ASGA’s Positions on Striped Bass Amendment 7: A Comprehensive Guide

 

By Tony Friedrich

Vice President/Policy Director

By now you have probably heard the podcasts, seen the infographic, and read the first blog describing our positions on Draft Amendment 7 to the Interstate Fishery Management Plan for Atlantic Striped Bass. This is where we get into the “why.” We didn’t put this out first because we want to encourage comments. Not many people are going to read a 4000-word blog. However, some folks might want to understand how we came to our position on each issue. So, we did both.

Below is the reasoning on our positions for Draft Amendment 7. Some of this is technical and some of this is what our gut told us. Enjoy the read and attend a public hearing or send in your comments to ASMFC by April 15. Email comments@asmfc.org with the subject line “Amendment 7.” Make sure and cc stripercomments@gmail.com to be entered into the ASGA raffle.

4.1 Management Triggers

The theme to this section is “don’t delay action.” Many of the options included multi-year terms to activate the trigger. We suggest that the bulk of this section stay at “status quo” with a few exceptions. Generally, we like the triggers as they currently stand. What we don’t like is the inaction by the Striped Bass Management Board once a trigger is tripped. Our message on this highly technical section is simple. If we followed the triggers all along, we wouldn’t be in this mess. The biggest problem isn’t the triggers. It is the Board’s not reacting to them.

Tier 1: Fishing Mortality (F) triggers

Option A: Timeline to Reduce F to the Target

ASGA Supports Sub-option A1 (status quo): Reduce F to a level that is at or below the target within one year.

Rationale: By reducing fishing mortality to the target within one year, we would be reducing the number of fish removed from the system until that rate is at or below the target.

The only other option, sub-option A2, extends the timeline to reduce fishing mortality to two years. We have successfully achieved the status quo option two times since the last management amendment in 2003. As we have mentioned, the last thing the board needs is more time to react. Doubling the time to reduce F is not what is best for the resource or the fishermen.

We recognize that there is some uncertainty around only one year of recreational data collected through the Marine Recreational Information Program (MRIP). However, that uncertainty is dwarfed by the uncertainty associated with the Striped Bass Management Board lag in acting to end overfishing if it is indeed occurring.

Option B: F Threshold Triggers

ASGA Supports Sub-option B1 (status quo): If F exceeds the F threshold, the striped bass management program must be adjusted to reduce F to a level that is at or below the target within the timeframe selected under Option A.

Rationale: Much like sub-option A, there are only two options for the threshold trigger. B2 added an additional year just like A2 would do for the reducing F to target trigger. On paper, both sub-options A2 and B2 should state a minimum of two years. If the first year for either sub-option is the terminal year of a stock assessment, it could be longer than two years. In fact, it might be 3 or 4 years once the data comes in. For reference, the data used in the stock assessment currently used for decision-making has a terminal year of 2017.

Option C: F Target Triggers

ASGA Supports Sub-option C1 (status quo): If F exceeds the F target for two consecutive years and female SSB falls below the SSB target in either of those years, the striped bass management program must be adjusted to reduce F to a level that is at or below the target within the timeframe selected under sub-option A.

Rationale:  Option C should stay status quo for two reasons. First, to keep in line with the previous two choices in Options A and B. Second, this option denotes a relationship between F and the status of the SSB.

Tier 2: SSB Triggers

Option A: Deadline to Implement a Rebuilding Plan

ASGA Supports Sub-option A2: Two-Year Deadline to Implement a Rebuilding Plan. The Board must implement a rebuilding plan within two years from when an SSB-based management trigger is tripped.

Rationale:  A two-year response timeline lines up with the requirements for fish managed by the regional councils that operate under the requirements of the Magnuson-Stevens Act. The closer we can get to federal management; the better off striped bass will be in the long run.

This is a very important facet of Amendment 7 because striped bass were declared overfished in 2018—nearly three years ago—and no rebuilding plan has been established. If this option is accepted, we can avoid this occurring in the future.

Option B: SSB Threshold Trigger

ASGA Supports Sub-option B1 (status quo): If female SSB falls below the SSB threshold, the striped bass management program must be adjusted to rebuild the biomass to the target level within an established timeframe [not to exceed 10-years].

Rationale: If the stock becomes overfished, we need to address it as quickly as possible.

Option C: SSB Target Trigger

ASGA Supports Sub-option C1 (status quo): If female SSB falls below the target for two consecutive years and the fishing mortality rate exceeds the target in either of those years, the striped bass management program must be adjusted to rebuild the biomass to a level that is at or above the target within an established timeframe [not to exceed 10-years].

Rationale: Controlling fishing mortality is the number one tool to ensure stability in the stock. When the SSB declines, we must respond as quickly as possible.

Tier 3: Recruitment Triggers

Option A: Recruitment Trigger Definition

ASGA Supports Sub-option A2: The recruitment trigger is tripped when any of the four Juvenile Abundance Indices (JAIs) used in the stock assessment model to estimate recruitment (NY, NJ, MD, VA) shows an index value that is below 75% of all values (i.e., below the 25th percentile) in the respective JAI from 1992-2006, which represents a period of high recruitment, for three consecutive years.

Rationale: This trigger needs to be updated. It was never tripped for the coastal stock even though we have experienced some very poor recruitment. It has been tripped once for the North Carolina stock since 2003. That means it is not really a trigger. When you do a retroactive analysis of the performance of A2, it would have been tripped three times since 2003. The other sub-option, A3, would have tripped six times since 2003. That may be too sensitive for management. Meaning that if a trigger is tripped too often it can be easily ignored. A2 seems like the best option. It will show us when recruitment is a concern while not being overly cautious and burdensome to striped bass management.

Option B: Management Response to Recruitment Trigger

ASGA Supports Sub-option B2. If the recruitment trigger is tripped, an interim F target calculated using the low recruitment assumption is implemented, and if F from the terminal year of the most recent stock assessment is above the interim F target, the striped bass management program must be adjusted to reduce F to the interim F target within one year.

Rationale: We need to be responsive to recruitment. Lowering F in response to periods of low recruitment is the only way to ensure a stable striped bass population. We have a history of exploiting good year classes and not responding to poor ones. This adjustment to the trigger will make the board more responsive to what science is telling us.

Tier 4: Deferred Management Action

ASGA Supports Option A (status quo): No Deferred Management Action. If any (or all) of the management triggers are tripped following a benchmark stock assessment or assessment update, the Board is required to respond to that trigger regardless of when the last management action was implemented in response to any management trigger.

Rationale: We cannot delay management actions any longer. Status quo ensures that lengthy delays won’t occur if this trigger is tripped.

4.2.2 Measures to Address Recreational Release Mortality

The overview of this section is mixed for ASGA. We understand and accept that catch and release mortality represents a large portion of the overall fishing mortality. However, anglers release about 90% of the striped bass they catch.  That has remained constant for the last four decades. Regulations have changed in the time frame. Large year classes have matriculated through the system, yet we still throw striped bass back as a choice. Therefore, we must manage this fishery for what it is. Striped bass are not black sea bass. Striped bass are not scup. Striped bass are a fish prized by catch and release anglers for the sport and must be treated as such.

We do not support any no targeting closures. As long as bluefish swim in the ocean, this is an unenforceable regulation. Law enforcement has stated this fact multiple times.

To make matters worse, we found this on page 60 of Draft Amendment 7.

Note on Estimating Reduction in Removals: No-targeting closures considered for Draft

Amendment 7 are not intended to achieve a specific reduction in removals. Estimating the

reduction in removals from a no-targeting seasonal closure depends on assumptions about

changes in angler behavior, which is highly uncertain.

In other words, no targeting closures are currently not possible to quantify. It is hard for us to understand why guides would be expected to give up chunks of their season when ASMFC can not even tell us how many fish we would be saving.

To go a bit further on this topic we also found on page 57 of the document.

The stock assessment currently applies a 9% hooking mortality rate to all

recreationally released striped bass. This does not mean that every time a fish is released alive

it has a 9% chance of dying. Under some conditions, the released fish has a higher or lower

probability of dying, but overall, coastwide, it is assumed that 9% of all striped bass released

alive die.

What we have here is an admission that the way that many of us fish for striped bass, with single, barbless hooks in cool, clean saltwater, most likely results in below 9% release mortality. This further lowers the assumed impact of no targeting closures. We can not support an option that is not enforceable and offers not quantifiable gains while taking away our ability to operate our businesses.

On paper, we would support sub-option B2-b, a no-harvest spawning closure, if we had more details. The way the sub-option is currently written, we aren’t sure what it would do. There are already numerous no-harvest spawning area closures. This sub-option offered little regarding maps detailing the potential closure areas. We suggest that the Striped Bass Management Board address this issue in the addendum that will be started if the stock assessment update in October 2022 tells us we need to curb harvest further. We will have time to address the regulation changes before the 2023 season. The bottom line is that if we are going to do something, let’s do it right.

ASGA Supports Sub-option C1: Recreational anglers would be prohibited from using any device other than a nonlethal device to remove a striped bass from the water or assist in the releasing of a striped bass.

ASGA Supports Sub-option C2: Striped bass caught on any unapproved method of take would be returned to the water immediately without unnecessary injury.

Rationale for Sub-option C: ASGA supports both C1 and C2 to address recreational release mortality. Sub-option C1 addresses the use of gaffs. Nets have become lighter and stronger over the years. The nylon mesh has been replaced with material that doesn’t remove a fish’s protective slime. The current slot limit makes the ability to safely release a fish even more critical.

Sub-option C2 helps to close a loophole in the circle hook mandate. In the nutshell, this sub-option would require an angler to release a fish that was caught as bycatch and with a J-hook.

Option D. Outreach and Education

ASGA: Supports Sub-option D2: It is recommended states continue to promote best striped bass handling and release practices by developing public education and outreach campaigns. States should provide updates on public education and outreach efforts in annual state compliance reports. Best practices could include those listed in sub-option D1.

Rationale: We reached out to several of the ASMFC commissioners and asked their feedback on this issue. Everyone responded that their state was willing and able to meet the needs of this option. ASGA therefore supports D2.

4.4 Rebuilding Plan

We are in a very bad position with the striped bass stock. When the latest stock assessment was accepted in 2019, we curbed the F rate through Addendum VI. We did not address rebuilding. That means we have less time to get the job done. The poor recruitment in the Chesapeake is making this situation far worse. We don’t have good year classes to rely upon.

If you go back in time to 2012, many concerned anglers were ringing the alarm bells about the stock. We knew from the numbers that striped bass SSB would be overfished by 2017. But the numbers for the 2011 year-class showed it was the fourth-best on record. Rather than take a greater-than-30% reduction in harvest, we bet on the 2011 year-class. The Chesapeake, meanwhile, only took a 20.5% reduction. The 2011s were going to save the day. Unfortunately, Maryland decimated the 2011s and the cohort did not recruit to the coastal migratory stock in the numbers we all wanted.

Fast forward to today and it is 2022, three years after a rebuilding plan should have been in place, and we are watching a stock in freefall with no year classes to replace them. What does rebuilding look like now?

In October 2022, we will finally get an update to the 2018 stock assessment. How will we handle this situation? Below is a glimpse into that question. The bottom line is that once again, the inaction of the Striped Bass Management Board has put is in a terrible position. This stock is not being managed for what it is and that is the core of the problem. Striped bass are an economic engine for the entire Atlantic coast. That engine drives an economy that is based on abundance. Tackle shops, restaurants, hotels, and small-scale manufacturers have been crushed by the pandemic and subsequent supply chain and employment issues. Now, we don’t have fish for anglers to catch. This is shaping up to be a disaster for striped bass and the economy they support. We can trace it all back to a few terrible decisions by ASMFC.

4.4.1 Recruitment Assumption for Rebuilding Calculation

ASGA Supports Option B: Rebuild female SSB to the SSB target level by no later than 2029. F rebuild is calculated to achieve the SSB target by no later than 2029 using the low recruitment regime assumption as identified by the change point analysis.

Rationale: There are two options for rebuilding. One is rebuilding under a normal regime. The other option, B, is called a “low recruitment regime.” Option B accounts better for what we are facing. The last three years of recruitment in Maryland’s portion of Chesapeake Bay are the worst since 1979-1981.

We should be honest about the situation with striped bass. If we want to rebuild the stock, we must recognize that this needs to be done under a low recruitment assumption. Therefore, ASGA supports Option B.

4.4.2 Rebuilding Plan Framework

ASGA Supports Option B: If the 2022 stock assessment results indicate the Amendment 7 measures have less than a 50% probability of rebuilding the stock by 2029 (as calculated using the recruitment assumption specified in Amendment 7) and if the stock assessment indicates at least a 5% reduction in removals is needed to achieve F rebuild, the Board may adjust measures to achieve F rebuild via Board action.

Rationale: What exactly does Option B mean and why do we support it? The update to the stock assessment will come out in October 2022. This information may dramatically change everything we have done through Amendment 7. Option B directs the Board to address these potential needed changes to rebuilding as quickly as possible if the assessment shows that we need to do more. Rather than continue with more delays, we will have the ability to adjust removals before the 2023 season. Without this option, we would lose another year and be backed further into a rebuilding corner. None of this would be necessary if the Board had acted in 2018. But, here we are again.

An additional year could make a lot of difference in the pain we all will face through rebuilding. The only downside to this option is that public comment is limited since time is of the essence. We will still be able to comment in some capacity, but it would be limited.

While we don’t like this situation, we appreciate the motion and its addition to Amendment 7.

4.6.2 Management Program Equivalency

Management Program Equivalency is also known as Conservation Equivalency (CE). We have been screaming from the rooftops for years about the negative aspects of CE. CE allows states to create their own regulations. The CE process has been systematically abused by several states. It has limited the recovery of striped bass. It has led to states not meeting their conservation goals. It is the root cause of large year classes not contributing to the coastal stock in the volume that was expected. It is one of the leading causes of the current troubled state of striped bass.

If there is one item you decide to comment on, this one should be it. We must overwhelm the Striped Bass Management Board with our thoughts on CE. This is our chance to put some guardrails on CE and end the abuse of this management tool.

Option B. Restrict the Use of Conservation Equivalency Based on Stock Status

Supports Sub-option B1-a: CE programs would not be approved when the stock is at or below the biomass threshold (i.e., overfished). CE programs would not be considered until a subsequent stock assessment indicates stock biomass is above the threshold level.

Rationale: CE adds risk to fisheries management. Should we really be assuming that risk if the stock is below the management threshold? We don’t think so. This is a simple option that rings true with us.

Flexibility in striped bass management might as well be a four-letter word. We don’t need more flexibility. We need to manage this fishery for abundance. There will most likely be a lot of opposition to this option. It is critical that the Board hears your voice.

Option C. Precision Standards for MRIP Estimates Used in Conservation Equivalency Proposals

Supports Sub-option C3: CE proposals would not be able to use Marine Recreational Information Program (MRIP) estimates associated with a percent standard error (PSE) exceeding 30%.

Rationale: 30% is the precision standard for MRIP estimates that NOAA Fisheries considers reliable. This option would agree with current federal guidance. C1 and C2 would allow for the use of MRIP estimates with up to 50% and 40% PSEs, respectively. We believe those levels bring extra risk to the process. Furthermore, states ultimately control the PSE associated with the fishery. For instance, a state can lower the PSE by increasing state-run surveys and dockside intercepts. The result of sub-option C3 will be a lower risk as well as improved recreational fishing data. That creates a win-win for fishermen as well as the resource.

Option D. Conservation Equivalency Uncertainty Buffer for Non-Quota Managed Fisheries

ASGA Supports Sub-option D2: Proposed CE programs for non-quota managed fisheries would be required to include an uncertainty buffer of 25%.

Rationale: What is an Uncertainty Buffer? If a state decides to use CE, there is a level of uncertainty that should be factored into management. As an example, if states are required to lower harvest by 100 fish, a state that uses CE would have to come up with a plan that would curtail harvest by 25% more, or 125 fish. We have used the term “luxury tax” to describe this.

The fact that this option is in Amendment 7 is validating. If CE wasn’t a problem, we would not see this in Amendment 7. It will make states think about using CE because it will cost them more on the front end. We originally advocated for accountability on the back end. If a state exceeded harvest, they would have to pay for it the next year. In some ways this is better because it will make them stop and think before they submit their plans.

Sub-options D1 and D3 would establish buffers of 10% and 50%, respectively, while D2 sits in the middle at a 25% buffer.  If you look at the performance of some states that use CE, the 25% number because more justifiable.

Option E. Definition of Equivalency for CE Proposals with Non-Quota Managed Fisheries

ASGA Supports Sub-option E2: the percent reduction/liberalization projected for the FMP standard at the state-specific level.

Rationale: What the heck does this mean? We are going to call this the New Jersey Rule. Why? Because during the Addendum 6 process, we needed to take a coastwide reduction of 18.5% to end overfishing. The slot limit meant different things for different states. States that harvest more have to take more of a reduction. Take a look at the numbers and this will become clear.

Table

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During the Addendum 6 process, the coastal regulations translated into a 40%+ reduction for New Jersey and a minimal reduction for states like Maine and New Hampshire. New Jersey felt this wasn’t fair. New Jersey said everyone should take an 18.5% equally. This was brought up at the end of a long day. Many on the Board did not fully grasp the ramifications.

The board voted for New Jersey and allowed each state to take an 18.5% reduction instead of the coastwide numbers. We are very lucky that we met the coastwide reduction of 18.5%. However, not only did New Jersey not meet their goals, but they also ultimately took no reduction, the worst showing for any state.

Therefore, we must select option E2. It was put in this document specifically to address what is described above. We can’t let this happen again.

It is Now Up to All of Us

If you made it this far, you must be a committed striped bass conservationist! Amendment 7 is a big hill to climb. We can’t send out form letters because those don’t count like individual emails. It is hard to imagine a more complicated document for fishermen to absorb and then submit individualized comments. But that is the road ahead.

Please share our infographic, podcasts, and blogs. Encourage your fishing network to comment and please cc stripercomments@gmail.com so you can be entered into our raffle. The next month and a half will decide what the future holds for young fishermen. Will they be able to catch stripers from the beach? Will they even get involved in the sport? The future is in our hands. Let’s not let them down.

10 Responses

  1. Failure of food species to return to the lakes needs to be mitigated by whatever means necessary. As in fish ladders or prolonged opening of the locks during food species migration.

  2. Great info from you,What is different now than the decimated situation that was saved back in the 80 s 90 s…(other than the mindset of people on the board making the rules)Understand not all states the same…We had a 36 ,38 ” size limit 1 fish, the fishery biomass was able to improve,rebound in 7 ,8 years and allow adjusting size limit…Here nothing about this…Thank You for all intel you have provided ,strongly suggest people read all of it to try to understand the big picture,the motre i read the more i kept reading, vy well done… The question i hav is …Does it make sense that slot fish in the now 20″ and eventually 30 ” class are stronger and will yeild a higher load spawning than the older 40″ plus fish will…I would support what has worked in the past with many other variables you mention….who makes the rules…who follows them and who partakes in this great sport the many componies ect ect,which most agree is in troubled waters..are all over the map on this…

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