Aug 10, 2019.
ASMFC Approves Atlantic Cobia Amendment 1
Arlington, VA – The Atlantic States Marine Fisheries Commission approved Amendment 1 to the Interstate Fishery Management Plan (FMP) for Atlantic Migratory Group Cobia (Atlantic cobia). Amendment 1 establishes management measures that transition the FMP from complementary management with the South Atlantic and Gulf of Mexico Fishery Management Councils to sole management by the Commission. Amendment 1 to the FMP was initiated in anticipation of the Councils’ Regulatory Amendment 31 to the Coastal Migratory Pelagics (CMP) FMP, which was approved earlier this year and removed Atlantic cobia from the Councils’ oversight.
Amendment 1 changes several portions of the Commission’s FMP that were previously dependent on the CMP FMP and institutes a long-term strategy for managing in the absence of a federal plan. Several of these changes establish processes for the Commission to carry out management responsibilities previously performed by the South Atlantic Council, including setting of harvest quotas and sector allocations, defining stock status criteria, and recommending management measures to be implemented by NOAA Fisheries in federal waters. Additionally, Amendment 1 transitions responsibilities of monitoring and closing (if necessary) commercial harvest to the Commission.
Moving forward, the Commission will recommend to NOAA Fisheries that fishing in federal waters be regulated according to the state of landing. If a vessel has licenses for multiple states with open seasons, they must follow the most restrictive license’s regulations. If a vessel has licenses for multiple states, only one of which has an open season, they may fish under the regulations of the open state. Regulations resulting from this recommendation would only apply in federal waters. Fishermen would still be required to follow state possession or landing limits in state waters.
Amendment 1 establishes a harvest specification process, which allows the Board to specify a limited set of management measures for up to 3 years. One of the measures that may be set through this process is a coastwide harvest quota. However, until the first specification process occurs, after completion of the ongoing stock in 2020, the current coastwide quota (670,000 pounds) remains in effect.
The Amendment also changes the units used to measure and evaluate the recreational fishery from pounds numbers of fish. To accommodate this change, the recreational harvest quota in pounds (620,000) is converted to numbers (22,142 fish) and allocated among the states, resulting in the following state recreational harvest targets:
- Virginia: 8,724 fish
- North Carolina: 8,436 fish
- South Carolina: 2,679 fish
- Georgia: 2,081 fish
- 1% De Minimis Set Aside: 222 fish
States still may set their own seasons and vessel limits to achieve their respective targets.
Finally, Amendment 1 establishes a de minimis status for the commercial sector that exempts states with small commercial harvests from in-season monitoring requirements. States are required to implement measures of Amendment 1 by July 1, 2020. Amendment 1 will be available on the Commission’s website, http://www.asmfc.org/species/cobia, by the end of August.
For more information, please contact Dr. Michael Schmidtke, Fishery Management Plan Coordinator, at firstname.lastname@example.org or 703.842.0740.
July 9, 2019. As many of you know management of cobia has moved from the NMFS SE Regional Office to the ASMFC. ASMFC has drafted Amendment 1 for Atlantic Cobia. The draft amendment can be downloaded here.
VSSA attended the public hearing on June 12 and our comments to the amendment are included here in this post. There are no surprises in this amendment and we are hopeful we can continue to have a decent cobia season for years to come. The only unknown for us will continue to be high catch estimates that MRIP comes up that could cause managers to reduce limits or seasons. We are hopeful that the VMRC mandatory reporting can bring the MRIP estimates into a more realistic light so we will need to watch this carefully. We are asking all anglers to be accurate in their reporting to VMRC for this reason.
There is one issue that warrants some attention and that is issue #13 regarding fishing in federal waters. Most of our cobia in Virginia are caught in state waters but later as the cobia push out of the bay many anglers chases them in federal waters particularly the CB buoy line off VB. All these buoys are just over the line in federal waters. Issue 13 could result in anglers who have both VA and NC fishing licenses (and many of us have both) that NC regs would apply. Currently NC regs are only 1 cobia per boat. If this issue goes through as written buoy hoppers of VB with VA and NC licenses could find themselves only able to keep 1 cobia per boat. We are fighting this issue and believe the state the fish is landed should be the regulations that apply.
Thanks John Bello and the VSSA Government Affairs committee for pulling together our comments. Our comments are included here.
Comments are due to ASMFC NLT July 15 by 5 pm to email@example.com. Feel free to copy our comments if your like or make your own as desired.
October 1, 2018. VSSA ASMFC Cobia PID 10-01-18
September 23, 2018 – Action Alert – Immediate Action Needed.
Dear VSSA members and supporters. The draft cobia Public Information Document (PID) for Amendment 1 is out for comments. The PID is what shapes and guide the actual document writing for the Fishery Management Plan itself. While we acknowledge the 2018 cobia season is winding down, we need to start NOW to ensure we have a season for 2019 and beyond. The PID is the ideal place to let ASMFC know our thoughts as they develop the next amendment. Waiting until the amendment is out as a draft is too late. You may submit your own letter or email per the guidance below or simply fill out our form below and press submit not later than October 4, 2018. Feel free to edit the words below to personalize.
Draft Amendment 1 was initiated in anticipation of removal of Atlantic cobia from the South Atlantic and Gulf of Mexico Fishery Management Councils’ Fishery Management Plan for Coastal Migratory Pelagic Resources (CMP FMP). Both Councils approved removal of Atlantic cobia from the CMP FMP earlier this year, and this action is now pending review by the Secretary of Commerce. If approved by the Secretary of Commerce, there would no longer be a federal management plan for Atlantic cobia, and the Commission would become the sole management body for this stock. This would necessitate amending several portions of the current interstate FMP that are dependent on the CMP FMP and also provide the opportunity for the Board to construct a long term strategy for managing in the absence of a federal FMP.
The PID is the first step of the Commission’s amendment process, and the intent of the PID is to elicit input from stakeholders and those interested in Atlantic cobia about changes observed in the fishery/resource and potential management measures that should be considered for inclusion in Draft Amendment 1. Additionally, the PID seeks input on three main issues: recommended management for federal waters, a harvest specification process, and biological monitoring requirements.
The PID is available at http://www.asmfc.org/files/PublicInput/CobiaDraftAmd1PID_PublicComment.pdf or via the Commission’s website, www.asmfc.org, under Public Input. Fishermen and other interested groups are encouraged to provide input on the PID either by attending state public hearings or providing written comment. Public comment will be accepted until 5 PM (EST) on October 4, 2018 and should be forwarded to Dr. Michael Schmidtke, Fishery Management Plan Coordinator, 1050 N. Highland St, Suite A-N, Arlington, VA 22201; 703.842.0741 (FAX) or at firstname.lastname@example.org (Subject line: Cobia PID).
14 Feb 2018. We now have the cobia options that are open for public comment. These options were presented at the FMAC meeting on 12 Feb 2018. These options were developed by VMRC staff and have received approval from ASMFC that these options should be in compliance with Virginia’s allocation of 244,292 pounds for the 2018 recreational season. We are asking all anglers to select an option in this poll that they desire for the 2018 season. We will summarize the poll results for the 27 March VMRC Commission meeting where our cobia season will decided and established. At the 27 March meeting the Commission will hear public comment on the 7 options as well as the gaffing issue. Please sound off by making your selection on the 3 polls below (1) for our season and limits (2) only 1 fish over 50 inches and (3) on the gaffing issue. All cobia options are for 40 inch total length fish.
Please note that the FMAC recommendation is for the June 1 – September 30 Vessel Limit of 3 (and only 1 fish over 50 inches) with no prohibition on the gaff. One of the discussion items was if we select 4 cobia per boat and if that boat was selected for an MRIP intercept that could drive up the overall MRIP estimate as there are not enough intercepts for accurate data. Also please note that the 7 options developed by VMRC does NOT include the 1 fish over 50 inches in the vessel limit in the calculation so we are not getting any credit for this extra conservation measure. The 1 fish over 50 inches was put in place in the previous 2 seasons as a conservation measure to protect the spawning females. VMRC has also advised that these options cannot be changed or modified at this time so these are our options for public comment. Please consider these thoughts when making your selection. Please share this with as many anglers as possible to get as many responses as possible.
Anglers are reminded that cobia require a permit from VMRC (separate from the fishing license) and with the permit comes mandatory reporting. Anglers that fail to report risk losing obtaining a permit the following year.
What Cobia Option Do You Desire for 2018?
- June 1 - September 30 Vessel Limit 3 (35%, 236 Votes)
- May 15 - September 15 Vessel Limit 3 (26%, 173 Votes)
- June 1 - September 30 Vessel Limit 4 (17%, 118 Votes)
- June 1 - September 15 Vessel Limit 3 (9%, 58 Votes)
- May 15 - August 31 Vessel Limit 3 (7%, 46 Votes)
- May 15 - August 31 Vessel Limit 4 (4%, 29 Votes)
- June 1 - September 15 Vessel Limit 4 (2%, 16 Votes)
Total Voters: 676
Should Cobia Anglers Be Permitted to Land Cobia with a Gaff?
- Yes - The Gaff Should be Allowed (76%, 486 Votes)
- No - The Gaff Should Not be Allowed (24%, 151 Votes)
Total Voters: 637
Here is a Change.Org poll on the gaffing issue in Virginia. https://www.change.org/p/john-bull-mrc-virginia-gov-bring-back-the-gaff-for-cobia-in-virginia
Should We Only Keep 1 Fish Over 50 Inches in our Vessel Limit?
- Yes - Keep Only 1 Fish Over 50 inches in our Vessel Limit. (66%, 417 Votes)
- No - This is not needed, the vessel limits are adequate. (34%, 216 Votes)
Total Voters: 633
1 Oct 2017. Our cobia situations continues to be what I call a “hot mess”. With ASMFC wanting to get involved anglers will have to coordinate with 3 separate organizations (SAFMC, VMRC, and ASMFC). Each organization has separate procedures for public comment and addressing input. The situation is now just out of control with overly complex documents, staffing actions, public hearings, etc. VSSA has sent the letter below opposing ASMFC involvement but we need your help to make sure they receive that message loud and clear. Please help us by sending in your comments using the form below. You may edit your response as appropriate. You can read the full FMP online at:
But be warned, it is 133 pages, overly complex, and poorly written. We suspect this was done on purpose so anglers would not bother to read and comment. But we need anglers to do just that. Please do so day but not later than Friday, 6 Oct 2017. Share this with as many anglers or concerned citizens as possible.
June 27, 2017. Anglers were upset of the gaff prohibition so VSSA did a poll to gather angler opinions. In less than 2 weeks, we had 571 signatures on our petition.
VSSA brought this action to the VMRC Board on June 27 and presented the petition, signatures, and comments. We had zero support for this action. None of the Associate Commissioners supported this request. VMRC believes they made the correct decision and would not reconsider despite overwhelming public support to repeal the gaff prohibition. Very disappointing. We will try again next year. Meeting summary follows:
VMRC Public Hearing on Cobia, Tuesday March 28. VMRC will set our cobia regulations for the 2017 fishing season at this month’s VMRC commission meeting scheduled for March 28, 2017. Here is the agenda for the meeting.
We need as many anglers as possible to show for this meeting. Unfortunately, the way VMRC runs these meetings there is no way to predict what time cobia will be heard. VMRC just rolls from one agenda item to the next. Our best guess is somewhere between 1:30 pm and 3 pm is when cobia will be heard. We need anglers to take the microphone and sound off. We anticipate that the VMRC staff will be pushing hard for very low limits and a significantly reduced season, even more reduced from last year. But the staff does not make the decisions. The VMRC board is a citizen board appointed by the Governor and they are free to vote whatever they believe is in the best interest of all concerned. So it is important that we be heard and that the Associate Commissioners here our message. Based upon our cobia poll we conducted, the VSSA position is below. Everyone is encouraged to state their own opinion regardless of whether you agree or disagree with the position below. If you cannot make the meeting, please fire a quick email stating your position to rob.o’email@example.com not later than Monday, March 27.
March 23, 2017. Here is the VSSA letter sent to VMRC regarding the public hearing happening on March 28th.
March 12, 2017. Cobia is again on our agenda as a top priority. There are a couple of items we are requesting angler attention immediately.
Item #1 VSSA Poll. The decision for what our cobia season will be set at the March 28, VMRC Commission meeting. There will be a public comment session in the afternoon followed by a VMRC board vote setting our limits and season for the 2017 fishing year. VMRC staff is expected to argue that we must go lower than last year because (according to the MRIP numbers), Virginia overfished cobia again in 2016 with over 900,000 lbs of cobia harvested by recreational anglers. Nobody, including the VMRC staff has confidence in these MRIP numbers but this is ammunition that will be used to reduce our seasons. As you recall, in 2016 we a limit of 2 cobia per boat closing our season early on August 30, 2016. We anticipate VMRC will argue for significantly reduced seasons last only a month to 45 days cutting our season in half. We don’t believe this is right or fair for Virginia anglers. In preparation for the March 28 public hearing, VSSA is conducting another poll to gauge angler positions on what we want to tell the Associate Commissioners at the public hearing. Please take the time to participate in this poll. If you have suggested not captured on the poll, please send your comments to firstname.lastname@example.org. Note we did not attempt to include a poll that includes seasonal closures as there are simply too many variables to poll this. All options are a full open season in state waters.
Item #2 Amendment 4. We had won a small victory for Amendment 4 establishing the Accountability Measure (AM) by using a 3-year average rather than a single year of data. This was approved by the SAFMC in charge of developing Amendment 4. Now at last moment in the process to approve the amendment, the National Marine Fishery Service (NMFS) SE Regional Office (SERO) changed the AM back to the 1 year of data. As many of you know, the cobia intercepts by the MRIP process is very low and the associated numbers are highly inaccurate and vary greatly due to this deeply flawed MRIP process. We believe that using the 3 year average was a more fair approach to not rely on a single year of questionable data. By using a single year of data, NMFS will have the authority to close cobia fishing year after year with no public input. This is simply not right approach. We need all anglers to protest this by visiting this website:
Make your comments opposing this rule. You can copy and past this text into the online form or use your own words. This needs to happen NLT March 23, 2017.
Suggested wording (please edit as necessary into your own words if you like).
I request that the NMFS remove this proposed Accountability Measure (AM) for the following reasons:
• The notion of overfishing or exceeding the Annual Catch Limit (ACL) is artificially driven by the unfair, poorly executed zone split by SAFMC granting east Florida more than their fair share of the ACL leaving GA-NY with a small fraction of what should have been allocated. The numbers clearly reflect the true Atlantic coast is not being overfished by any significant amount when looking at the numbers of the true Atlantic Coast from Key West to NY.
• Amendment 4 was fully coordinated by the SAFMC and for NMFS to insert themselves AFTER the SAFMC process violates the Magnuson-Stevens Fishery Conservation and Management Act (MSA) bypassing the rule making process established by law. If NMFS wants to develop rules directly, then a change in the law would be required to disestablish the regional councils in charge of fishery management regulation development.
• The proposed draft AM of using 1 year of data is deeply flawed given the low number of cobia intercepts resulting in highly inaccurate, fluxuating numbers provided by the MRIP process. Using a 3 year average will more fairly represent numbers given the data is so flawed.
We respectfully request NMFS remove this draft rule or at a minimum, return Amendment 4 back to the SAFMC to fully vet any draft rule to the agency established by law to develop regulations.
Here is a copy of the VSSA letter send March 12, 2017. http://joinvssa.org/wp-content/uploads/2016/04/VSSA-Letter-to-SERO-on-Cobia-Amdment-4-March-12-2017.pdf
December 22, 2016. VSSA, along with hundreds of cobia anglers in NC and VA, strongly oppose ASMFC joint or complimentary management of cobia for the reasons in the attached letter to ASMFC. VSSA Letter to ASMFC on Cobia PID final 22 dec 16
16 Sep 2016. This is from the SAFMC website today regarding decisions made on cobia. This is good news for the most part. The only bad part is we still have to live with the unfair, small ACL assigned to GA-NY while Florida enjoys a very large ACL (larger than the entire rest of the coast). This could result in shortened seasons and limits every year if the MRIP data shows us going over the ACL which is likely since our ACL is unfairly small. But at the least the decisions made are mostly good news. Thanks to all who took the time to submit comments and show up. I believe public pressure did make a difference.
VMRC FINFISH Committee meeting is Monday and I’m sure more information will be available then. http://www.mrc.state.va.us/FMAC/2016/FMAC-2016-09-19-Agenda.pdf
Mackerel Cobia Committee
Atlantic Cobia Management Measures – Coastal Migratory Pelagics Framework Amendment 4:
Staff reviewed the public comments received during the August 2016 public hearings on the Atlantic cobia amendment (CMP Framework Amendment 4).
What Actions Did the Committee Approve?
The committee reviewed the actions in the amendment and made some modifications to the actions including:
- Action 1-1: Chose preferred Alternative 3f to establish a recreational vessel limit for Atlantic cobia of 6 fish per vessel per day.
- NOTE: In June 2016, the Council had also selected Alternative 2a in Action 1-1 (recreational bag limit of 1/person) and Alternative 2c in Action 1-2 (36”FL recreational minimum size limit).
- Action 2: Removed this action from the amendment that would have modified the recreational fishing year for Atlantic cobia.
- The committee made motions to direct staff to begin work on a CMP plan amendment to change the recreational fishing year with a preferred start date of May 1 – April 30 annually.
- Action 3: Chose two preferred alternatives –
- Alternative 2/sub-alternative 2b – The Regional Administrator will reduce the length of the following fishing year only if the stock ACL (commercial ACL and recreational ACL) is exceeded.
- Alternative 5/sub-alternative 5b – The Regional Administrator will reduce the recreational vessel limit for the following fishing year only if the stock ACL (commercial ACL and recreational ACL) is exceeded.
- Action 4: Created a new Alternative 5 that would establish a commercial trip limit of 2 fish/person/day or 6 fish/vessel/day limit, whichever is more restrictive, and selected Alternative 5 as the preferred alternative.
COUNCIL ACTION – FINAL APPROVAL – During the full Council session, the Council approved the amendment for submission to the Secretary of Commerce for review.
6 Sept 2016. We have one last shot at influencing our cobia regulations at the federal level for the 2017 season. The SAFMC Council meeting is next week 12-16 Sept 2016 at Myrtle Beach, SC. While we can’t attend in person we can still send our comments and concerns to Council members. Please see the VSSA letter we sent on 5 Sep 2016 which has been consistent in positions all year. We don’t know what is going to happen but we are concerned decisions made will be on the extreme side of conservation with low limits and reduced seasons. It’s not too late to send in your comments. Even if you have already commented in the August public hearings, please send in your comments not later than 15 Sept 2016.
Meeting notice: http://safmc.net/Sept2016CouncilMeeting
Comment On-Line Form: http://safmc.net/Sept2016_CouncilMeeting_CommentForm
VSSA Letter send for the August public hearings.
VSSA encourages all anglers to send an email to VMRC ahead of the May 24 public hearing on cobia. Suggest you send the email NLT Friday, May 20 to ensure your email is included in the hearing. Here is a suggested email. Feel free to edit as you feel necessary or go with a recommendation of your choice. The more letters and emails VMRC receives the better.
Send the email to: rob.o’email@example.com
Subject: Cobia Public Hearing for May 24 Decision
Request the following be included as the public comment for the May 24 VMRC decision regarding cobia regulations for the 2016 fishing season.
I strongly oppose the closing down cobia in Virginia State waters. I believe Virginia is being held unfairly responsible for questionable MRIP data that caused the belief our cobia ACL was exceeded. The zone split was unfair, the ACL is unfair giving a single state (Florida) has a higher ACL than the rest of the Atlantic coast, the MRIP data is highly suspect, and the fact NOAA did not institute a rolling closure giving other states a significantly longer season than Virginia leads us to one conclusion:
Virginia should keep state waters open for cobia for 2016.
I respectfully requests the VMRC keep the current cobia regulations in place for 2016. Any consideration for lower limits should take place in an amendment to the cobia Fishery Management Plan (FMP) in development now for 2017 and not in a hasty fashion for 2016 using questionable data.
Sign Your Name and City of Residence
Cobia - If boat limits are established, do you support a no gaff policy for cobia?
- No, keeper cobia should be allowed to be gaffed (66%, 323 Votes)
- Yes, with boat limits, gaffing should be prohibited (34%, 166 Votes)
Total Voters: 489
Cobia - In light of the upcoming federal closure for cobia on June 20, what options do you support for the May 24 VMRC vote (all lengths are total length)
- Non-Compliance - Do not comply, keep VA regs as is, 1 per person 37 inches or larger (41%, 225 Votes)
- Non-Compliance - Support FMAC recommendation 1 per person up to 3 per boat, 37 inches or greater with only 1 of the 3 over 50 inches (40%, 218 Votes)
- Non-Compliance. 1 cobiia per person up to 6 cobia per boat 37 inches or greater (6%, 33 Votes)
- Non-Compliance. 1 cobia per person up to 4 cobia per boat 37 inches or greater (6%, 32 Votes)
- Compliance. Comply with federal guidance on closure but implement strick boat limits to extend season a couple of weeks. (4%, 21 Votes)
- Compliance. Comply with federal guidance to close on June 20 (3%, 14 Votes)
- Non-Compliance. 1 cobia per person up to 5 cobia per boat 37 inches or greater (0%, 0 Votes)
Total Voters: 543
This poll is now closed as of May 10, 2016. Thanks to everyone who took the time to vote.
Note: all lengths in the cobia poll above are total lengths. Virginia uses total length not forked length. There continues to be a lot going on with cobia. The federal closure is still slated for June 20 and Virginia makes its decision at the VMRC meeting on May 24. Public comment period begins on May 9. Once we have some poll results (above), VSSA will prepare a letter to VMRC. Will also provide anglers with talking points so the angling public can prepare their own responses. The decision by VMRC to go out of compliance with the federal government will not be an easy decision and if we (the angling public) want Virginia to not comply, then we must be united and tell our Associate Commissioners to vote accordingly.
I will not try to influence your vote on gaffing but I will say I carry a gaff and net. On any fish that is questionable on whether the fish is keeper sized or not, we net. We only gaff cobia that are clearly keeper sized.
Here is some other news about cobia to help you make your decision on polling.
VMRC Meeting April 26: DISCUSSION Continued discussion and updates on the 2016 recreational cobia fishery. THE COMMISSION MOVED TO ADVERTISE TO AMEND CHAPTER 4 VAC 20-510-10 ET SEQ., TO ESTABLISH AMENDMENTS TO THIS REGULATION, FOR THE 2016 VIRGINIA RECREATIONAL COBIA FISHERY, THAT INCLUDE BUT ARE NOT LIMITED TO INCREASES IN THE MINIMUM SIZE LIMIT; ESTABLISHMENT OF A VESSEL LIMIT; ESTABLISHMENT OF VARIABLE FISHING SEASONS; ESTABLISHMENT OF A PROHIBITION ON GAFFING COBIA; AND, ESTABLISHMENT OF A CLOSURE OF VIRGINIA WATERS TO RECREATIONAL COBIA HARVEST AND POSSESSION, ONCE FEDERAL WATERS ARE CLOSED TO RECREATIONAL HARVEST AND POSSESSION OF COBIA. [audio]
Virginia FMAC has voted non compliance, with a 3 fish boat limit with only one over 50 inches after the federal closure date and the normal creel (one per person per day at 37 TOTAL LENGTH) before the closure date. Keep in mind, NOAA will likely move the federal closure date forward in VA and NC choose not to comply.
North Carolina’s Finfish and Northern Advisory Committees also voted for non-compliance. NC’s proposal is 1 fish per person at 33 FORK LENGTH until June 20th (language says June 20th, so the feds changing the closure date shouldn’t impact the recommendation.)
NCMFC meets in Morehead City on May 18-20 to make a final decision. VMRC will meet May 24th in Newport News for a final hearing on cobia.
Also on May 9, SAFMC will hold a “Cobia Q&A meeting” at the Hilton Garden Inn in Kitty Hawk from 6-8PM. You can also attend via webinar. You need to register to attend via webinar. More details are here: http://safmc.net/CobiaQandAMeeting_05092016
Several press outlets have published stories regarding the cobia this week. Lee Tolliver published a plea for non compliance: http://pilotonline.com/news/government/local/tolliver-latest-cobia-closure-is-too-much-for-virginia-north/article_ca963f6d-df22-5899-be67-780567dffa8d.html
Roanoke Times also covered the closure: http://www.roanoke.com/sports/outdoors/cochran-anglers-upset-over-proposal-to-close-cobia-season-early/article_59ff4990-c26e-5eb6-a44b-bf0783fdb6d0.html
Richond Times article. http://m.richmond.com/outdoors/tee-clarkson/article_20052d59-6712-5e2c-acc5-1654cba6489d.html?mode=jqm
Here is a letter authored by an angler Jonathan French and endorsed by a coalition of charter Captains to try to frame the issue.
Dear Virginia Marine Resources Commission Members,
I and the other undersigned recreational anglers, charter boat captains, and small business owners are writing to recommend that the VMRC to not comply with the June 20th federal closure of the cobia fishery. This closure is the byproduct of the creation of regulatory levers created by the South Atlantic Council that repeatedly comes into conflict with the National Standards of Fishery Management authored by the Magnuson Stevens Act. Here are the reasons North Carolina should vote non-compliance:
- As required by the Magnuson Stevens Act all stakeholders must have proper representation in the fisheries management and no entity (be it state, sector of industry, etc.) acquires an excessive share of the privilege.
National Standard 4 clearly states:
“Conservation and management measures shall not discriminate between residents of different states. If it becomes necessary to allocate or assign fishing privileges among various United States fishermen, such allocation shall be (a) fair and equitable to all such fishermen; (b) reasonably calculated to promote conservation; and (c) carried out in such manner that no particular individual, corporation, or other entity acquires an excessive share of such privilege.”
National Standard 8 clearly states:
“Conservation and management measures shall, consistent with the conservation requirements of this Act (including the prevention of overfishing and rebuilding of overfished stocks), take into account the importance of fishery resources to fishing communities by utilizing economic and social data that meet the requirement of paragraph (2) [i.e., National Standard 2], in order to (a) provide for the sustained participation of such communities, and (b) to the extent practicable, minimize adverse economic impacts on such communities.”
Virginia had no voting representation in the creation of the Fisheries Management Plan and the resulting ACL reduction and zone split. Proxy representation for Virginia from the Mid-Atlantic Fisheries Management Council did not speak one time on the record for the interests of Virginia. As result, Virginians face the most punitive closure date and an unfair allocation of the resource.
All the SAFMC representatives from North Carolina are from Raleigh or Morehead City southward. Not surprisingly, cobia fishermen south of Cape Lookout retain a full season, while boat fishermen north of Cape Hatteras lose most of their season. Northern Outer Banks pier anglers will lose their entire season, as the first cobia are often not landed on the Northern OBX piers until July.
South Carolina and Georgia have full representation, and due to the migratory pattern of cobia, their fishermen will not lose a single day of cobia fishing. East Florida had three votes and they received an excessive share of the privilege with a full season and more ACL than the other Mid-Atlantic states combined (880,000 pounds) in the zone split and ACL allocation.
Virginia and North Carolina suffer inequitable burden, while Florida received an excessive share of the privilege. This is a CLEAR violation of National Standard 4 and 8. As result, North Carolina’s attorney general should sue NOAA and North Carolina should not comply with the closure.
This fact, and NOAA cannot dispute that it is a fact, should end all discussion. Additional issues with data acuity will be debated endlessly, but reality is that NOAA violated these basic tenants of the federal law.
- If we want to go further, there has been a pattern of misinformation that has been presented by NOAA and SAFMC to justify these closures.
NOAA staff members were advocating for an ACL split and ACL reductions as early as September, 2010 on the record almost 3 years prior to the publication of the SEDAR28 Cobia Stock Assessment.
GREGG WAUGH: “And then when we get to cobia; one, the two councils are splitting that so that is one of the joint actions, but for the portion that we will be managing, our likely ACL is going to be considerably below the current catches, so we need to look at modifying our regulations. Right now there is a two-fish bag limit in place so we need to look at modifying those regulations to ensure that the ACL is not exceeded.” Source: September 13, 2010 SAFMC Mackerel Meeting Minutes PAGE 3 http://safmc.net/images/pdf/MackCmteMinSep10.pdf
The SEDAR28 Stock Assessment was then published in 2013. The stock assessment refuted the need for a lowered ACL.
“The South Atlantic cobia stock assessment presented by the SEDAR 28 Assessment Workshop (AW) provided the Review Panel (RP) with outputs and results from two assessments models. Therefore, the RP concluded that the stock is not overfished and is not undergoing overfishing.”
Then Amendment 20B was authored. Amendment 20B started the pattern of misinformation. Amendment 20B clearly states that the ACL should be INCREASED for both the Gulf and the Atlantic management zones:
“Cobia Zones, ACLs, and ACTs: Based on the results of the most recent stock assessment for Gulf and South Atlantic cobia, this rule divides Gulf migratory group cobia into a Gulf zone (Texas through the Gulf side of the Florida Keys) and a Florida east coast zone (east coast of Florida and Atlantic side of the Florida Keys, i.e., the area within the South Atlantic Council’s jurisdiction). The Gulf ACL is allocated between the zones based on landings from the 1998–2012 fishing years. The South Atlantic Council is responsible for regulations for the Florida east coast zone, similar to management of the Florida east coast subzone for king mackerel. This rule also increases the ACLs for both migratory groups, the recreational ACT for the Atlantic migratory group, and the stock ACT for the Gulf zone.”
Federal Register / Vol. 80, No. 17 / Tuesday, January 27, 2015 / Rules and Regulations
This assertion is repeated in the FAQ document for Amendment 20B. Please note, fishermen often rely on the FAQ document due to a lack of bandwidth to read lengthy regulations.
“This option offers increases in the current annual catch limits for both Councils, and is viewed as a fair and equitable distribution of the resource.”
SERO Cobia Fisheries Management Plan Amendment 20B FAQ
NOAA asserts that this document required them to DECREASE the ACL. Somehow, in the FMP, they count the increase to East Florida’s ACL as increasing the ACL for the entire Atlantic stock, even though East Florida was removed from the Atlantic management zone AND SAFMC has said repeatedly that they cannot transfer the East Florida ACL to the South Atlantic Management Zone as a solution to this problem.
“The applicable ACTs for the Atlantic migratory group of cobia are 550,000 lb (249,476 kg) for 2014, 520,000 lb (235,868 kg) for 2015, and 500,000 lb (226,796 kg) for 2016 and subsequent fishing years. The applicable ACLs for the Atlantic migratory group of cobia are 670,000 lb (303,907 kg) for 2014, 630,000 lb (285,763 kg) for 2015, and 620,000 lb (281,227 kg) for 2016 and subsequent fishing years.”
Note, this reduced ACL in the Atlantic directly conflicts with the guidance from the SEDAR28 that the cobia ACL should be increased in both management zones. In personal communication with me AND with communication with Rep. Rob Wittman (United States House of Representatives Virginia 1st District), NOAA staff emphasize that they were forced to split zones and reduce the ACL for the Georgia to New York zone. The communication ignores the other language calling for the ACL to be increased. The letter to Rep. Wittman can be provided if requested.
- In the only year (after an ACL change) that a 1 year overage could trigger a closure, there was a 402% jump in the Virginia catch and a 180+% increase in the GA-NY catch. The Virginia catch was almost 400+% over the previous 7 year average. This is statistically dubious for the following reasons:
- The jump is dependent on a massive increase (400 additional boats per day assuming 100 fishing days) from 2014 to 2015.
- There was not a corresponding jump in Virginia citations (13% increase) despite NOAA claims that the average fish caught was 5 pounds higher than in 2014.
- The calculation was based on peak wave data and appears to count fish being caught during August, where wind conditions significantly limited days on the water.
- Data assertions are not corroborated by charter captains, recreational fishermen, or state fisheries officers.
As result of these actions by NOAA, we recommend the following action:
1) VMRC should not comply with the federal closure. NCMFC should maintain current creel limits. Any compliance and reduction in creel will be used to validate NOAA/SAFMC actions and data in the greater debate over changing federal fisheries management.
2) VMRC should request that NOAA issue an interim final rule to suspend the closure, recalculate the ACL with a fair allocation that is equitable across states, and review catch data for the three year time period before re-issuing any closure if needed.
3) The Virginia Attorney General should file a federal lawsuit against NOAA for violating National Standard 4 and 8 due to the lack of representation in the development of Amendment 18 and 20b of the Cobia Fisheries Management Plan and the resulting inequitable allocation of the cobia ACL, resulting in more significantly greater burden to North Carolina and Virginia citizens versus those in other states within the management zone and the natural migration pattern of the cobia stock.
NOAA has a responsibility to deliver fair and transparent policy that reflects the intent of the Magnuson Stevens Act and our state government has a responsibility to protect the rights and interest of the citizens of Virginia.