The National Marine Fisheries Service is paving the way for the closure of the recreational summer flounder fishery in 2009.
William T. Hogarth, assistant administrator for fisheries, National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration, has changed his "train wreck" description of what he fears will happen to the recreational summer flounder fishery to a detailed fisheries management elaboration.
He wrote W. Peter Jensen, chairman of the Atlantic States Marine Fisheries Commission, Monday.
"I urge you to consider new approaches for 2008 that will better ensure that the recreational targets will not be exceeded," he wrote.
Hogarth pointed out that, according to the Marine Recreational Fishery Statistics Survey, all but two East Coast states had exceeded their 2007 targets by the end of August.
"Let me stress that, if the measures implemented by the states to manage the 2008 recreational fishery are not effective to constraining harvest within the recreational harvest limit, NMFS is prepared to close the summer flounder recreational fishery in the Exclusive Economic Zone," Hogarth emphasized.
"In the remaining years of the rebuilding period, commercial and recreational measures must be sufficient to end overfishing to ensure that the stock rebuilds to the biomass target," he continued.
"I encourage you to consider more precautionary approaches to manage the 2008 recreational summer flounder fisheries to ensure that the recreational harvest and fishing mortality targets will not be exceeded," he added.
Hogarth listed as tools available to the commission and the Mid-Atlantic Fishery Management Council to have a higher likelihood of success in 2008 as: regional conservation equivalency approaches, coastwide measures, building more precaution into the analysis to mitigate uncertainty and to account for increase in fish size, angler participation, and fish availability due to stock increases.
Dan Furlong, executive director of the Mid-Atlantic Fishery Management Council, has been warning for two years that anglers have to go back to Congress and ask for flexibility in the Magnuson-Stevens Act.
Upon receiving Hogarth's letter, Furlong e-mailed key figures in the summer flounder management battle.
"It will take but one reading of the letter to grasp the tone and seriousness with which NMFS will move to shut down the subject fishery," he pointed out.
"Under the recently reauthorized Magnuson-Stevens Act, we have no flexibility," he reminded. "If you want this circumstance to change, you will need to get your federally elected officials to change the MSA."
The rigid 10-year rebuilding schedule mandated by Congress for fish species with management plans has NMFS, the council, the commission and fishermen in a box. In the case of fluke, this was extended another 30 months by Congress last winter, but the box remains.
Hogarth knows it is impossible to rebuild the summer flounder biomass to over 200 million pounds, nearly double the present biomass, by the end of 2012.
James A. Donofrio, executive director of the Recreational Fishing Alliance, said Tuesday that the uproar over the summer flounder management debacle should not obscure what else is going on.
"They've prohibited fishing for four more species in the Gulf," he said. "This is the beginning of the end, if Congress doesn't step in.
"Hogarth's letter confirms exactly what the RFA is telling members of Congress and our industry," he said. "We are heading for a shutdown, but it is more than just summer flounder, when you take a look at other regions of our country."
Donofrio sees the sea bass and porgy fisheries as the next candidates for extreme measures. The recreational winter flounder and blackfish fisheries are already virtually ruined by needless angler regulation.
"We've got to convince Congress that fish stocks cannot be built to arbitrary peaks on the backs of recreational anglers," he said. "In many states ? like California and New Jersey ? there are fewer anglers and boaters than there were only 10 years ago, regulations are horrendous and NMFS claims the stocks are not rebuilding fast enough."