This is one of those times where we can look back and realize in very specific terms that we CAN make a difference for the resources we care so much about when we engage in the processes that manage them.
In a recent conversation on Episode 48 of the American Saltwater Guides Association’s “Guide Post” podcast New England Chapter Board Chair Mike Woods mentioned that if the outcome of ASMFC’s Spring Meeting, and specifically the outcome of the final action on Amendment 7, ended up being positive for Striped Bass conservation it would largely be due to the fact that the public spoke up and urged the Striped Bass Board to include options that would most effectively recover and protect the fishery. The majority of that conversation focused on breaking down the Spring Meeting’s supplemental materials that summarize the results of the Draft Amendment 7 public hearings and comments.
With the ASMFC’s 2022 Spring Meeting now behind us we know the result of our collective work to protect Striped Bass, and we largely realized the positive outcome we had hoped for. Thanks are in order for all who took the time to educate themselves and comment through ASFMC’s staff, to show up for hearings, and to contact the commissioners who represent them on the Striped Bass Board. This is one of those times where we can look back and realize in very specific terms that we CAN make a difference for the resources we care so much about when we engage in the processes that manage them. If you were one of the 4000+ who commented in support of Striped Bass conservation take a moment to celebrate – you deserve it.
In this piece we’ll be breaking down our takes on the happenings and results of Wednesday’s meeting issue-by-issue, vote-by-vote. If that’s more detail than you’re interested here are a couple simple takeaways:
Amendment 7 represents a considerable improvement to the fisheries management plan (FMP) for Striped Bass. As we’ve shared in earlier posts, Amendment 7 included options that could both improve or degrade the way the fishery is managed. While the final action didn’t include 100% of the priorities outlined by BHA and other conservation-minded groups and individuals it did include all the most important options, and none of the especially damaging options made it in.
Amendment 7 removed a considerable amount of the Board’s discretion over the use of Conservation Equivalency. Some of the most important changes that were on the table for Amendment 7 related to reducing opportunities to abuse Conservation Equivalency (CE). Options were included in the final action that will limit the use of CE during times when the stock is overfished and will also tighten up the data standards and uncertainty buffers required when states apply to use CE in the future.
Amendment 7 included measures to recover the overfished Striped Bass stock. While the FMP has been improved, it’s important not to lose sight of the fact that Striper populations still need to be recovered in the real world. The final action re-affirmed the Board’s commitment to rebuild the stock by 2029 and included measures to react quickly to the upcoming stock assessment in October 2022 if further action is needed at that point.
With that out of the way, here’s our breakdown of what happened at the Striped Bass Board’s meeting:
4.4 Rebuilding Plan
BHA Priorities for Inclusion: 4.4.1 Option B, 4.4.2 Option B
Motion: Include 4.4.1 Option B - Rebuild female SSB to the SSB target level by no later than 2029. F rebuild is calculated to achieve the SSB target by no later than 2029 using the low recruitment regime assumption as identified by the change point analysis
Include 4.4.2 Option B - If the 2022 stock assessment results indicate the Amendment 7 measures have less than a 50% probability of rebuilding the stock by 2029 (as calculated using the recruitment assumption specified in Amendment 7) and if the stock assessment indicates at least a 5% reduction in removals is needed to achieve F rebuild, the Board may adjust measures to achieve F rebuild via Board action.
Motion by Armstrong (MA), Second by McMurray (NY)
Vote: Yea - RI, MA, CT, NY, VA, MD, DC, DE, ME, NC, PA, NH, PRFC, NOAA, USFWS
Null – NJ
According to ASMFC’s document outlining Roles and Responsibilities for Commissioners a null vote is cast “when Commissioners from a delegation cannot come to agreement on the issue at hand”
In the first action of the meeting the Board considered two options related to rebuilding the Striped Bass stock. While they were proposed and approved in a motion that included both options, the goal of each is distinctly different. Under Section 4.4.1, the Board had the choice between using a standard or low recruitment assumption when calculating the fishing mortality (F) that would need to rebuild the stock by 2029. The low recruitment option was the more conservative choice, and while it will result in more restrictive measures until the fishery is recovered it will also rebuild the stock more quickly. Section 4.4.2 focused on how Board could respond to the upcoming stock assessment expected in October 2022. If the assessment doesn’t indicate that measures beyond those included in Amendment 7 are required neither option would come into effect. However, in the potential scenario that the upcoming stock assessment indicates that further measures are required to rebuild by 2029 then Option B would allow the Board to implement corrective measures much more quickly by Board Action, rather than through a year-long addendum process.
4.1 Tier 1 – Fishing Mortality (F) Triggers
BHA Priorities for Inclusion: Sub-options A1, B1, C1
Motion: Include Sub-option A1 (status quo): Reduce F to a level that is at or below the target within one year.
Include Sub-option B1 (status quo): If F exceeds the F threshold, the striped bass management program must be adjusted to reduce F to a level that is at or below the target within the timeframe selected under Option A.
Include Sub-option C1 (status quo): If F exceeds the F target for two consecutive years and female SSB falls below the SSB target in either of those years, the striped bass management program must be adjusted to reduce F to a level that is at or below the target within the timeframe selected under sub-option A.
Motion by McNamee (RI), Second by Ware (ME)
Vote: Yea - RI, MA, CT, NY, VA, MD, DC, NJ, ME, NC, PA, NH, PRFC, NOAA, USFWS
No – DE
Following a failed motion made by Commissioners Clark (DE) and Fote (NJ), which was also supported by the PA delegation, to substitute sub-option C3 (which would have removed the FTarget trigger from the final action) in place of sub-option C1 the Board voted to maintain the status-quo F trigger options. All the alternative options in this section either weakened or removed management triggers – so status quo was the best outcome here.
4.1 Tier 2– Spawning Stock Biomass (SSB) Triggers
BHA Priorities for Inclusion: Sub-Options A2, B1, C2
Motion: Include Sub-option A2: Two-Year Deadline to Implement a Rebuilding Plan. The Board must implement a rebuilding plan within two years from when an SSB-based management trigger is tripped. A management trigger is not considered tripped until the Board formally reviews and accepts, if necessary, the results of the relevant stock assessment
Include Sub-option B1 (status quo): If female SSB falls below the SSB threshold, the striped bass management program must be adjusted to rebuild the biomass to the target level within an established timeframe [not to exceed 10-years].
Include Sub-option C1 (status quo): If female SSB falls below the target for two consecutive years and the fishing mortality rate exceeds the target in either of those years, the striped bass management program must be adjusted to rebuild the biomass to a level that is at or above the target within an established timeframe [not to exceed 10-years].
Motion by Ware (ME), Second by Patterson (NH)
Vote: Yea - RI, MA, CT, NY, VA, MD, DC, DE, ME, NC, PA, NH, PRFC, NOAA, USFWS
Null – NJ
The inclusion of sub-option A2 represented an improvement to the FMP – requiring the Board to implement a 10-year rebuilding plan within two years of any SSB trigger being tripped as part of future stock assessments. This is an important and needed change, as we’ve been waiting to see a rebuilding plan implemented following the SSBThreshold trigger being tripped following the 2018 stock assessment, which was accepted by the Board in 2019.
4.1 Tier 3 – Recruitment Triggers
BHA Priorities for Inclusion: Sub-Options A2, B2
Motion: Include Sub-option A2: The recruitment trigger is tripped when any of the four JAIs used in the stock assessment model to estimate recruitment (NY, NJ, MD, VA) shows an index value that is below 75% of all values (i.e., below the 25th percentile) in the respective JAI from 1992-2006, which represents a period of high recruitment, for three consecutive years.
Include Sub-option B3. If the recruitment trigger is tripped, an interim F target and interim F threshold calculated using the low recruitment assumption are implemented, and the F-based management triggers defined in Section 4.1 would be reevaluated using those interim reference points. If an F-based trigger is tripped upon reevaluation, the striped bass management program must be adjusted to reduce F to the interim F target within the timeline defined in Section 4.1.
Motion by Armstrong (MA), Second by Abbott (NH)
The options presented to the Board related to recruitment triggers included some that had the potential to improve the FMP. While Striped Bass rely mostly on ideal spawning conditions to trigger abundant year-classes of young fish rather than relying directly on abundant female SSB, it is also important that during times when recruitment suffers because of several years in a row of sub-optimal spawning conditions that breeding-age fish are protected until future generations are on the way. Over the last 20 years the status quo recruitment trigger was not sensitive enough to trip until very recently, which is concerning. Implementing a more sensitive recruitment trigger will improve the responsiveness of this management trigger moving forward.
The inclusion of Option B3, as well as the lack of discussion on the part of the Board when adopting it, was highly concerning. According to the supplemental materials (page 5 of the Public Comment Summary on Draft Amendment 7) the public overwhelmingly supported sub-option B2 (4103 comments in support) over B3 (2 comments in support). In addition, no members of the Striped Bass Advisory Panel supported B3. Actions like this – including the absence of discussion and lack of explanation – are precisely the reason why the public can sometimes lose faith in the way that resources managers make decisions. Practically speaking the inclusion of B3 still represents an improvement over the status quo in terms of the response to the recruitment trigger being tripped, although B2 would have been more conservative.
4.1 Tier 4 – Deferred Management Action
BHA Priorities for Inclusion: Option A
Motion: Include Option F: If a management trigger trips after the Board has already initiated action in response to a different management trigger, the Board can defer management action in response to the subsequent trigger until the next assessment.
Motion to Substitute by Clark (DE), Second by Cimino (NJ)
Abstain - NOAA
Like the prior vote, the Board’s action on Tier 4 represented a considerable diversion from what the public urged. The original motion on Tier 4, made by Commissioner Gilmore (NY) and seconded by Commissioner Patterson (NH) would have included Option A – no deferred management action. This was by far the most popular option for the public with 4280 comments in support. By comparison, Option F received support from 67 commenters. Further, no members of the Striped Bass Advisory Panel supported Option F.
In discussion of the motions FMP Coordinator Emily Franke clarified that the PDT developed Option F specifically to address the potential scenario where a recruitment trigger was tripped and the Board/TC/PDT was in the process of responding to that based on the terms set out to adjust F in Tier 3, and during that process a subsequent stock assessment resulted in an additional trigger being tripped. In that scenario, Option F was designed so that the pending action could be completed and the subsequent trigger delayed. It’s important to note here that unlike SSB and F triggers, which are only evaluated during stock assessments that occur every couple years, recruitment triggers are evaluated annually as states conduct their juvenile abundance surveys and prior to the modification of the recruitment triggers the Board would very likely have used its discretion over response to defer action. While we would have liked to see no deferred management option, the inclusion of a more sensitive recruitment trigger and a more binding response to it does increase the chances of the scenario Ms. Franke described occurring, so the inclusion of this Option F is at least understandable.
The delegations from RI, NY, ME, NC, and NH, should be commended for voting against the motion to substitute Option F in favor of Option A during the substitution motion.
4.2.2 Measures to Address Recreational Release Mortality
BHA Priorities for Inclusion: C1, C2, D2
Motion: Include Option C1: Recreational anglers would be prohibited from using any device other than a nonlethal device to remove a striped bass from the water or assist in the releasing of a striped bass.
Motion by Clark (DE), Seconded by Abbott (NH)
Final Action: Include Option D2: It is recommended states continue to promote best striped bass handling and release practices by developing public education and outreach campaigns. States should provide updates on public education and outreach efforts in annual state compliance reports
Motion by Miller (DE), Seconded by Lustig (PA)
Vote: Passes by consent
Motion: Include Option C2: Striped bass caught on any unapproved method of take would be returned to the water immediately without unnecessary injury.
Motion by Batsavage (NC), Seconded by Gates (CT)
Vote: Yea: RI, MA, CT, NY, VA, DE, ME, NC, PA, NH, NOAA, USFWS
No: MD, DC, PRFC
Although both sub-option B1-a and B2-a were motioned for consideration and voted on both failed to receive the support necessary for inclusion. These options were intended to reduce recreational fishing effort by imposing either no-targeting closures or no-harvest closures in spawning areas, respectively.
The remainder of the options that were motioned, voted, and included in the final action represented common-sense improvements to the way that recreational anglers handle Striped Bass.
4.6.2 Management Program Equivalency (Conservation Equivalency, CE)
BHA Priorities for Inclusion: B1-a, C3, D2, E2
Motion: Include Sub-Option B1-a: CE programs would not be approved when the stock is at or below the biomass threshold (i.e., overfished). CE programs would not be considered until a subsequent stock assessment indicates stock biomass is above the threshold level. These restrictions apply to non-quota managed recreational fisheries, with the exception of the Hudson River, Delaware River, and Delaware Bay recreational fisheries.
Motion by Armstrong (MA), Seconded by McMurray (NY)
Motion: Move to approve in section 4.6.2 option C2: CE proposals would not be able to use MRIP estimates associated with a PSE exceeding 40 and move to approve in section 4.6.2 option D1: Proposed CE programs for non-quota managed fisheries would be required to include an uncertainty buffer of 10%, except D2 a buffer of 25% would be required when MRIP estimates PSE exceeds 30%
Motion by Armstrong (MA), Seconded by McNamee (RI)
Vote: Yea: RI, MA, CT, NY, VA, MD, DC, NJ, DE, ME, PA, NH, PRFC
Abstain: NOAA, USFWS
Motion: Include Sub-option E2: Such that CE proposals for non-quota managed fisheries must demonstrate equivalency to the percent reduction/liberalization projected for the FMP standard at the state-specific level
Motion by Armstrong (MA), Seconded by Gilmore (NY)
Vote: Yea: RI, MA, CT, NY, VA, MD, DC, NJ, ME, NC, PA, NH, PRFC
Abstain: NOAA, USFWS
In what was likely the most significant step forward for Striped Bass management – the Board elected to make several significant changes to the way that Conservation Equivalency programs are administered. In principle CE isn’t necessarily a bad thing if it’s used as intended. However, the way that it has been administered over the last couple decades has provided an opening for abuse by some fisheries managers who seek to increase landings. The Board has had discretionary power over the use of CE historically – so they have always had the power to curb abuse – but have not historically done so.
By including sub-option B1-a (which was pared down from its original motion, which would have also included sub-option B1-c and eliminated CE when overfishing was occurring) the Board ceded its discretion to approve CE programs when the stock is overfished (in technical terms – when the SSB falls below the threshold).
By including sub-option E2, the Board ensured that moving forward states that are utilizing CE programs would be subject to reductions and liberalizations based on their proportional impact to the coastwide fishery, rather than applying the simple percentage required to their program. In other words – when corrections to the FMP are required under a new management action states will need to adjust CE programs proportionally based on how much they impact the fishery.
The options considered and ultimately approved relating to precision standards (PSE’s) and uncertainty buffers represented a mashup of options that the public had the opportunity to comment on. Even though the public heavily supported Sub-option C3, which would have required PSE’s less than 30% across the board (1594 comments in support, vs 4 comments in support of all other sub-options) and Sub-option D2, which would have implemented a 25% uncertainty buffer for all CE proposals (1173 comments in support vs. 431 comments in support of all other sub-options) the Board elected to go a bit lighter on the standards that would be required for CE proposals moving forward. It took a little while to fully understand the motion that was included, but what the final action amounted to will require an uncertainty buffer of 25% for CE proposals with a PSE between 40% and 30%, and a 10% uncertainty buffer for CE proposals with a PSE less than 30%. With the inclusion of this motion no CE proposals with PSE’s in excess of 40% would be approved moving forward. While it could have been better the new measures represent a considerable improvement over the status quo, which had no binding requirements for precision standards or uncertainty buffers.