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.