ASGA Commissions Research Paper to Jumpstart Precautionary Management of False Albacore & Atlantic Bonito

The Albie Project is off to the races so far in 2023, and ASGA is thrilled to share an exciting opportunity to establish precautionary management for false albacore AND Atlantic Bonito later this spring. There’s a lot to unpack here, so settle in and follow along—I’ll include some brief bullet-points below. 

  • The Albie Project will continue and expand in 2023. Now that we know tagging albies works, ASGA will again be partnering with the New England Aquarium to deploy at least 60 acoustic tags in Nantucket Sound waters. We’ll also be expanding our genetic work with Cornell University in hopes to learn more about stock dynamics to other regions (Florida, the Gulf of Mexico, and possibly international locations TBD). Spaghetti tagging will also expand in 2023; if you’re a guide that depends on albies and catch a lot of them stay tuned to learn about potential involvement. 

  • Thanks to the leadership of Massachusetts Department of Marine Fisheries’ Dan McKiernan and other interstate fisheries managers, the ASMFC is exploring management opportunities for false albacore and Atlantic Bonito! Fishery managers are taking note of all of our hard work and see merit in establishing precautionary management for these valuable species. Management options will be discussed at the Spring ASMFC Meeting coming up in May.

  • To support and encourage the ASMFC’s consideration of albie and bonito management, ASGA has commissioned the University of Massachusetts Dartmouth’s SMAST, a leader in marine science, to conduct a literature review on false albacore and Atlantic bonito—this is an important first step towards management and reaffirms ASGA’s commitment to these species and willingness to be part of the solution. 

How did ASMFC Management Become a Realistic Possibility? 

Towards the end of 2022, ASGA advocated for precautionary management of false albacore at the South Atlantic Fishery Management Council—we received thousands of signatures from private anglers and fishing-related business in support of this idea. If you’re interested here is a blog on that process and our sign-on letter. However, challenges arose at the SAFMC. The general consensus among Council Members was that they have more pressing issues than False Albacore management—understandable, as fisheries management resources are almost always too few and far between and subject to prioritization. Also, Council Members were concerned about how they would comply with the Magnuson-Stevens Act’s requirements if false albacore was added to a SAFMC fishery management plan. 

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The MSA is the primary law governing fisheries in U.S. federal waters (3-200 miles from shore) and has been pivotal for restoring and sustainably managing fishery stocks all over the country. The law hasn’t been meaningfully changed in almost two decades and is in dire need of an update (reauthorization, technically speaking), as we are seeing a concerning increase in overfished stocks and challenges to adapt fisheries management with the impacts of climate change are becoming very, very apparent, but that’s a whole other blog in and of itself. The law’s requirements for science-based catch limits have, generally speaking, ensured the nation’s fisheries remain sustainable, end overfishing, and hold sectors accountable. However, the MSA is not well suited to develop precautionary management for unmanaged species as data-poor/limited as false albacore or Atlantic bonito are. 

So, while we were excited that the SAFMC directed the Cobia-Mackerel Advisory Panel to monitor landings every three years with a fishery performance report, ASGA remained focused on developing precautionary management for this important species. I mean, there are around a million trips taken annually for albies and bonito along the Atlantic coast (MRIP Query, primary and secondary targets). Commercially, there is a not-insignificant amount of fish landed either. Clearly, there are fisheries dependent on healthy populations of these inshore speedsters, and thus a need for some management. Plus, we should leverage all these scientific efforts we’re working on to further inform management AND conserve the fishery for the long haul. 

While the MSA and federal management turned out to not be a great fit for false albacore (and other data limited species, for that matter), the ASMFC does not have the same requirements. This is undeniably a great opportunity for false albacore and other species; however, for highly studied and data-rich species like striped bass, ASMFC management presents its host of challenges—as many of our readers know all too well. Regardless, we at ASGA were not going to miss an opportunity to establish precautionary guardrails for false albacore and Atlantic bonito. 

During the Winter ASMFC Meeting a couple of months ago, we were thrilled and optimistic to see “Atlantic Bonito Management” on the meeting’s agenda. We immediately started cranking out emails and calling Commissioners to share with them our perspectives and strong desire for proactive, precautionary management for bonito and albies. 

In the early days of The Albie Project, we heard many complaints and suggestions to also work on bonito. While we in no way disagree that bonito are a valuable species, similar to albies, we were concerned about reports of their delicateness (vertebrae popping, for example) and whether we could reliably target and deploy tags into this ghost-like, highly variable species. 

In any event, Mass DMF Director Dan McKiernan, brought up the bonito issue, because of increasing numbers of juvenile bonito in waters North of Cape Cod and partly due to pressure from anglers concerned about less knowledgeable fishermen using these juvenile bonito for bait—oh yea, that was happening.

Well, all that behind-the-scenes legwork coupled with the extensive scientific efforts paid off, and several ASMFC Commissioners clearly took notice. During the discussion about Atlantic Bonito Management, Commissioners around the table added, paraphrasing here, “the Guides Association is doing a ton of good work on Albies,” “the South Atlantic Fishery Management Council has been looking into management [thanks to ASGA’s efforts],” and “these species are clearly important to the coast, we should look into management options for both species.” 

Special thanks to MA’s Dan McKiernan, RI’s David Borden, GA’s Spud Woodward, NC’s Chris Batsavage, and several others for supporting the proactive, precautionary management of these species. 

And just like that, an official directive for ASMFC Staff to look into management options for false albacore and Atlantic bonito was on the books! All of us at ASGA were thrilled at this opportunity and proud that the Association’s work was moving the needle. Further, we were thankful and appreciative of many ASMFC Commissioners for their support of proactive false albacore and Atlantic bonito management. 

Now that there was a real management opportunity on the table, ASGA wanted to capitalize and jumpstart the process. We looked into the process for developing new fishery management plans (i.e., how to manage a new species). Commissioner David Borden was a huge asset for this—Rhode Islanders, you all have a passionate angler and savvy manager in Commissioner Borden. 

Borden’s suggestion was to develop literature reviews for both species. ASGA is tremendously proud to be working with UMass SMAST’s Nick Calabrese to develop literature reviews for both false albacore and Atlantic bonito and present the documents to the ASMFC ahead of the Spring Meeting this May. These literature reviews will gather all available information on the fisheries (catch estimates and landings), life history/biologic characteristics, and more, an important first step towards developing management. And guess what, ASGA is paying for it and will give it to the ASMFC! That is how serious we are about protecting these species–they’re that important for our members and businesses. It’s truly nonsensical that, in this day and age, a species like false albacore with hundreds of thousands of directed trips annually has ZERO formal state or federal management. That’s getting ready to change. We can’t wait to share more information about this opportunity—so, stay tuned! 

Little tunny in hand, photo courtesy Capt. Zach Flake.

How you can get more involved and support The Albie Project in 2023:

ASGA will certainly be counting on advocacy support ahead of the May meeting—details on that will come later this spring. However, none of this is free. As The Albie Project has grown and expanded (not to mention produced tangible results and is on the verge of assisting the development of precautionary management), so has our budget. Many of our industry partners have continued to increase their support, for which we are insanely grateful, but ASGA is a community-driven organization and wants everyone to be part of the process. We will also be rolling out several new merchandise items that will directly support The Albie Project throughout the year.

Keep an eye out for brand new apparel, art, and other community collaborations with the best artists and brands in the space – plus the development of the world’s ultimate albie fly and spin outfits known to man (you won’t want to miss this.) Plus, we are looking for more ways to open the tagging and data-gathering operation up to more anglers. If you are so thrilled with The Albie Project and don’t want to wait for merch rollout, head on over to our donation page to Support the Association directly through PayPal Giving (receipts provided).

That’s all I’ve got for you on Albie Project updates. Be sure to stay tuned for more on the May ASMFC Meeting. If you have any questions, let us know in the comments, and we’ll be sure to answer! This is a great opportunity for the Commission to act in support of precautionary, proactive management and improve their credibility through the eyes of many within the recreational community. 

The Association is extremely excited about The Albie Project expansion in Year 2! Photo Capt. Zach Flake

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