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Recreational fishermen want fair share of fluke allocation

Published in the Asbury Park Press 3/21/04

Fisheries management officials are being challenged by recreational fishermen to give anglers a fair share of the annual fluke quota.

Herb Moore Jr., director of government affairs for the Recreational Fishing Alliance, pointed out that historical data and logic indicate the allocation of the resource has been wrong since fluke management started.

The management program was set up so that the commercial sector gets 60 percent of the total allowable landings and the recreational sector gets 40 percent.

The RFA and the United Boatmen filed a petition for rule making last year that would reallocate the landings, giving half to the commercial sector and half to the recreational sector.

This would not only be more in line with traditional recreational landings before the management snapshot of 1980-1989 used as a base for division, but would be a more equitable split of a national resource.

Under the present system, 60 percent of the landings is allocated to about 1,400 commercial permit holders while 40 percent is allocated to between three million and four million recreational fishermen.

The result has been that a non-fisherman can buy fluke fillets at, say, $9 a pound anytime he goes to the market, while the angler expends considerable effort and an average of $50 for a party boat trip to catch one keeper fluke in three outings. This is not fair, equitable or right.

The time-frayed argument that disinformation specialists from the commercial sector use to justify a 60-40 split in the fluke quota is that the 1,400 commercial fishermen satisfy the non-fishing public's demand for fluke.

The claim is that, while there may be four million fluke fishermen out there wringing their hands that they have to make three fishing trips to catch one legal fluke, there are 250 million persons in the nation demanding fluke fillets at $9 a pound in the supermarket or $25 in the restaurant.

This is utter nonsense. There are no non-fishermen calling their legislators or lobbying for more fluke when the commercial quota is reduced.

Whoever heard of a member of the non-fishing public appearing at a fisheries management hearing pleading for the chance to buy an extra fluke to take home for dinner?

The commercial sector does not satisfy a public demand for fluke fillets. It exploits an opportunity to sell fish. It lands as many edible fish as it is allowed to land, and then looks for a market for them.

The recreational fluke fishing community is not asking management for 60 percent of the quota. It is simply asking for a 50-50 split -- a chance for anglers to take a fluke home for dinner when they go fishing.

The National Marine Fisheries Service accepted the detailed petition for rule making in July of 2003 and the Mid-Atlantic Fishery Management Council and the Atlantic States Marine Fisheries Commission's summer flounder board passed a motion in October to "review the current formula used to allocate landings to the commercial and recreational summer flounder fisheries."

Dan Furlong, executive director of the council, wrote Moore and Raymond D. Bogan, legal adviser of the United Boatmen, that the ASMFC's fluke technical committee met during the last week of February in Providence, R.I., to discuss the allocation issue.

"The committee has agreed that it would review the available information and prepare a report for consideration by the council and the commission at the August 2004 council meeting in Baltimore, Md.," he replied.

Moore pointed out that the current 60-40 allocation has disadvantaged and harmed the recreational fishing sector by contributing to smaller possession limits, larger minimum size requirements, shorter seasons, delayed season openings and early-season closures.

"The current 60-40 allocation needs to be looked at in light of the issues we raised in our petition for rule making -- especially the National Standards under the Magnuson-Stevens Act and whether 1980-89 was a representative period to come up with the allocation split," Moore said.

Bogan added that recreational fishermen are being treated unfairly and the industries that depend on them are being adversely affected.

"We are not asking for anything outrageous," he said. "We are asking for the fairness that the law requires."
 
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