Feds plan tough, new restrictions on recreational bluefish harvest

The Mid-Atlantic Fishery Management Council (MAFMC) and the Atlantic States Marine Fisheries Commission’s (ASMFC) Bluefish Management Board will adopt 2020 recreational bluefish regulations for the Atlantic coast from Maine to Florida at their joint meeting in Annapolis, MD, this week.

The latest stock assessment found that bluefish are overfished but overfishing is not occurring, so the commercial quota and recreational harvest limit next year and in 2021 will be considerably lower.  To constrain the coast wide recreational harvest to the harvest limit, regulations that reduce the recreational harvest by 28.6 percent are needed.

The options for reducing the coast wide recreational harvest in an equitable manner are limited.  Season closures in the late fall, winter and spring have a greater impact on anglers in the southeast while season closures in the late spring, summer and early fall have a greater impact on anglers in the Mid-Atlantic and New England.

Minimum size limits are also problematic because larger fish are found in the Mid-Atlantic and New England and smaller fish are more common in the southeast, and it would take a minimum size limit of 14 inches (total length) or greater to get a sizable reduction.  A reduction in the 15-fish bag limit is the most equitable option along the entire coast, but the bag limit needs to be reduced to three fish per person, per day to meet the required reduction.

“We realize that bluefish harvest reductions of this magnitude will have a considerable impact to the pier and for-hire fisheries in NC since bluefish are an important target species for these fisheries,” said David Sneed, executive director of CCA NC.

The MAFMC Bluefish Advisory Panel met on November 19, 2019. From the notes of the meeting, almost all AP members and public who participated in the meeting were speaking in terms of the for-hire sector and stated that the proposed four alternatives will not work for their needs. They understand that the reduction in harvest is necessary but cannot successfully work with the proposed alternatives.

Additionally, AP members and the public emphasized that these proposed regulations come at a very poor time for for-hire stakeholders. On top of these proposed bluefish measures, for-hire stakeholders are also dealing with large restrictions on striped bass, black sea bass, summer flounder and scup. “In NC, we can add Southern flounder restrictions,” Sneed added.
While the AP and the public recognize the need for a coast wide reduction in harvest, they do not believe it needs to be as harsh as shifting from 15 fish to a three fish bag limit with no size restriction, or a four fish bag limit with a 17″ size restriction. Tom Roller, a for-hire captain and AP member from N.C., indicated the strictest regulations that could be supported would be a five fish bag limit, but with hesitation on a size limit because many people harvest snapper bluefish for consumption and bait.

The meeting will be held on Dec. 9-12 at the Westin Hotel in Annapolis, MD with the recreational bluefish agenda item on Tuesday Dec. 10 from 1:00 pm-2:30 pm.  The meeting is also accessible online-enter as a guest at:  http://mafmc.adobeconnect.com/december2019 .  The detailed agenda and other meeting materials can be found at http://www.mafmc.org/briefing/december-2019 .


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