Saturday, March 07, 2015

Stopping To Help 3/7/15

Stopping To Help.. Capt. Monty Hawkins 3/7/15

Good Folks, 
If you saw a crew-member of your favorite party or charter boat roadside & broken-down, you'd probably stop to help. 
If your buddy who takes you out on his Grady-White needed a hand - you'd help. 
If you're in the fishing industry; for Pete's sake, take a few minutes to help yourself. 
In much less time than it would take to give a buddy a lift, or help change a flat, you can look up your Washington, DC representatives and give the whole industry a hand. 

Our fisheries are supposed to be driven by science. 
A vital component of management, and especially getting management right, is knowing what recreational fishers caught. Recreational catch estimates are used exclusively to determine whether sport anglers have caught less-than, or gone-over, recreational quotas. Since 2004 a pattern of vastly increased Private Boat landings has developed. Recreational fishers are always shown to be over-quota in one fishery or several. 

Already developed and in use by Rhode Island Party/Charter fishers, Capt. Rick Bellavance's multi-platform mobile app could soon deliver our catch data to management in record time & with unheard of accuracy. 
NOAA, however, has a different plan in mind. The 'repair' Congress ordered to our old catch estimating program, the Marine Recreational Fishing Statistics Survey (MuRFSS), was our present-day Marine Recreational Information Program - MRIP - which began in 2012. 
The reason we all have a fishing license or 'registry' now was so MRIP could accurately count participants & have a means of contacting them  ..but MRIP's still using the old "random phone survey." They're literally picking numbers at random from a phone book. (it's likely some youngsters reading this have never used a phone book!)  
Truth I swear: Now MRIP wants to switch from random calling to a mail-in survey. No iPhone app, no computer anything - Snail Mail..

This new program, MRIP, is terribly wrong far more often than MuFRSS ever was. Although MRIP does show Party/Charter boats catching fewer & fewer fish when regulation becomes more & more restrictive; it has Private Boats landing impossibly high, & then higher-still, levels of catch when seasons shrink, size limits go up, and bag limits decrease. The harsher regulation gets, the more MRIP claims Private Boats caught. 

MRIP even has NJ jetty fishers in March/April of 2010 - just fishing from NJ's shore - catching almost twice as many tautog as All US Commercial Trap/Trawl caught in ALL of 2010 combined.. 
When I complained about that estimate & others, MRIP responded thusly in their November 19th, 2012 Newsletter: "..With these improvements in place, we can say with confidence that we have enhanced the quality of our estimates. In fact, the cases you cite are good examples for demonstrating exactly what we mean by that."

Picture in your mind the New Jersey jetty tog fishery in March & April. 
Now picture all commercial trawl & trap from lower Virginia to Cape Cod for a full year. Do you see the guys sitting on 5 gallon buckets freezing their butts off outfishing the entire commercial sector? 
I see something alright, but "Enhanced Quality" in MRIP's estimates isn't it.. 

Our letters changed MuRFSS in 2003 when they made a repair to For-Hire Party/Charter calculations. 
Our letters got rid of MuRFSS in the 2007 re-write of Magnuson. Congress gave NOAA until 2009 to repair MuRFSS - they got done in 2012. 
The result of that repair effort was MRIP. 
The result of MRIP's "enhanced quality" will soon be the end of many businesses in the Party/Charter industry - especially bottom fishers.

Only your letters can stop it. 
Red snapper, red grouper, black sea bass, tautog, haddock - even cod; for these species MRIP shows Party/Charter catch declining. Yet for the part of our fisheries (private boat & shore) where no written records exist; those anglers catch better, & better, & BETTER no matter how tight regulations get. 
I have mountains of work on this - years & years of specific examples going back to 1998. Will be glad to send you some. Please see especially my recent piece "Regulatory Death Of Our Fisheries - 2/26/15." 

It's time to end this cozy relationship between recreational catch estimates and NOAA's fish population estimates. Why worry with a fishery's factual production when any catch can be invented? "Sorry Mr. Congressman, the little boats did it!" 
"No, Senator, we have arrested overfishing everywhere except for those guys on the jetties!!"
It's time to separate recreational catch estimates from NOAA's fishery management system. 

The US Fish & Wildlife Service has been estimating recreational catch a lot longer than NOAA. It was their five-year U.S. angling surveys that convinced Connecticut's Dr. Vic Crecco (retired) that MuRFSS was all baloney. 

Now MRIP's worse. 
It's, literally, killing off the Party/Charter bottom fishing industry from Maine to Texas. 
We need USFWS to take over our marine catch-estimates. 

I was walking the halls of Congress last Wednesday. Trust me on this - Staffers work really hard. There are Congressional Staff who are every bit as heroic as a well-decorated soldier. I am not kidding. They may not be under fire, but they're in one heck of a pressure-cooker. Helping with federal agencies is what some staff do for a living. They hear from lobbyists all the time--and I do mean all the time! They Prefer Hearing From Real Constituents!! 
Hearing real thoughts from a real constituent..

Write an email, put a stamp on a letter - here's how to find your DC Reps - ... 
Tell them NOAA's done. It's time to let USFWS get Marine Recreational Catch Data right. 
It's a problem that spans many decades & many Congressional Sessions. Be Polite. These are the people who send our country to war; fishing is rarely on their radar. 
Don't send a canned letter - a couple sentences or a couple paragraphs about what you think is perfect! 
Tell your State reps too. They get heard in DC as well.

I promise this, your letters can get MRIP out of the picture and off our back.  
I'm not at all sure it will happen soon enough. 
But please write. 
Every bottom-fishing Party/Charter business is in some degree of trouble - even if they're clueless to it.  

You might also ask why NOAA hasn't found our hardbottom reefs yet. Officially - this is not a picture of fish habitat. 
Really. I'm completely serious. 

Please, don't let someone else carry your burden. To do what needs done we need a lot of folks to write. 
Then write again. 
The men on Council & Commission who have fought so hard to preserve our fishing seasons cannot hold the line forever. Bad catch estimates will soon overwhelm them. 

I think a vital part of our solution is to transfer MRIP's duties to USFWS. 
I have to believe they'll do a better job. 
Letters to Congress can make that happen. 

Actually, ONLY letters to Congress can make that happen. 

You can get it done in less time than it takes to pick a new fishing reel. 

Thanks For Reading.
Please Write.

Capt. Monty Hawkins 
Partyboat Morning Star
Ocean City, MD

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