illogical responses” as we learned in a conference call that turned the fisheries management world on its head.
As you’ll read in my full report, NOAA Fisheries knew for months that their data collection efforts were over-reporting angler effort, but the agency still voted in favor of a continued emergency action that was originally based on their own erroneous data. Expect congressional hearings to begin very soon, and hopefully the lifers at NOAA and ASMFC bring their thesauruses to help testify, as I doubt flippant, monosyllabic answers will suffice.