The Recreational Fishing Alliance (RFA) is encouraging U.S. anglers to attend an upcoming regional council meeting or submit comments to make sure the concerns of the recreational fishing community are heard.

“Some council members have said there aren’t enough members of the public showing up for meetings anymore, a pretty bold statement for someone getting over $400 a day plus travel and meal expenses from the government to be a regional council member,” said RFA executive director Jim Donofrio.

“We’ve spent a great deal of time and effort trying to get Congress to take notice of what the federal law has done to our fishing communities, now it’s time for the members of the regional fishery management councils to get out and speak to fishermen and demand that the voice of our fishing communities is heard at NOAA and the federal level,” Donofrio said, pointing out the duty of paid council members (GS-15 Step 7) according to federal law is to engage the fishing community and convey concerns back to the management council.

“Quite frankly, it is rather insulting that some council members would sit back and expect individuals to spend their own time and money to attend these meetings when the council members themselves are supposed to be working with stakeholders at home, so yes perhaps now it’s time for anglers to send a more direct message to their representatives,” he added.

According to the RFA, rigid annual catch limits (ACL) and accountability measures (AM) steamrolled into the fisheries management process in the last two years as a result of a federal law change in 2007 have created one of the most egregious contradictions in the history of fisheries management. ACLs force managers to adjust catch limits based on the annual performance of the recreational fishery and yet, NOAA personnel openly admit that the recreational data collection methods have not been designed for annual quota monitoring or in-season management.

In a 2006 report from the National Research Council, independent scientists said “the time it takes to collect, verify, and calculate angling effort and catch using conventional survey approaches is too lengthy, even for annual management.” Regrettably, supporters of the ACL/AM plans coupled with rigid time-constraints in management gave very little consideration as to how these provisions of the 2007 reauthorization of the Magnuson-Stevens Act impact coastal anglers down the road. In the 6 years since Congress amended the law, angler access has actually diminished while fish populations have flourished.

“NOAA Fisheries has been quick to incorporate these hard and fast rules, but they’ve been soft on meeting their own congressionally mandated data collection improvements which were supposed to be in place by 2009 and are absolutely essential for the use of ACLs,” Donofrio said. “These rigid time constraints and absolutes are in place for anglers, but no one is holding the federal government up to the same standards, and anglers need to express their frustration publicly.”

One of the most frustrating discussions expected at the regional council level is set to be held this week from January 29-31st at the Sheraton Harborside in Portsmouth, NH when the New England Fishery Management Council (NEFMC) plans to set controversial catch limits for the New England groundfishery for 2013-2015. “There’s a clear mandate in the Magnuson-Stevens Act to end statutory overfishing in a time-certain deadline, which means NEFMC doesn’t legally have the flexibility to incorporate any interim measures to keep the Gulf of Maine cod fishery open,” Donofrio said.

Capt. Barry Gibson, RFA’s New England called the situation “hugely disappointing,” and said members of the community are now asking how the science could’ve been so far off the mark. “The new limits are really going to impact the for-hire groundfish fleet, and it’s going to discourage private anglers from heading offshore as well.”

From February 5-8 at the Mobile Marriott at 3101 Airport Boulevard in Mobile, AL, the Gulf of Mexico Fishery Management Council will meet and discuss management measures including framework action to set the 2013 red snapper quotas, as well as vermillion and yellowtail snapper ACL’s. RFA is encouraging anglers who can attend the meeting to consider sharing their own public comment on Thursday, February 7.

“Whether you’re from Florida, Alabama, Mississippi, Louisiana or Texas, tell your council representative that you oppose the absolute ACLs and the resulting punishment measures since NOAA doesn’t have the data to back it up,” Donofrio said. Anglers unable to attend the Alabama meeting in person can register for the online web broadcast by visiting http://www.gulfcouncil.org/council_meetings/Webinars.php. To view the complete Gulf of Mexico Fishery Management Council agenda, click here.

From February 12-14, the Mid-Atlantic Fishery Management Council (MAFMC) will meet at Embassy Suites Hampton Roads at 1700 Coliseum Drive in Hampton, VA. For those anglers unable to make it to Virginia for the public meeting, online access will be available for those who register in advance at https://mafmc.adobeconnect.com/Council.  On Wednesday, February 13, 2013 at 10 a.m., MAFMC will review science and statistical committee (SSC) reports on the 2013 and 2014 catch estimates for black sea bass, and will also revise the 2013 limits if appropriate.

At 1 p.m., MAMFC members have blocked out 1-1/2 hours to review and approve ACL and AM alternatives for inclusion in an omnibus amendment based on feedback from the December meeting. RFA said that ‘feedback’ dealt primarily with the fact that the black sea bass fishery is so healthy that anglers are catching too many fish, thus triggering seasonal closures to keep in check with the ACL’s. “Council members are finally beginning to understand what our RFA members have been saying all along, this is complete nonsense and no way to responsibly manage our coastal fisheries,” Donofrio said.

The South Atlantic Fishery Management Council will next meet from March 4-8 at the Sea Palms Resort on St. Simons Island, GA. Presently, the council is holding a series of public scoping meetings set to get public input on Amendment 5 to the Dolphin Wahoo Fishery Management Plan. The amendment would revise management parameters including ACL’s, sector allocations, and other values for dolphin and wahoo based on updated recreational estimates.

Public hearings are also being held on Amendment 27 to the Snapper Grouper Fishery Management Plan which includes measures to modify crew limits for dual federally permitted snapper grouper vessels, bag limit retention for captain and crew on for-hire vessels, alternatives for the harvest of blue runner, and more. Meetings will be held from 4-7 p.m. at the following locations.

January 28

Jacksonville Marriott

4670 Salisbury Road

Jacksonville, FL 32256

January 29

Doubletree by Hilton Cocoa Beach

2080 North Atlantic Avenue

Cocoa Beach, FL 32931

January 30

Holiday Inn Key Largo

99701 Overseas Highway

Key Largo, FL 33037

On the West Coast, the North Pacific Fishery Management Council will meet at the Benson Hotel, 309 SW Broadway in Portland, OR from February 6-12 (click here for the agenda.) The International Pacific Halibut Commission met this week in Victoria, BC to discuss regulatory proposals and management plans for 2013. The North Pacific Fishery Management Council had requested status quo management for halibut charters in Areas 2C and 3A, or the waters near Southeast and Southcentral Alaska, respectively. Finally, the Pacific Fishery Management Council and its advisory bodies will meet March 6-11, in Tacoma, WA at the Hotel Murano at 1320 Broadway Plaza. Click here to read the agenda.

Logo courtesy Recreational Fishing Alliance

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