Letter: Alternative Ways to Manage Fish in New England Waters

from Dr. David D. Dow of East Falmouth

Letter to the Editor:

As a retired marine scientist from the Fisheries Lab in Woods Hole and former recreational fisheries coordinator in the Northeast, I have been interested in the different ways that the Mid-Atlantic Fishery Management Council/Atlantic States Marine Fisheries Commission and the New England Fishery Management Council manage fish stocks under their jurisdiction.  This will likely have am effect on saltwater anglers as Summer flounder, black sea bass and scup move into Nantucket Sound, since these species are managed by MAFMC/ASMFC.  

The NEFMC is in the process of developing Amendment 8 for the Atlantic herring Fishery Management Plan which is an important forage fish used as bait in lobster traps; part of a directed fishery which includes paired vessel midwater trawls; serve as food for target species of saltwater anglers (tuna; swordfish; striped bass; bluefish; etc.) and are key parts of the pelagic marine food chain linking plankton to whales; seabirds; various non-commercial fish/shellfish; etc.  In 2016 the MAFMC developed a Forage Fish Plan which had a much wider focus than Amendment 8 of the Atlantic herring FMP which is under development by the NEFMC.

Part of the reason for this is that the MAFMC/ASMFC try to integrate fishing regulations between state/federal jurisdictional waters (0-200 miles off of the coast), while the NEFMC focuses on federal jurisdictional waters (3-200 miles).  Fish species obviously don’t recognize this artificial jurisdictional boundary.  The Atlantic States Marine Fisheries Commission attempts to coordinate fishing regulations and catch quotas in state jurisdictional waters (0-3 miles) with state fishery agencies along the Atlantic seaboard.  As our coastal waters warm fish species are moving northwards which complicates the inshore quotas for species from tuna/swordfish (Apex Predators) to black sea bass/Summer flounder/scup (predators) in New England waters.  The other big difference is that the NEFMC is focused on commercial fishing as evidenced in their approach to Amendment 8 of the Atlantic herring FMP, while the MAFMC/ASMFC main constituents are recreational fishermen/women (saltwater anglers) which is reflected in the MAFMC Forage Fish Plan.

Under the Magnuson-Stevens Sustainable Fisheries Act, the Essential Fish Habitat (EFH) provision applies to the managed stocks of the federal fishery management councils in both state and federal jurisdictional waters.  EFH in Cape Cod embayments include salt marshes’ oyster reefs; eelgrass beds which are under threat from “nitrogen enrichment from septic systems” which is subject to an EPA/Ma. DEP cleanup under section 208 of the Clean Water Act.  These coastal habitats are also threatened by warming waters and increased ocean acidity.  In the open ocean the NEFMC EFH is focused on groundfish (cod; haddock; skates; etc.) and scallops, while the MAFMC is developing EFH for pelagic species like forage fish; squid and mackerel.

Changes in EFH can influence growth/reproduction in managed species; natural mortality rates; changes in distribution in time and space; and the wider marine food chains that support the natural capital/ecosystem services in the ocean (which are undergoing shifts).

Since the MAFMC and NEFMC both manage federal fish stocks throughout their range, it is important that they coordinate efforts and include the ASMFC/state fishery agencies in this dialog. Consider river herring and sea run brook trout which are the subject of rivershed restoration efforts here on Cape Cod (i.e. Coonamesset River Trust efforts in Falmouth) where harvests are banned inshore; while these species are caught in the offshore Atlantic herring fishery (especially by paired trawl fishery). 

For both commercial and recreational fishing one needs to consider the economic multiplier effect (eme) which compares the expenditures in relationship to direct/indirect/induced economic benefits to coastal communities.  Fisheries economists have software that can compute the economic multiplier effect at the county level.  It would be interesting to compare the commercial and recreational fishing eme  on Cape Cod & the Islands with other states in New England. Recreational fishing includes head and charter vessels along with individuals which fish on their own for pleasure.

Dr. David D, Dow

East Falmouth, Ma.

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