By Chris Horton, Sr. Director, Midwestern States/Fisheries Program
The South Atlantic Fishery Management Council is meeting the week of March 5 in Jekyll Island, Georgia, where two agenda items of significance to recreational anglers in the region will be voted on.
First on the agenda is the Exempted Fishing Permit (EFP) application to allow pelagic longline (PLL) vessels into the East Florida Coast Pelagic Longline Closed Area. Decades ago, the swordfish fishery had been decimated by overfishing along much of the Southeast Atlantic Coast. In response, nursery areas were identified and closed to PLL fishing by 2001. Since then, not only have swordfish populations recovered, but other species of billfish, such as sailfish and marlin, have benefitted from the elimination of indiscriminate longline fishing in the closed areas. The end result has been the development of a world-class billfish fishery off the east coast of Florida that brings in millions of dollars for the state each year.
The proposed EFP would again allow PLL fishing in the closed area, potentially resulting in significant bycatch of important juvenile billfish and tuna, while only benefiting a few authorized commercial longline vessels owned by Day Boat Seafood Inc. The Congressional Sportsmen’s Foundation (CSF) joined several others in the recreational fishing community on a comment letter urging the Council not to recommend approval of the EFP.
Another item that will be discussed during the Council meeting is Amendment 31 to the Coastal Migratory Pelagic Fishery Management Plan (CMP FMP) regarding cobia management. CSF submitted a letter to the Council supporting the Preferred Alternative 2 in Amendment 31, which would transfer management of Atlantic cobia from the Council to the Atlantic States Marine Fisheries Commission (ASMFC).
Cobia are a very popular and important sportfish along the southern half of the Atlantic coastline. Excluding Georgia, cobia harvest occurs primarily in state waters, which alone lends significant justification to transferring management to the states through the ASMFC. Allowing the ASMFC to assume management responsibility will provide for an appropriate distribution of harvestable quota among the states, allow states to fish the stock when and where it is most beneficial for their anglers and communities, and increases the likelihood of constraining harvest to sustainable levels through more timely monitoring and the ability to adjust seasons more quickly.
Studies conducted at both the state and federal level have found that the number of hunters and trappers have been on a generally declining trend over the past several decades. To increase recruitment, retention, and reactivation (R3) of hunters and trappers, which initiative do you think would have the greatest impact?