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In response to a significant decline in stock abundance, the ASMFC Weakfish
(Gray Trout, Squeetaegues) Management Board has approved sending forward Draft
Addendum I to Amendment 4 of the Fishery Management Plan for Weakfish for public
review and comment. Concern over declining commercial and recreational catches
requires the Board to consider reductions in recreational bag limits, commercial
and recreational seasons, and bycatch allowances.

The latest stock assessment for weakfish is bleak. Despite the cut in target
mortality and the resultant reductions in recreational bag limits that were
instituted in 2003, weakfish continue to decline. Many RFA members have expressed
deep frustration with the current status of the fishery. New England anglers
report weakfish have been missing for a few years and Mid-Atlantic anglers
say the weakfish are at best spotty. "A couple of years ago, we thought we
might be on the road to recovery, with members reporting that there seemed
to be increasing numbers of fish. In the past two years, it appears that the
fishery went into decline again", said Michael Doebley, RFA Deputy Director
of Government Affairs.

According to a draft of the public comment document, the ASMFC will consider
cuts in the target mortality rate of 25% to 75%. There is also an option for
a complete moratorium on the taking of weakfish. Depending on the percentage
that the mortality is cut, bag limits could be reduced to 4 fish, or 1 fish.
The option for a 75% reduction also includes seasonal restrictions. "We supported
reducing mortality in the past to help jump-start a recovery and we are giving
very serious consideration to advocating for a further cut in mortality if
that is what it takes to bring back this fishery. As of now, no option is
off the table", said Doebley.

If cuts are instituted, they are expected to effect both the recreational and
commercial sectors. "We intend to take a hard look at all the data and suggested
cuts to assure that anglers are being treated fairly. A sore point for us
during the adoption of the last plan a couple of years ago was that while anglers
were taking cuts in their bag limits, the commercial fishery bycatch allowance
was almost doubled," explained Doebley.


The RFA, in consultation with its ASMFC Caucus and biologists, expects to have
a position prepared by Mid-September. Public hearings are expected to begin
in late September. To find out when a public hearing will be held in your
area, go to http://www.asmfc.org.
 
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