The Big Picture - The Fisherman

The Big Picture

“Six years of low recruitment.” That’s what NOAA Fisheries says about the summer flounder stock; six straight years of diminishing returns on new fluke into the biomass. Most anglers I know are up in arms over the pending cuts. I say “most” of course because there are a handful of folks criticizing those of us who are complaining about rigid cutbacks; they say we’re being selfish and greedy, and not looking at the big picture.

I could point to the fact that we keep raising the recreational size limit on keepers, that we’re harvesting too many breeding females. But the critics, particularly the environmental elite and bureaucratic sympathizers, say that’s simply anecdotal. We could also blame the commercial guys. Heck, they’re the ones out at the Hudson Canyon dragging up spawning fluke during the winter months; it’s certainly not anglers bucktailing at 60 fathoms in December! But basic facts like these don’t seem to factor into the management process, and they certainly don’t quell the anti-fishing industry rhetoric.

It’s certainly difficult data to digest. After a successful 2009 spawn, recruitment dipped in 2010 and again in 2011. Low and behold, the 2016 surveys come out and we learn fluke recruitment is down again. It leaves many anglers, myself included, wondering if perhaps there isn’t something else that could’ve happened over the course of a half-dozen years to impact recruitment.
Did you know that NOAA Fisheries launched a brand new Fisheries Survey Vessel class research ship about six years ago? Built to “modernize the NOAA fleet” as our Commerce Department described her, the R/V Henry B. Bigelow was assigned to the National Marine Fisheries Service’s Northeast Fisheries Science Center and put into action in the spring of 2009 to survey coastwide fish populations.

As of 2010, data collected from trawl samples aboard the R/V Bigelow was being integrated into NOAA Fisheries stock assessments. If my addition is correct, 2010 to 2016 is roughly six years. You don’t think, perhaps, that fancy new government ship might be using the wrong equipment to do trawl surveys on small flounder, do you? I mean, it’s clearly just a coincidence, right? Certainly federal bureaucrats and rabid environmentalists wouldn’t try to deceive the angling public, would they? (See the fluke story on page 28.)

Our coastal fisheries are ultimately managed by the Department of Commerce, and on December 8, President Obama signed into law the Outdoor Recreation Jobs and Economic Impact Act of 2016, also known as Outdoor REC Act. This bipartisan piece of legislation requires the Department of Commerce to assess and analyze the contributions of the outdoor recreation industry, including recreational fishing, to the overall United States economy. Our fishing creates jobs – the Outdoor REC Act ensures that sportfishing industry jobs and recreational fishing’s economic impact are counted towards the gross domestic product (GDP). No, it’s not a federal fisheries law fix, but it could provide more teeth to laws already requiring NOAA Fisheries to incorporate more accurate data on angler effort and participation. After all, how can you reasonably measure GDP using “fatally flawed” Commerce data?

Stats compiled by the American Sportfishing Association, a trade organization of which The Fisherman Magazine is a member, shows value-added contributions to the GDP for fluke to be over $790 million combined from Maine to Virginia, with New Jersey ($428.8 million) and New York ($201.6 million) leading the way. Mr. Trump enters the White House having been elected on a pledge to fix a broken federal bureaucracy while alleviating the burdensome regulations decimating American small businesses. Imagine what a 40 percent cut in GDP would do for our economy in President Trump’s first year in office. Think that goes over well?

Regrettably, I’m told it will take at least 12 months for this Outdoor REC Act info to get implemented. Sad too, given how NOAA Fisheries’ obvious failure to accurately measure fluke stocks is continually driving the recreational industry into the ground; seems as if our own Commerce Department is one of the biggest obstacles in positive GDP growth.

Big picture? For years we’ve been getting jammed up by ideology and incompetence cloaked by an overly restrictive federal fisheries law; I just hope anglers and business owners can make it through to the spring, much less another 12 months!


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