NOTE: The following is the first in an occasional series of "Policy Primers" from the NY BHA Policy Team. The purpose is to introduce you to topics and conversations that will shape your hunting and angling experiences and opportunities in the coming years. It's also an excellent way for our membership to get to know and learn about the diverse slate of issues reflecting the wide variety of membership pursuits available in our state.
By Charles Witek
On Tuesday, August 4, The Atlantic States Marine Fisheries Commission’s (ASMFC) Atlantic Striped Bass Management Board voted to initiate a new, comprehensive amendment to its Interstate Fishery Management Plan for Striped Bass. Although a number of Management Board members expressed reservations about initiating a new amendment, New York was the only state that voted against taking such action.
The proposed amendment will address a wide array of management actions, including the goals and objectives of the management plan, the timeframe for stock rebuilding, the so-called “triggers” in the management plan that dictate when the Management Board must act to protect the stock, the reference points used to gauge the health of the stock, regional management, recreational discard mortality, states’ ability to adopt “conservation equivalent” regulations rather than the regulations recommended by the ASMFC, recreational accountability, and the allocation of commercial quotas.
The broad scope of the proposed new amendment caused New York to oppose it; the state’s ASMFC delegation believed that the Management Board should be focusing on rebuilding the stock, and not on other issues.
There is fear among some striped bass anglers that, if the new amendment is adopted, the stock will never be rebuilt to current target levels. A Work Group, formed to guide the amendment’s development, identified management stability, flexibility and regulatory consistency as three “themes” that ought to be reflected in the new management document. Worried anglers believe that the Management Board’s emphasis on regulatory stability has already harmed the striped bass stock, leading managers to defer action needed to protect the striped bass even after biologists warned that the stock was in decline. Such anglers are also concerned that giving the Management Board greater flexibility in their response to overfishing or a depleted stock will lead it to subordinate the long-term health of the population to short-term economic concerns.
Anglers worry that some Management Board members, who have already expressed their desire to reduce the female spawning stock biomass target in order to allow a larger annual harvest and a higher fishing mortality rate, will have a disproportionate impact on the shape of the final amendment. Anglers are also concerned that both the Work Group and many Management Board members view recreational release mortality as the single most important issue facing fishery managers. Recreational release mortality is the highest single source of striped bass fishing mortality; however, given that the recreational fishery is responsible for about 90% of all striped bass fishing mortality, and that anglers release more than 90% of the striped bass that they catch, such mortality isn’t unexpected. Even so, Management Board members have complained that release mortality leads to more restrictive harvest regulations and lower striped bass landings. In Maryland, fishery managers have already closed traditional catch and release striped bass fisheries in exchange for maintaining landing levels by the state’s charter and party boat industry.
Yet there are other Management Board members who aren’t seeking to increase harvest and weaken conservation measures. Some have declared that they want to see the new amendment place greater emphasis on science-based management and striped bass conservation. Currently, it is impossible to predict which side will prevail.
The Management Board will prepare a Public Information Document listing all of the possible options for the amendment, which it hopes to release in October or, at the latest, in February 2021. Stakeholder input on that Public Information Document will play a large role in determining what the final amendment will look like, and so what the striped bass fishery will look like for the next 15 or 20 years.
Backcountry Hunters & Anglers’ New York Chapter will keep you informed on the progress of the new amendment, and will let you know when your input is needed to inform the Management Board and help assure that the final amendment will make the long-term health of the striped bass stock its first priority.
Charles Witek is a recovering lawyer, outdoor journalist, dedicated saltwater angler, and member of the NY BHA Policy Team.