Friday, May 23, 2014

ASMFC and Striped Bass...Whats Next?

A little excerpt from our recent "Tight Lines" from CCA MD will help break it down and get you in the know while we at CCA MD and TLTFF contemplate whats next...

This issue of Tightlines is going to cover a lot of material.  There's no other way around it.  I'll start by saying this.  Mark Twain had it right when he said "There are lies, damned lies, and statistics."  We listened to every second of the striped bass hearings, and here's what we know with a little back ground first.  

State of the Stock:

In 2012, the Atlantic striped bass stock was not overfished or experiencing overfishing relative to the new reference points from the 2013 SAW/SARC57. Female spawning stock biomass (SSB) was estimated at 61.5 thousand metric tons (136 million lbs), above the SSB threshold of 57,904 mt, but below the SSB target of 72,380 mt. Total fishing mortality was estimated at 0.188, below the F threshold of 0.213 but above the F target of 0.175.
When compared to the biological reference points currently used in management (ASMFC 2008) the stock is neither overfished nor experiencing overfishing. Female SSB in 2012 is above both the target (46,101 mt) and the threshold (36,000 mt), and F2012 is below both the target (0.30) and the threshold (0.34).

There are several important caveats to this assessment, the most important of which is the fishing mortality reference points (F) have changed. A little background here is necessary. When the stock was declared recovered in 1995, the estimated SSB at that point became the SSB threshold (36,000 mt) and the target 125% of that (46,101 mt). The last assessment used these SSB, but developed F separately, largely due to an internal disagreement on the Stock Assessment Committee (SAC).

As an aside, CCA has argued for a lower F, if for no other reason than striped bass are a long-lived, late-maturing species that, by definition, cannot withstand a high fishing mortality rate.

In the 2013 assessment, the SAC agreed with that philosophy and used a conventional stock-recruit relationship and basically devised the F rate which, over the long term, would produce the designated SSB (increased from the 1995 number by using a different Natural Mortality Rate but consistent).

It turns out that this is the right track. The current F threshold that produces the SSB threshold is F=0.213 and an F target of F=0.175.

Using the current fishing mortality threshold, we have been overfishing for five of the last eight years. Using the old fishing mortality threshold, we have not. However, it would be difficult to point fingers here; this is a case of not really knowing the stock status largely due to an internal scientific disagreement.

So, here we sit today.  The F rate has been accepted, so we have indeed been overfishing for five of the last eight years.  Anyone who says differently is in the "statistical" category of Mr. Twain's previous statement.  Take that to the bank.  It's an excellent litmus test for who you should trust through this process.  

Why are we here:

The SSB (spawning females) has been on a precipitous downward trend and there has been very low recruitment in the last five years with only one exception.  As a result of this stock condition, management trigger #3 in Amendment 6 was flipped.  The Board is required to reduce fishing mortality to the target level in one year when a trigger such as #3 is activated. This is a REQUIREMENT not an option.  

Meeting Notes:

Striped Bass Board debated the Addendum document, but did not approve it for public hearing this summer.   The Reference points (Issues 1-3) were left as is in the document.  So, the new (f) was approved for the coastal stock.   Consider this a victory...  but it might be short lived.  Why?  Because the Technical Committee failed to derive (f) values for the Chesapeake Bay.  They also failed to include the 2013 catch numbers for analysis.  The TC made the recommendation that the bay should use the same (f) value as the coast.  This left the door wide open for the delay and stall tactic that has shocked us all.   

There was a motion offered by Maryland that would allow a 3-year phase in to achieve the necessary reductions (31%) to be under the target F.  Remember, we only have a 50% chance of rebuilding if we took a 31% cut next year.  The motion by MD would phase in the 31% over three years.  10% the first year, 10% next year....  however they want to slice it. This is a stalling measure in hopes that the 2014 YOY class is abundant as well as the 2013 catch numbers have a positive impact on the models.  It is an effort must be stopped at all costs.   

The Amendment will have 2 distinct paths: 

1.  Harvest reduction in 2015;

2.  Harvest reductions in 2015, 2016 and 2017. 

 We will see this document in late July in time for the August meeting.

The new proposal will have the potentially devastating consequence of fishing down the current year class for another three years rather than protecting it now and letting it be the foundation to rebuild the stock. As we continue to fish down the stock, we are breaking preset timetables for rebuilding.  The only and I mean only argument to ignore the new (f) threshold and target is the economic impact on the fishery. What's the impact if we have no fish.  We can ask Maine, New Hampshire, and Massachusetts because their fishery has crashed.  Since the beginning of this fight, CCA Maryland has said that any cuts should be met equally by all sectors.  

Recreational and commercial fishermen are equally to blame for this colossal mess.  If you recall, Maryland increased the striped bass quota by 14% for 2014.  A decrease of 31% wouldn't be as extreme as it is being labeled.  Heck, an 11% decrease wouldn't even get them back to square one. Frankly, it is up to recreational anglers to save stripers.  We have to create a groundswell of support to turn this tide.  I sincerely hope we can count on you when the time comes. 


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