Letter: Summer Flounder and Atlantic Striped Bass: Tale of Two Fisheries

from Dr. David Dow of East Falmouth

Letter to the Editor:

In November 27-30, 2018 the Northeast Fisheries Science Center conducted baseline stock assessments for these two species which are managed by the Atlantic States Marine Fisheries Commission inshore (0-3 miles) and Mid-Atlantic Fishery Management Council offshore (3-200 miles).  Both Summer flounder and Atlantic striped bass  are targeted inshore by commercial fishermen/women and saltwater anglers.  Summer flounder are also harvested by both fishing  groups in federal waters.  Even though the final report from the  November 2018 stock assessment has been delayed because of the furlough of federal employees/contractors  in NOAA Fisheries, Atlantic striped bass were assessed to be both overfished (relates to targets for spawning stock biomass) and subject to overfishing (relates to fishing mortality targets), while Summer flounder stocks were viewed as healthy and proposed catch quotas could be increased for both commercial and recreational sectors.

The worsening situation for Atlantic striped bass will require some type of recovery plan by the management agencies working with constituents (environmentalists/animal rights activists; fishermen/women and concerned public).   The ASMFC’s Technical Committee is examining various recovery scenarios and will likely seek input from the Atlantic striped bass Management Board; NOAA Fisheries staff and academic scientists and key constituent groups.  The Management Board includes some Cape Cod residents (like Rep. Sarah Peake).

There should be an opportunity for concerned citizens on Cape Cod to comment on how the proposed changes in the Atlantic striped bass recovery plan will effect them personally through some type of outreach program by the  NOAA Fisheries Recreational Fisheries Coordinators/ASMFC  or Massa. Division of Marine Fisheries Staff on the Management Board. 

It is not my intention to get into the details of how all of this will be accomplished, but to make some comments based being the former Recreational Fisheries Coordinator in the Northeast and a member of the New England Fishery Management Council’s Habitat Plan Development Team which helped develop Omnibus Habitat Amendment 2 which was approved in January 2018.

* Commercial and recreational fishing are important components of the “Blue Economy” on Cape Cod and important parts of our history which requires maintenance of our working waterfronts.

* There is a shifting baseline in the ocean surrounding Cape Cod from environmental stressors like nutrient enrichment; increased acidity in the water column and sediments and increased water temperature.  One example is the interaction between forage fish/seals and Great White sharks which has caused concerns for swimming and skate boarding at beaches on the outer Cape.  These large Apex predators have shifted in space and time and exert top down effects on the find chain supporting predators like Summer flounder and Atlantic striped bass.  There has also been bottom up changes in the plankton/forage fish linkage that influences these first level predators.

* The production and recruitment of Summer flounder and Atlantic striped bass are supported by inshore Essential Fish Habitat (eelgrass beds; salt marshes; shellfish beds; etc.) which is included as a component of the federal Magnuson-Stevens Sustainable Fisheries Act. EFH is included as a component of an adaptive, ecosystems-based fisheries management approach.  In New England, EFH "productive capacity" doesn’t include the marine food chain and the influence of environmental stressors like nutrient enrichment/climate change,

* Towns on Cape Cod are developing Comprehensive Wastewater Management Plans to reduce “N” loading from septic systems under section 208 of the Clean Water Act.  This $4-6 billion investment over the next 20-30 years is intended to improve both water quality and restore habitat (i.e. link between bay scallop harvests and eelgrass beds).

* The ASMFC; MAFMC,  and Massachusetts Division of Marine Fisheries have to work jointly on a recovery plan for Atlantic striped bass in state waters with the key constituent groups and to make sure that Summer flounder with declining stock sizes in recent years doesn’t slip into a similar situation.  The MAFMC manages the Summer flounder fishery in federal waters (3-200 miles ) where Atlantic striped bass fishing is banned, while the ASMFC and Ma. DMF manage both species in state waters (0-3) miles.  

* The New England Fishery Management Council will need to coordinate its activities in the management of forage fish;  primary and Apex predators as they migrate into southern New England waters from the Mid-Atlantic region.  This will include redistribution in the quotas  between commercial and recreational fishing which were recently addressed at the ASMFC/MAFMC Management Board meeting in Virginia.  This complex bureaucracy may be slow to change in how it links science and monitoring —> fisheries management plans and public policy development —> public outreach and education.

* Since the science and monitoring that supports the baseline stock assessments is data rich, but information poor for non-experts, perhaps the MIT/WHOI Sea Grant Program could explain this to policy makers and elected officials in a more understandable fashion.  The Waquoit Bay National Estuarine Research Reserve has been successful in such science translation efforts.

Dr. David Dow

East Falmouth, Ma. 

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