Correcting information about the Feb. 19 scoping meeting
I screwed up. It wasn’t the first time, and as long as I keep drawing breath, I suspect it won’t be the last.
In last week’s Outdoor Report, I got on my shaky soap box and preached about the evils of a slot limit for summer flounder. I failed to mention that such a slot limit is off the table for 2020. I also failed to mention that the scoping meeting Wednesday, Feb. 19, is only to address the allocation of stocks between commercial and recreational fishermen. I apologize for my mistake.
The scoping meeting Feb. 19 will be held between 6 and 7 p.m. in the DNREC Auditorium at 89 Kings Highway, Dover, as I said last week, but the only subject for comment is the allocation of black sea bass, summer flounder and scup between recreational and commercial fishermen. There are 15 issues for consideration in the Summer Flounder, Scup and Black Sea Bass Commercial/Recreational Allocation Amendment, and the final one is other approaches to be determined. The Scoping and Public Information Document is 14 pages long. I really don’t think many recreational fishermen will read this document and then make an informed comment on the allocation question. I hope I am wrong.
The timeline for implementing any changes to the allocations is quite long and includes public hearings in early 2021. The final rulemaking and comment period will be made in summer 2021, and the effective date of management changes will be late 2021 or early 2022.
The current allocations have 60 percent of the summer flounder going to the commercial fishery and 40 percent going to the recreational fishery. This was established in 1993. The scup fishery has 78 percent of the catch plus dead discards going to the commercial fishery and 22 percent going to the recreational fishery. The scup allocation was established in 1996. Black sea bass are divided with 49 percent going to the commercial fishery and 51 percent to the recreational fishery. This allocation was put on the books in 1996.
Since these allocations have been made, new information has been provided by the Marine Recreational Information Program that has changed the estimated recreational catch to a much higher level. In addition, new information on commercial landings has also been found since the mid-1990s. Since the allocations are part of the Fishery Management Plans for all three species, the only way to change them is with an FMP amendment.
The current status of summer flounder is they are not overfished and overfishing is not occurring. However, summer flounder recruitment has been below the 1982-2017 average since 2011.
The status of scup is they too are not overfished and overfishing is not occurring. The 2015-year class was the largest since 1984, but the 2016-18-year classes were below average.
Black sea bass are not overfished and overfishing is not occurring. Spawning stock biomass in 2018 was estimated to be 2.4 times the target level, and fishing mortality was 9 percent below the threshold level. The 2011-year class was the largest since 1989. The 2015-year class was also well above average. The 2017 class was 72 percent below the average.
This up-and-down movement in year class numbers is common. Generally speaking, a good year class will carry a fishery for at least a year or two. A series of poor year classes, as we have with summer flounder, is very bad for the population of that species.
Bluefish Allocation and Rebuilding Amendment scoping hearing
We are aware that the 2020 bluefish regulations have changed dramatically, with possession limits of three fish per person for shore and private boaters, and five fish per person for charter and head boat customers. This is due to the results of the latest bluefish stock assessment that shows bluefish are overfished, but overfishing is not occurring.
On Feb. 19, from 7 to 8 p.m., a scoping hearing will be held at the DNREC Auditorium at 89 Kings Highway, Dover, where comments will be taken on allocation and a rebuilding amendment for bluefish. If the time and place sound familiar, this will be right after the scoping hearing on black sea bass, summer flounder and scup.
Since bluefish have been found to be overfished, the Mid-Atlantic Fishery Management Council is required by law to come up with a management plan to stop the overfishing and rebuild the stock. This scoping hearing will be looking for suggestions from fishermen on how to accomplish this objective.
The current allocation of bluefish has the recreational fishery receiving 83 percent and the commercial fishery receiving 17 percent of the total allowable landings. There have been transfers of quotas between recreational and commercial and between states when their commercial fishermen have not filled their quotas. I will have more information as we get closer to Feb. 19.