View Full Version : Comments On Opening The EEZ Wanted

08-17-2003, 10:04 PM
So many websites. So little time.

Sorry for posting this here so late.

National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration

50 CFR Part 697
[Docket No. 030714172-3172-01; I.D. 063003A]
RIN 0648-AR33

Atlantic Striped Bass Conservation Act; Atlantic Striped Bass Fishery

AGENCY: National Marine Fisheries Service (NMFS), National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA), Commerce.

ACTION: Advance Notice of Proposed Rulemaking (ANPR); request for comments.

SUMMARY: NMFS announces that it is considering potential revisions to the Federal Atlantic striped bass regulations for the U.S. Exclusive
Economic Zone (EEZ) in response to recommendations from the Atlantic States Marine Fisheries Commission (Commission) to the Secretary of Commerce (Secretary). The Commission recommended that the Secretary remove the moratorium on the harvest of Atlantic striped bass in the EEZ after a 13-year closure; implement a 28-inch (71.1-cm) minimum size limit for the recreational and commercial Atlantic striped bass fisheries in the EEZ; and allow states the ability to adopt more restrictive rules for fishermen and vessels licensed in their jurisdiction. NMFS is soliciting comments with this notice regarding possible management measures and issues that NMFS should consider
relative to these recommendations.

DATES: Written comments must be received at the appropriate address or facsimile (fax) number (see ADDRESSES) no later than 5 p.m. Eastern Standard Time on or before August 20, 2003.

ADDRESSES: Written comments must be sent to: Anne Lange, Chief, State-Federal Fisheries Division, Office of Sustainable Fisheries, NMFS, 1315 East West Highway, Room 13317, Silver Spring, MD 20910. Comments may also be sent via fax to (301) 713-0596.

Comments submitted via e-mail or Internet will not be accepted.

FOR FURTHER INFORMATION CONTACT: Tom Meyer, Fishery Management Biologist, (301) 713-2334, fax (301) 713-0596.



This ANPR is promulgated under the Atlantic Striped Bass Conservation Act (Act), Public Law 100-589, reproduced at 16 U.S.C. 1851 note. Section 9 of the Act requires the Secretary to promulgate regulations governing fishing for Atlantic striped bass in the EEZ that the Secretary determines:

(1) are consistent with the national standards in Section 301 of the Magnuson-Stevens Fishery Conservation and Management Act (Magnuson-Stevens Act) (16 U.S.C. 1851);

(2) are compatible with the fishery management plan for managing Atlantic striped bass and each Federal moratorium in effect on fishing for Atlantic striped bass within the coastal waters of a coastal state;

(3) ensure the effectiveness of State regulations on fishing for Atlantic
striped bass within the coastal waters of a coastal state; and

(4) are sufficient to assure the long-term conservation of Atlantic striped bass populations. In developing the regulations, the Secretary is to consult with the Commission, the appropriate Regional Fishery Management Councils (Councils), and each affected Federal, state and
local government entity.

Atlantic Striped Bass management is based on the Commission's Atlantic Striped Bass Interstate Fishery Management Plan (ISFMP), first adopted in 1981.

From 1981 - 1994, four ISFMP Amendments were developed that provided a series of management measures that led to the rebuilding of the stocks.

In 1995, the Commission declared the Atlantic striped bass population fully restored and implemented Amendment 5 to the ISFMP to perpetuate the stock so as to allow a commercial and recreational harvest consistent with the long-term maintenance of the striped bass stock.

Since then the population has expanded to record
levels of abundance. To maintain this recovered population, the Commission approved Amendment 6 to the ISFMP (Amendment 6) in February 2003 (copies of Amendment 6 are available via the Commission's website at

The Commission believes that the measures contained in Amendment 6 are necessary to prevent the overfishing of the Atlantic striped bass resource while allowing growth in both the commercial and recreational fishery.

Development of Amendment 6 took almost four years and involved extensive input from technical and industry advisors, and provided numerous opportunities for the public to comment on the future management of the species.

Amendment 6 incorporates results of the most recent Atlantic striped bass stock assessment, developed by the Atlantic Coast States, the Commission, NMFS, and the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service (see section 1.2.2 of Amendment 6). In summary, the 2001 stock assessment concluded that the overall abundance of the stock is very high and fishing mortality remains below the target rate. The stock's abundance increased steadily between 1982 and 1997 and since then has remained stable. The fishing mortality rate increased steadily until 1999, but decreased slightly in 2000. Amendment 6 also includes recommendations to the Secretary on the development of complementary measures in the EEZ. Management of Atlantic striped bass in the EEZ was one of the issues that was considered throughout development of Amendment 6.

Recommendation to the Secretary

On April 24, 2003, the Secretary received a letter from the Commission with the following three recommendations for implementation of regulations in the EEZ: (1) Remove the moratorium on the harvest of Atlantic striped bass in the EEZ; (2) implement a 28-inch (71.1 cm) minimum size limit for recreational and commercial Atlantic striped bass fisheries in the EEZ; and (3) allow states the ability to adopt more restrictive rules for fishermen and vessels licensed in their jurisdictions.

In support of its request, the Commission provided a number of reasons to justify opening the EEZ to striped bass fishing. These reasons include:

(1) In 1995, due in part to a closure of the EEZ in 1990 to striped bass harvest, the population of this species was declared fully
restored by the Commission. The purpose of closing the EEZ was to protect strong year classes entering the population and to promote
rebuilding of the overfished population.

(2) The commercial harvest is controlled by hard quotas; when they are reached the fishery is closed; and overages are taken out of next
year's quotas. The Commercial quota will be landed regardless of whether or not the EEZ is opened.

(3) Currently, recreational and commercial catches are occurring in the EEZ and these fish are required to be discarded. Opening the EEZ
will convert discarded bycatch of striped bass to landings.

(4) Because of management measures implemented since 1990, the striped bass population has recovered to a point where further examination of whether this fishery should occur in the EEZ is appropriate.

There are expectations among a number of fishing industry stakeholders that their past sacrifices would result in future opportunities to harvest striped bass, and therefore, there are potential credibility issues associated with keeping the EEZ closed, especially in light of the current status of the Atlantic striped bass stock.

(5) The recommendation to open the EEZ is part of Amendment 6 which incorporates new management standards to ensure stock conservation including targets and thresholds for both mortality and spawning stock biomass. Fishing mortality is currently below the target level, and spawning stock biomass is 1.5 times the target level.

(6) Amendment 6 includes monitoring requirements and triggers that will allow the Commission to respond quickly to increased mortality.

(7) The bulk of the public comment (greater than 75 percent) received in opposition cited expansion of the commercial fishery as rationale not to open the EEZ. The Commission believes the rationale is incorrect because the commercial fishery is controlled by a hard quota.

The Commission stated that its Atlantic Striped Bass Technical Committee would monitor annually the Atlantic striped bass population,
and, if at some point in the future the Commission determines that the Atlantic striped bass population is overfished or that overfishing is occurring, it may recommend further management measures for the EEZ.

NMFS is considering proposed rulemaking to revise the Federal Atlantic striped bass regulations to be compatible with Amendment 6 and is seeking comments on implementation of the Commission's recommendations in the EEZ. After review of comments received from this notice, NMFS will decide whether to initiate a lengthy review and decision-making process, which would include preparation of either an Environmental Impact Statement or an Environmental Assessment, and the development of management measures to revise current Federal regulations for Atlantic striped bass in the EEZ.

Authority: 16 U.S.C. 1851 note.

Dated: July 15, 2003.
Rebecca Lent,
Deputy Assistant Administrator for Regulatory Programs, National Marine
Fisheries Service.

08-17-2003, 10:07 PM
This is a copy of the letter I sent to NMFS regarding re-opening the EEZ. You have until August 20th to send in your own (ok to fax).

Mike Flaherty

************************************************** ************************
Michael Flaherty
{address omitted}

Anne Lange
Chief, State-Federal Fisheries Division
Office of Sustainable Fisheries, NMFS
1315 East West Highway, Room 13317
Silver Spring, MD 20910

August 15, 2003

Ms. Lange,

I am a recreational angler writing in response to the request for comments regarding the re-opening of the EEZ to striped bass fishing. I believe that the EEZ should be re-opened to striped bass fishing so long as doing so will conform to all measures set forth in Amendment 6.

As your request mentions, the EEZ closure for striped bass was implemented back in 1989. It was intended to be a temporary measure to help striped bass stocks recover. However now it has become permanent (i.e. indefinite). While the EEZ is not a "marine reserve" because it does not ban ALL fishing, it has effectively become a permanent no-fish/no-take zone to all striper fishermen since it is illegal to target or possess stripers while in it.

The EEZ is a historical striped bass fishery and its closure presents a classic example of what is wrong about permanent no-take zones (even for a single species). Whenever any historical area is closed to fishing, effort {people fishing} will unnaturally be shifted into the remaining fishable waters. This added pressure eventually results in smaller and fewer fish in the unprotected area.

Granted, a case can be made here that striped bass are a migratory species and that man made borders on a chart would not impact their distribution. However, I have to believe that the shrinking a historical fishery to 1.5% of its original size (coastal limit of 200 miles down to 3 miles) coupled with the ever rising popularity of striped bass fishing (added effort), has placed extraordinary pressure on the relatively little waters that remain fishable for striped bass.

Your request also states that striped bass have been declared federally fully recovered since 1995. This means that the EEZ closure for striped bass is now obsolete. I understand that there are several conservation groups now insisting that the EEZ should remain closed, most notably the Coastal Conservation Association (CCA). As you know CCA has requested that NMFS initiate an Environmental Impact Study before any decision is reached on opening the EEZ.

This study sounds reasonable to me and I say "let the chips fall where they may." That is what a study like this is for. However, this study clearly has only one acceptable outcome for CCA as indicated in the last paragraph of their press release on it...

CCA Press Release- April 23, 2003:

"CCA is confident that the information produced through this procedure will result in the continued closure of the EEZ."


The real irony here is that CCA is known for making repeated claims that there are currently not enough big striped bass, yet at every available opportunity CCA calls for keeping the EEZ closed which effectively keeps most big fish locked up permanently away from recreational anglers (though they do find their way into commercial nets as bycatch). CCA seeks only to keep the EEZ closed in perpetuity and they offer no criteria as to when they believe that the EEZ should be reopened.

Another conservation group that is currently insisting that the EEZ remain closed is Stripers Forever. This organization's mission is to make striped bass a game fish. While I believe that this goal has some merit if the quality of aqua cultured striped bass becomes equal to those harvested wildly, I have found that Stripers Forever's motivation is based simply on a visceral contempt for "greedy" commercial fishermen and not what is best for the resource.

The following is part of a message from Stripers Forever President, Brad Burns…

"To some extent the EEZ acts as a buffer, a protected area, where large stripers are at least somewhat protected from greedy commercial interests. Since it is the furthering of commercial striped bass fishing interests that is behind this move, Stripers Forever is opposed to it. Reopening the EEZ to harvest will just furthermore commercialize a fishery that should belong to the public. By any measure of sensible public policy commercial fishing for stripers should be immediately eliminated, not proliferated!"


Furthermore, Stripers Forever's argument for keeping the EEZ closed is very flawed. The following is an excerpt of the boilerplate message that I am sure you are receiving from members…

"What is known is that more than 3,000,000 recreational anglers, as well as a huge guiding and tackle industry along the East Coast, depend on the continued availability of good striped bass fishing. We do not need more pressure on the resource."


Forgive me for restating the obvious but re-opening the EEZ will not add any more pressure on the resource. On the contrary, it will distribute effort more evenly which will actually take pressure off the nearshore waters where fishing is now unnaturally restricted to (more on that below).

Therefore, I urge NMFS to use the best science available in making this decision and to disregard the positions of extremist organizations like CCA and Striper Forever.

As you know, the Massachusetts Division of Marine Fisheries (DMF) has also proposed opening the EEZ out to at least 12 miles so that it would fall under each respective state's jurisdiction. DMF Director and member of ASMFC, Paul Diodati uses the following reasoning...

Mr. Diodati writes:

"Some advocates for a continued closure of the EEZ argue that the closure provides an important conservation measure needed to protect larger and older striped bass. I do not think striped bass stocks need such protection, but if they did we should determine with more technical scrutiny where effective conservation should be practiced. MRFSS length frequency information and tagging data show striped bass that aggregate farther from shore are composed of mixed stocks of many age groups. In fact, mixing of stocks and age groups is greater offshore than from any nearshore area. Offshore waters are also colder and more saline than nearshore waters, a condition that is associated with the lowest discard mortality rates. Young, sexually immature fish, often originating from a single stock compose the bulk of schools that are targeted in shallow coastal waters, bays, and rivers where water quality conditions create the highest discard mortality rates. Accordingly, any effective conservation-based closure of fishing areas should focus on nearshore waters and rivers; such areas typically are also more easily monitored and enforced for regulatory violations."

"Advocates of a continued EEZ closure also appear to link this closure with curtailment of commercial fishing activity. But in fact an opening of the EEZ would be a conservation-neutral measure with regards to commercial fisheries since they are already restricted by quotas. In the case of Massachusetts, our commercial quotas have been fully harvested without legal access to the EEZ. True benefactors of lifting the moratorium would be recreational fishery participants, especially anglers that fish from hired vessels because it typically requires captains that have extensive knowledge and experience to successfully prosecute the offshore fishery."


The fact that opening the EEZ is a conservation neutral measure is also echoed in your request for public comment…

"(2) The commercial harvest is controlled by hard quotas; when they are reached the fishery is closed; and overages are taken out of next year's quotas. The Commercial quota will be landed regardless of whether or not the EEZ is opened."

I am aware that the argument can be made that if the EEZ is opened then fisheries managers may need to increase size limits or reduce bag limits (or resort to other options) because larger numbers of bigger fish will be caught. However, these are decisions that should be left to respective state's managers along the EEZ who must already conform to the target mortality rate and triggers set forth in Amendment 6.

I don't own a boat and I am not a commercial fisherman. However, again it makes sense to me that if the EEZ is opened and others do head out to fish it, then it will leave more fish near the shore for me. So in the end, as a surf fisherman, I will be taking advantage of an open EEZ!

In the event that NMFS decides not to re-open the EEZ then I insist that its closure actually be enforced. I say this because it is common knowledge that many commercial fishermen currently do fish in the EEZ despite the fact that it is illegal to do so. If you doubt this then please listen to audio available at the following link. You will hear the testimony of a commercial fisherman, named Mike Abdow (sp?), given at a Massachusetts Amendment 6 hearing. He boasts to ASMFC that he would like to see the EEZ kept closed because he considers it his "own private fishing bowl" and opening it will force him to compete with others. There were two others at the same hearing who also claimed that they were already fishing in the EEZ despite the law. Please don't get me wrong, I am not advocating that the EEZ should be re-opened in order to simply legalize what is already going on. I simply want access to the EEZ for all law-abiding citizens if sound science says that it is OK to do so – which evidently is the case.

Mike Abdow's public testimony at a MA Amendment 6 hearing:

In closing, I believe that the time for re-opening the EEZ is overdue and from what I understand it will take about another two years to complete all of the legalities needed in order to re-open it. For these reasons, I urge the NMFS to re-open the EEZ with all due diligence.

Please feel free to contact me if I can be of any further assistance.


Michael Flaherty

CC via fax: Paul Diodati, Director of Massachusetts Division of Marine Fisheries

CC via fax: Brad Burns, President of Stripers Forever

CC via fax: Pat Keliher, Executive Director of the Coastal Conservation Association (NE)