Battle of the shirts: fishermen, charter captains and conservationists with white coalition t-shirts faced off with Omega Protein (who had their own orange shirts) Tuesday at the Atlantic menhaden board meeting where catch limits were increased 10%.
John Migliori with a 4 pound 12 once largemouth bass he caught on Aquidneck Island using a Schadeycreek Chartreuse Dynamite Lure.
ASMFC increases Atlantic menhaden catch limit
In a sixteen to one vote the Atlantic menhaden board of the Atlantic States Marine Fisheries Commission (ASMFC) approved a 10% increase (a total of 187,880 metric tons) in Total Allowable Catch (TAC) for the 2015 and 2016 seasons. The vote which occurred Tuesday at the ASMFC spring meeting included Rhode Island representatives supporting and voting for 10% more Atlantic menhaden to be taken from coastal waters and Narragansett Bay.
The vote for the increase came with a lot of drama as Omega Protein employees who are members of Local 400 of the United Food & Commercial Workers Union testified about the economic impact Atlantic menhaden reductions had on employees two years ago. A union spokesman had about 40 union members with bright orange t-shirts said, “We brought many more Union members in 2012, the ones you see standing here today represent the number that were laid off due to a 20% quota reduction in 2012.”
Atlantic menhaden (or pogies as they are commonly called in New England) are used as bait fish for recreational anglers to catch striped bass and blue fish as well as lobstermen and crab fishermen as bait in their traps. However, they are most often caught by Omega Protein, a Texas based company with a big presence in Virginia. Omega Protein takes over 80% of all Atlantic menhaden landed in the United States to process for fish pills, fertilizers, pet food and a variety of other uses.
Members of the Herring Alliance who formed an Atlantic menhaden conservation coalition and attended the Board meeting Tuesday wore white shirts that said, “Strength in numbers – Fight for the Menhaden.”
Members of the menhaden coalition included conservation groups, recreational fishermen and charter captains. They and just one menhaden board member (from the U.S. Fish & Wildlife Service) were opposed to any catch limit increase as ecological reference points had not been established for the species. Ecosystem-based management practices had not fully been considered in the Board’s recommendation to increase catch limits.
Patrick Paquette, a charter captain from Cape Cod testified before the committee, “Atlantic menhaden use to be plentiful in our area, but today it’s hard to find any. The 2014 Atlantic menhaden stock assessment commissioned by this Board could not find enough menhaden anywhere north of Rhode Island to include in the assessment.”
Recreational anglers in Rhode Island fear this decrease in fish is coming their way even though the 2014 stock assessment showed an increase in biomass and said the species were not overfished and overfishing was not occurring. The assessment also showed that in recent years Atlantic menhaden were not being born (recruited) in the numbers they once were, even though more were in the water. Many believe the 20% reduction in total allowable catch instituted in 2012 was the primary reason for an enhanced biomass in 2014.
Robert Ballou of the Rhode Island Department of Environmental Management who heads up Rhode Island’s delegation to the ASMFC said, “We voted to approve the increase, but nothing is straight forward. Our intent was to approve an increase but believe these catch limits are a bit too high as they will have less than a 50% chance of reaching our desired targets. It’s a matter of what degree of risk you want to take to establish catch limits.”’
Ballou said “We also voted for the increase because the second part of the motion called for the initiation of Amendment 3 to the Atlantic Menhaden Fisheries Management Plan for the development of Ecological Reference Points (ERP) and allocation.”
“What this means is that the Board will fully consider the value and impact that Atlantic menhaden has as a forage fish (food for striped bass, bluefish, tuna, whales, etc.) and not just consider its value as a species target by directed fisheries (commercial processors and bait fisheries).” said Ballou. The motion also referenced allocation. Once ERP are established, adjustments in total allowable catch may be made and the Board would look at allocating more fish to states like Rhode Island that have very small quotas. Ballou said, “This is another reason why we supported the vote to increase quota.”
Dave Borden, one of three RI ASMFC representatives said, “We voted for the increase but I found eight things wrong with this (Atlantic menhaden) Fisheries Management Plan (FMP). One major item is the bycatch provisions. It does not make sense to allow boats in some states to have a bycatch allowance that far exceeds Rhode Island total allowable catch limit for directed fisheries.” Rhode Island’s catch limit is approximately 66,779 pounds; Virginia’s catch limit is 318,066,790 pounds.
“I am voting for an increase in Atlantic menhaden because the assessment shows that there are more fish in the water.” said Eric Reid, who is Rhode Island Senator Susan Sosnowski’s newly appointed proxy to the ASMFC. Reid, general manger of Seafreeze, Ltd., a fish processor located in Narragansett, RI, replaced Capt. Rick Bellavance, president of the Rhode Island Party & Charter Boat Association as Senator Sosnowski’s proxy. All ASMFC state members voted for the Atlantic menhaden catch limit increase.
NOAA seeks comments on bluefish quota reduction
The Mid-Atlantic Fishery Management Council recommended a 12% decrease in the Annual Catch Limit (ACL) of Atlantic bluefish. The reduction recommendation in quota was done to account for changes in the stock size outlined in the 2014 stock assessment update.
The National Oceanic & Atmospheric Administration (NOAA) is seeking input on the planned commercial harvest limit of 5.12 million pounds, a 31% decrease from the 2014 quota, and the proposed recreational harvest limit of 13.07 million pounds, a 3% decrease from 2014. In recent years state landings of bluefish have typically been below their allocated quota so the proposed quota reductions may be partially mitigated by a state’s ability to transfer quota.
Based on the estimates from recent updated stock assessment, the bluefish stock is not overfished and overfishing is not occurring.
Read the proposed rule, and submit your comments through the Federal eRulemaking portal online by May 12, 2015. Comments may also be submitted in writing to: John K. Bullard, Regional Administrator, NMFS, Greater Atlantic Regional Fisheries Office, 55 Great Republic Drive, Gloucester, MA 01930. Please mark the outside of the envelope: "Comments on Bluefish Specifications."
Striped Bass American Heritage Act
Noted underwater photographer Mike Laptew has teamed up with the Recreational Fishing Alliance (RFA) to advocate for the Striped Bass American Heritage Act. The Act is a bill put before US Congress last week to designate the striped bass as the National Fish. The bill is sponsored by Congressman Tom MacArthur. Mike Laptew who is noted for his underwater filming of striped bass (and other species) is urging all to call or write members of their congressional delegation asking for their support for the Striped Bass American Heritage Act.
Where’s the bite
Freshwater fishing remains strong. “The golden trout program run by DEM was the ticket this weekend. Any place they put them anglers were catching them including Silver Spring Lake in North Kingstown.” said John Wunner of John’s Bait & Tackle. “Bass fishing has really picked up.” said John Littlefield of Archie’s Bait & Tackle, Riverside. The bass bite is good at Stump Pond, Lincoln Woods, and Echo Lake in Barrington.” said Littlefield.
Striped bass. Ken Ferrara of Ray’s Bait & Tackle, Warwick, said “School striped bass are being caught all over the Bay including Apponaug Cove, East Greenwich Cove and in the East Passage. At Rocky Point a customer was catching school bass on worms and then switched to white soft plastics when he ran out and landed a keeper size bass.” Things broke wide open this week said Manny Macedo of Lucky Bait & Tackle, Warren. “We have school bass all over with customers catching keepers mixed it at Colt State Park and other locations in the East Passage.” Mike Wade of Watch Hill Outfitters, Westerly said “We got a pretty good shot of the striped bass this week with a lot of fish being caught at the West Wall. Christian who works for me caught fifteen fish, all in the 25” to 27” range using a small bucktail jig with pork rind bouncing it off the bottom.” Elisa Martin of Sung Harbor Marina, South Kingstown said, “Anglers at the West Wall are catching 10 to 20 fish many in the 24” range.” “Bass are in the Seekonk River and Sunday Capt. Billy Silvia saw a school of bass chasing pogies near Ohio Ledge in the East Passage.” said Dave Henault of Ocean State Tackle. “One of my good customers caught a nice school bass using a pencil popper lure near Jamestown Saturday.”, said John Littlefield of Archie’s Bait & Tackle, Riverside. Angler Mike Swain of Coventry said “I caught my first bass this morning in East Greenwich Cove on the east side off Godard Park using a soft plastic bait.” John Wunner of John’s Bait & tackle North Kingstown said, “The bass are in at Chepiwanoxet Point, Greenwich Bay and in Greenwich Cove.”
“Tautog fishing has been good in the low water spawning areas.. Small worms and clams are the bait of chose in spring as tautog like soft baits in the spring.” said Mike Wade of Watch Hill Outfitters. Dave Henault of Ocean State Tackle said, “The tautog bite has been slow. Those angler targeting tautog are not finding them yet.” “The tautog bite at Barrington Bridge was pretty good this week.” said John Littlefield of Archie’s Bait & Tackle. Macedo of Lucky Bait said, “Keeper tautog have been cauth off Newport and north of the Mt. Hope Bridge.”
“Squid are in.”, said Dave Henault of Ocean State. They arrived at Goat Island, Newport and under the Newport Bridge Friday night. Capt. BJ Silvia ran into some Sunday while fishing in the Newport area.” Squid are in from the southern coastal beaches according to Elisa Martin of Snug Harbor to the Sakonnet River said Manny Macedo of Lucky Bait.