Pallone Calls for NOAA Fisheries to Reconsider Summer Flounder Quotas at Mid-Atlantic Fishery Management Council Meeting

Dec 14, 2016

Washington, DC – Today, Congressman Frank Pallone (NJ-06) spoke at the Mid-Atlantic Fishery Management Council’s (MAFMC) December Meeting in Baltimore, Maryland about his efforts to convince NOAA Fisheries to postpone any decision on reducing summer flounder quotes until it conducts a new benchmark summer flounder assessment. Pallone argued that  proposed reductions would harm many coastal communities including those along the Jersey Shore who rely on the recreational and commercial fishing industries.

“Many fishermen are frustrated and lack confidence in the data that guides stock assessments,” said Pallone. “In the recreational sector, many believe that they have sacrificed for years to increase stocks, and have yet to see any benefits, despite the increase in biomass from the ‘90s. There continues to be legitimate concerns that the random sampling heavily relied upon by the NOAA and the estimates produced are inaccurate.”

This week Congressman Pallone and Senator Cory Booker sent a letter to National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA) Fisheries about its proposal to reduce the Acceptable Biological Catch (ABC) recreational and commercial quotas for summer flounder in 2017 and 2018. The New Jersey lawmakers requested that NOAA Fisheries postpone any decision on reducing summer flounder quotes until it conducts a new benchmark summer flounder assessment.

Pallone has long been a supporters of fisheries and the economies of coastal communities. Earlier this year, Congressman Pallone sent a letter to the Atlantic States Marine Fisheries Commission calling for fair and less restrictive policies relating to summer flounder. Last year, the Congressman decried NOAA’s final rule on 2016 summer flounder catch limits. Under the rule, the summer flounder acceptable catch limit was reduced 30 percent, from 23 million pounds to 16 million pounds.

His statement before the council can be found below:

 

Statement of Congressman Frank Pallone, Jr.
Mid-Atlantic Fishery Management Council
December Meeting
December 14, 2016

I want to thank Chairman Luisi, Vice Chairman Elliot, and all the members and staff of the Mid-Atlantic Fishery Management Council for giving me this opportunity to make a statement about the summer flounder quotas for 2017 and 2018, and for the work you do to serve fishermen and coastal communities.

I also want to acknowledge the New Jersey members of the Council, Thomas Baum, Peter Hughes, and Adam Nowalsky for their work.

As you all know, last month, NOAA Fisheries released a proposal to dramatically cut the Acceptable Biological Catch (ABC) recreational and commercial quotas for summer flounder in 2017 and 2018. Summer flounder is one of the most important recreational fish to resident and non-resident anglers in New Jersey.

As you also know, the scale of these reductions is extremely serious; the summer flounder ABC would be reduced 29% in 2017 and a 16% in 2018. The recreational and commercial limits would both be reduced by approximately 30% in 2017 and 16% in 2018. I know that implementing this proposed rule would have a devastating impact on the livelihoods of recreational and commercial fishermen and the economies of coastal communities that depend on the industry.

I represent the New Jersey 6th Congressional District, and there are many coastal communities in my district which will be harmed if these regulations go into effect. Many of these Jersey Shore communities rely on the recreational and commercial fishing industries, and are already struggling. According to the Jersey Coast Anglers Alliance, from 2007 to 2014 there was a loss of 2 million fishing trips in New Jersey, and 40% of fishing trips in New Jersey are in pursuit of summer flounder. Burdensome regulations on recreational fishermen have played a large role in this decrease.

Fishermen and their families will not be the only ones who suffer if these dramatic cuts are finalized. The tourism and boating industries along the Shore will be impacted as well.

I have heard from constituents about this issue, and earlier this week, Senator Booker and I sent a letter to NOAA, requesting that it reconsider this proposal, and maintain existing quota levels until it conducts a new summer flounder benchmark assessment.

Many fishermen are frustrated and lack confidence in the data that guides stock assessments. In the recreational sector, many believe that they have sacrificed for years to increase stocks, and have yet to see any benefits, despite the increase in biomass from the ‘90s. There continues to be legitimate concerns that the random sampling heavily relied upon by the NOAA and the estimates produced are inaccurate.

Before it makes cuts of this severity, NOAA should work to ensure that it has the most recent and accurate data possible, and that fishermen are confident that this data will lead to accurate stock assessments. Until it conducts a new benchmark assessment, NOAA should maintain existing quotas. 

The problem is exacerbated by the heavy handed approach that NOAA sometimes takes. For example, NOAA recently announced it was instituting accountability measures in a broad swath of ocean off of Sandy Hook, New Jersey to protect windowpane flounder. These measures, which place specifications on the types of trawl gear allowed to be used, would have a devastating economic impact on commercial fishermen, especially on the Belford Seafood Co-op in my district, since the impacted area is prime territory for summer flounder, which they depend on. The Co-op fishermen do not fish for windowpane, but they are going to be forced to adhere to these regulations anyway.

I understand that the Council is working to resolve this problem with the New England Fishery Management Council. I encourage both Councils to work together to prevent these accountability measures from hurting fishermen just trying to do their jobs.

Throughout my career in Congress, I have always worked to protect the thousands of fishermen in my Congressional District, and to enable their continued valuable economic impact on New Jersey. I will keep working to press NOAA to use the best data possible when making stock assessments, and to protect fishermen from burdensome regulations of dubious impact.

In closing, while I recognize that the Council’s ability to push back against these quotas is limited, I strongly encourage the Council to take any and all steps that it can to protect recreational and commercial fishermen. The Council should work to minimize the potential negative impacts of quota cuts on the commercial and recreational fishing industry.

Thank you.

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