The regionalization plan proposed by the Atlantic States Marine Fisheries Commission (ASMFC) for the management of summer flounder pits state versus state, angler against angler, and business owner over business owner.

As such, the Recreational Fishing Alliance (RFA) sees the ongoing effort to create regions along the Atlantic Coast for sharing season, size and bag limits on summer flounder as being a recipe for disaster which does not attack the truly systemic management failures under the National Marine Fisheries Service (NMFS) during the past two decades.

RFA executive director Jim Donofrio said the organization has spent the past 7 years rallying coastal support for efforts to fix the federal fisheries law, and calls this summer flounder debate at the ASMFC another ‘train wreck’ in the making.

“All of us who fish, no matter which state we’re in, recognize the insanity of this management debacle,” Donofrio said. “In 1998 when the summer flounder stock was rebuilding and not yet as fully robust as it is today, New Jersey had 2.7 million fluke while the state of New York had 1.2 million fish, yet here we are with a healthy, rebuilt fluke stock and we’re looking at 75% of that 1998 fishery allocation under a status quo, do nothing management approach.”

Donofrio said it’s easy to see why states are up in arms and fighting for whatever scraps are available in the fishery, but he’s worried that NMFS’ flawed data could lead to excruciating payback measures in 2015 under a regional approach.

“It’s patently unfair to punish anglers by continuously reducing quota due to erroneous landings estimates produced by a still broken recreational data collection system, and it’s critical that NMFS dismiss the overages predicted under this survey program under a new system is fully implemented, properly calibrated by NMFS, and ultimately peer-reviewed at a federal level,” Donofrio said.

Donofrio said the reauthorization of the Magnuson Stevens Fisheries Management and Conservation Act in 2006 contained dangerous and arbitrary provisions which have ultimately denied anglers access to rebuilt fish stocks, something RFA has been working to change for more than 7 years.

“Anyone with common sense, perhaps not a PHD in science or high-level marketing position at an environmental society, would be dumfounded to think that we were assigned more fish when the stock was rebuilding and 75% less once the fishery was declared rebuilt,” Donofrio said, adding “and therein lays the fatal flaw in the management system.”

“It’s a system that’s been designed primarily to benefit the commercial fishing industry, with the former Bureau of Commercial Fisheries (NMFS) still geared towards preserving the interests of the commercial fleet at the expense of the recreational sector,” Donofrio added.

“Forcing neighbors to argue with neighbors over a totally inadequate and scientifically untenable quota allotment is result of our government’s inaction and I just don’t see this plan can to cure the ills of a broken management system,” said RFA Board member Nick Cicero about the ASMFC fluke debate. “More importantly, the proposed changes will do nothing to address the real problem which is clearly the repeated management failures at NMFS during their 20 years of irresponsible stewardship.”

“The real issue now is which U.S. Senator is going to step up and tell Senator Harry Reed, Senator Mark Begich and the rest of congressional leadership that Magnuson has to be fixed and it has to be fixed immediately,” added Donofrio. “NMFS has to get an accurate and transparent data collection system in place now and stop wasting money like the $25 million they just assigned to create catch share systems in the Gulf of Mexico.”

According to Donofrio, while recreational anglers in the Gulf of Mexico for example of spearheaded opposition to sector separation plans and assigned fish tags there, the regional management body under pressure and funding through NMFS is moving forward with plans to divide the recreational sector.

“The fisheries service says they have no money for data collection, yet they’ve been wasting all of these federally allotted funds on non-science based initiatives to further keep anglers and recreational business owners fighting one another at the state and regional level,” Donofrio said.

RFA said the overall problem in the recreational community is that anglers and business owners don’t often get active in protest and reform efforts until the pendulum swings in the opposite direction.

“It’s time for everybody in all the states and all the groups to get on the same page and call for Magnuson reform,” Donofrio said, adding “this hurray for me, I don’t care about you attitude is killing our industry and destroying our opportunity for change.”

Logo courtesy Recreational Fishing Alliance

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