The Rise of the Recreational Fishing Lobby

Center for American Progress Posted on March 19, 2018, 9:02 am

By Alexandra Carter and Michael Conathan


In 1976, when Congress first passed comprehensive legislation to begin managing the nation’s fisheries, its primary goal was to push foreign factory fishing fleets further from U.S. shores.1 At the time—however absurd it seems now—there was no legal mechanism in place to prevent other countries’ vessels from vacuuming out waters as close as 12 nautical miles from shore. On fair days, Russian trawlers could be seen from the beaches of Massachusetts and the rocky coasts of Alaska.

Recreational fishing was an afterthought for federal regulators. The concept of overfishing—defined as taking more fish out of the ocean in a year than the remaining population can replace—was still new, so policymakers did not consider that anglers with rods and reels, primarily casting from the beach or small pleasure boats near shore, could cause ecological damage. In addition, the vast majority of recreational fishing was carried out in state waters, which, in most states, extend to just three nautical miles from shore.

Yet as the law evolved through major reauthorizations, including most recently in 2006, Congress began to give greater recognition to the needs and impacts of the recreational fishing sector.2 After all, while the methods of recreational fishermen may be different, in many cases they are targeting the same species as their commercial fishing counterparts; and there are a lot more of them.

In the 2016 National Survey of Fishing, Hunting, and Wildlife-Associated Recreation, for example, the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service estimated that 8.3 million Americans ages 16 and older participated in saltwater fishing that year.3 National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA) statistics from the 2015 Fisheries Economics of the United States Report show that the recreational fishing sector was responsible for adding $36.08 billion to the U.S. economy during that year, which amounts to 37.33 percent of the total value-added by recreational and commercial fishing combined.4 Additionally, the value-added rate per pound of fish landed for recreational fishing was 25 times greater than that of commercial fishing.5 Essentially, by these metrics, recreational fishing has a significantly larger economic impact per pound of fish harvested than does commercial fishing.

Today, Congress is considering another reauthorization of the nation’s primary law governing fisheries, which has become known as the Magnuson-Stevens Fishery Conservation and Management Act (MSA) While the authorizations of appropriations, which were established by the law’s 2006 overhaul, only lasted through 2013, the MSA remains in force. Legislators continue to appropriate funds to administer the act and have not felt tremendous pressure to pop the hood and tinker with it—a sign that the law is largely working as intended. It is hard to quibble with the results.6 The strict foundational reliance on the best available science has made U.S. fisheries arguably the best-managed in the world. As of 2018, 44 different fish stocks have successfully been rebuilt to healthy population levels following historic overfishing. Rebuilt fishery stocks mean that more fish are available to catch, which directly contributes to economic gains for both the recreational and commercial sectors.

And while commercial fishing interests seem relatively content with the status quo, some recreational fishing organizations—driven by what they perceive to be inequities in regulatory systems that favor commercial fishermen as well as by a surge in political clout—are clamoring for changes to the MSA. Fights over allocation of the total allowable catch of species like red snapper in the Gulf of Mexico and summer flounder in the mid-Atlantic have pitted anglers, charter boat captains, and some recreational gear and boat manufacturers against their commercial counterparts.

In the past, outdoor recreation advocates have measured the success of their policy advocacy through fishery abundance, focusing on keeping their resource plentiful. However, in recent years, some recreational equipment manufacturers have joined forces with the majority of recreational fishing organizations to support changes to the law that would provide greater recreational access to fisheries while weakening science-based safeguards that promote the health and abundance of fish stocks. This emphasis on access at the expense of abundance reflects the business model of the equipment industry: Selling more boats, tackle, and gear requires perpetual growth in the number of fishing participants not just the size of fish populations.

Just as anglers’ fishing effort on the water affects marine ecosystems, this sudden surge of lobbying power proves that recreational advocates are also having a significant effect on the political ecosystem. All this leads to the question: If the prioritization of fish abundance is now being superseded by the pursuit of opportunity to fish, precisely what is it that recreational advocates are fighting to access? This issue brief highlights the varied priorities of recreational fishing advocates—and what they mean for fisheries legislation. It also considers where those hoping to responsibly reauthorize the MSA could start.

Access versus abundance

Over the course of the Obama administration, the recreational fishing lobby began to gain momentum and find a political voice. Industry observers point particularly to an inflammatory op-ed published in ESPN Outdoors in March 2010. The piece begins with an unfounded suggestion that the National Ocean Policy initiated under President George W. Bush and carried on by President Barack Obama “could prohibit U.S. citizens from fishing.”7 Although an ESPN editor issued a prompt clarification that the story included “several errors in the editing and presentation” and the internet watchdog site subsequently declared the original piece’s alarming statements “false,” the ensuing uproar helped kindle a spark that has contributed to a tonal shift among some members of the recreational fishing lobby.8

One major recreational fishing group, the Recreational Fishing Alliance (RFA), which represents arguably the most out-of-the-mainstream segment of the access-focused recreational fishing industry, appears to be gaining political influence in the fisheries debate. The group, which publicly supported Donald Trump’s presidential candidacy and sells “Fishermen for Trump” bumper stickers, has taken an active role in regulatory decisions.9 The organization trumpets inflammatory rhetoric on its website, insinuating that there’s a “national conspiracy by environmentalists to deny your right to fish.” Its appeal for members asserts that the group’s founder, Jim Donofrio, “wonders how any angler could ‘pimp out’ their friends in exchange for privatization schemes.”10 The RFA was among a group of fishing industry and manufacturing leaders who launched into action after the election, working with the Trump administration to ease restrictions on their avocation and, in the process, roll back the MSA’s science-based provisions and ensuing regulations.

However, despite this lobbying pressure to weaken the MSA’s scientific underpinnings, these voices do not speak for the entire recreational fishing community. There is a growing schism among recreational fishing groups over several key proposed policies—most notably, exemptions to annual catch limits and delays in rebuilding timelines. This difference in opinion has effectively created two camps of recreational fishing advocates: those more interested in promoting and preserving access to fisheries and those primarily concerned with preserving fisheries’ abundance, thus allowing access to increase sustainably.

More-conservation-minded recreational fishing networks representing recreational interests nationwide—including the American Fly Fishing Trade Association and the Marine Fish Conservation Network—tend to comprise the abundance camp and oppose the migration from science-based management. Members travel across the country educating local fishing clubs about how the so-called alternative management methods promoted by access advocates can lead to a greater chance of overfishing and risk the long-term health of national fisheries.11 These groups also amplify the voices of fishermen who are concerned that the alternative management options could erode the established and successful management techniques currently in use.

Summer flounder and red snapper catches illustrate the debate

Since the new administration took the helm, however, recreational access advocates appear to have gained the upper hand. In early 2017, the Atlantic States Marine Fisheries Commission (ASMFC)—the quasi-government body tasked with coordinating management of fisheries that exist mainly in the narrow three-mile band of coastal waters legally controlled by states—considered an addendum to its management plan for summer flounder.12 This popular recreational fishing target is primarily found in the mid-Atlantic states.13 Despite other states’ acknowledgement of the necessity to reduce fishing to ensure the long-term stability of the summer flounder population, the RFA’s home state of New Jersey proposed an alternate plan,14 which the ASMFC deemed illegal because it was weaker than the plan that the commission had established.15 By law, the secretary of commerce serves as the arbiter in such situations; and in an unprecedented move, Commerce Secretary Wilbur Ross recently overruled the ASMFC and allowed New Jersey’s plan to stand.16 In July 2017, under the Freedom of Information Act, the Natural Resources Defense Council requested documents from the Department of Commerce related to this decision; although the organization has received a few documents, it filed litigation in early January challenging the department’s failure to produce full documentation.17

Shortly after this decision, recreational access advocates struck another blow against science-based fishery management—again, thanks to Secretary Ross. After years of overfishing, science-based management plans have allowed the Gulf of Mexico’s red snapper population to rebound from historic low levels; however, the total biomass remains well below its target.18 Compared with a decade ago, there is now a greater abundance of red snapper, and many of the fish are larger now than they were before the rebuilding period. But the population is still not as healthy as it should be. Furthermore, the recreational red snapper fishery in the Gulf of Mexico accounts for nearly half of all landings of red snapper in the Gulf.19

As the Gulf’s red snapper population has bounced back, anglers have begun to catch more fish at higher rates, which has allowed the recreational sector to reach its annual catch quota faster. Anglers can fish in both state and federal waters—and catches in both of these waters are considered when calculating overall red snapper quota. The matter is further complicated because the species’ annual catch limit is set in pounds, while individual recreational fishermen are given a so-called “bag limit” for their harvest, meaning that each angler is allowed to catch a certain number of fish. Since the average size and weight of a red snapper has increased as the population has rebuilt, anglers reach their annual catch limit while putting fewer fish into their bags. So even though managers have been able to raise the catch limit each year since 2010, anglers in state waters have caught a larger share of the catch faster, and seasons in federal waters have been shortened in an attempt to prevent anglers from exceeding their cap.20

As a result, in 2017, the federal waters recreational red snapper season was originally just three days long—not because limits were too low but rather because so many fish were projected to be caught in state waters.21 Still, advocates for recreational access used this short federal season to raise a protest, and in June of that year, the Commerce Department announced it would permit a 39-day extension to the recreational red snapper season in federal waters of the Gulf of Mexico.22 This was in direct contravention of the existing fishery management plan for snapper that was established by the Gulf of Mexico Fishery Management Council—and despite the fact that recreational anglers had exceeded their federal quota in each of the previous six years.

In a lawsuit filed against the Department of Commerce, environmental groups argue that extending the season so dramatically will surely exceed the catch limit and lead to overfishing of the Gulf’s red snapper population. In fact, Earl Comstock, director of policy and strategic planning for the Commerce Department, admitted as much to Secretary Ross in writing before the decision.23 In a June 1 letter, in reference to the proposed red snapper season extension, Comstock wrote, “It would result in overfishing of the stock by six million pounds (40%).” The lawsuit also estimates that the season extension could delay rebuilding progress by up to six years. Comstock wrote a second letter to Secretary Ross on June 7, in which he explained the near certainty that stakeholders would file a lawsuit against the decision as well as the need for Congress to include a provision in the 2018 MSA reauthorization to waive the legally mandated regulatory consequences of such severe quota overages in order to keep recreational fisheries open for future years.24

On December 20, 2017, a federal judge issued a stay in the red snapper case. The court will now oversee the recreational red snapper season for 2018, and the Department of Commerce cannot approve another extension.25 The judge also found that management plans for the red snapper stock must adhere to the current rebuilding schedule, which would extend through 2032. This decision reinforces the legal necessity of science-based fishery management and highlights the illegality of Secretary Ross’ decision.

Bad omens for the legislative process

With recreational access advocates’ clear foothold resulting in unprecedented and possibly illegal decisions from the Trump administration in fisheries management along the Atlantic and Gulf coasts, they have also pressured Congress to amend the MSA and exempt recreational fishing from some of the law’s key provisions. But their efforts have been met with opposition from some in the commercial fishing sector and their more conservation-minded peers in the recreational sector.

Thanks to previous MSA reauthorizations, America’s fisheries are among the best-managed in the world and overfishing has been all but eliminated in U.S. waters. Each species has established catch limits that cannot exceed a level recommended by scientists, and fishery managers must employ accountability measures in order to ensure adherence to the law. The results have been resoundingly positive, with more than 40 fish populations being rebuilt to sustainable levels since 1996. Yet, as described above in the case of red snapper, when species have been overfished for years, simply ending overfishing does not entirely solve the problem. It takes time to repair the damage overfishing has caused. Fishermen still must take fewer fish in order for populations to bounce back to long-term sustainable levels.

Historically, commercial and recreational harvesters have largely supported the MSA because of the law’s contributions to the long-term stability of fish stocks, a profitable fishing industry, and a vibrant coastal economy.26 However, in 2014, some recreational advocates, led by recreational gear manufacturers who perceived a bias in national fishery management in favor of the commercial industry, organized the Commission on Saltwater Recreational Fisheries Management—better known as the Morris-Deal Commission, after its two initial chairs Johnny Morris, CEO of Bass Pro Shops, and Scott Deal, president of Maverick Boats. This organization included industry groups such as the RFA, the American Sportfishing Association, the Coastal Conservation Association, and the Theodore Roosevelt Conservation Partnership, as well as other representatives from manufacturers and retailers of saltwater angling boats and gear.

In 2014, the Morris-Deal Commission produced a report detailing the economic benefits of the recreational fishing industry, suggesting that current federal law was skewed too heavily in favor of the commercial industry and recommending changes to the law in order to increase access for anglers.27 Many of the commission’s stated goals do not adhere to the practices of best available science currently in use. Two of its most troubling recommendations are that management should be based on long-term harvest rates instead of the currently mandated science-based annual catch limits and that managers should have more leeway to extend timelines for fish populations to rebuild.

Both of these recommendations would be problematic for marine ecosystems and coastal communities. NOAA has estimated that $32 billion and 500,000 jobs could be added to the economy annually if all fish stocks were rebuilt.28 However, this economic growth cannot be realized if fisheries are caught in a boom and bust cycle that results from overfishing and subsequent population decline. Proposals that delay rebuilding timelines or reduce compliance with scientific advice under the guise of giving fishery managers more latitude will create loopholes and prioritize short-term economic and social interests over the health of fishery resources and long-term economic gains.

In addition to getting the Trump administration on their side, recreational access advocates have gained momentum in Congress. In the past two congressional sessions, bills have been introduced to address the red snapper issue, including bicameral legislation—sponsored in the House by Rep. Garret Graves (R-LA) and in the Senate by Sen. Bill Cassidy (R-LA)—that would take the unprecedented step of upending centuries-old law by extending state management jurisdiction beyond its current limit in the Gulf of Mexico.29

More comprehensive bills are also making their way through both houses of Congress. In the Senate, the Modernizing Recreational Fisheries Management Act of 2017—introduced by Sen. Roger Wicker (R-MS)—includes provisions based on recommendations from the Morris-Deal report.30 As introduced, the bill would have given regulators the opportunity to exempt recreational fisheries from annual catch limits, weaken rebuilding requirements, and restrict innovation and accountability in the recreational fishing sector by delaying managers’ ability to issue experimental fishing permits.

Although many of the most troubling provisions were significantly improved before the U.S. Committee on Commerce, Science, and Transportation passed the bill in February 2018,31 conservation groups and their allies in the recreational fishing community are concerned that the bill could serve as a point of negotiation with a much worse and wider-ranging piece of legislation currently working its way through the House. A larger MSA reauthorization bill that, in December 2017, was passed out of the U.S. House Committee on Natural Resources on a party-line vote, contains provisions to extend rebuilding timelines and weaken the scientific underpinnings of the MSA32 That bill is currently awaiting a vote before the full House of Representatives.

Meanwhile, as the voices of recreational access advocates seem to be carrying more weight, the more conservation-minded groups are gaining steam. Fifteen fishing community coalitions, recreational fishing organizations, and commercial fishing associations sent letters to Congress opposing the rollback of science-based fishery management provisions within the MSA.33 These letters come on top of similar letters from more than 60 nongovernmental organizations and 200 scientists.34

Responsible revisions to the MSA

Of course, there are aspects of the Magnuson-Stevens Act that are due for an update. There is near unanimous agreement among fishery stakeholders that improving the quality of fisheries data would be a tremendous benefit. Fisheries science and statistics can only create population estimates as accurate as the foundational data on which they are based. When incomplete or inaccurate data are used to make management calculations, fisheries managers end up with very large margins of error, which can quickly lead to questionable decisions. On paper, the solution is simple: collect better quality data. Historically, implementation of this ideal has been problematic. Fish are notoriously difficult to count because they are hard to see and are constantly in motion; they also feed on each other.

In commercial fisheries, it is relatively easy to get catch data because there are relatively few boats catching a lot of fish that can be tracked through processing facilities and sale records. Recreational fisheries are a different matter. Millions of fishermen participate, and it is impossible for regulators to track each individual. Some recreational fishery advocates have suggested using smartphone apps to enhance the collection of recreational data.35 While there may be some promise in such methods, they remain imperfect. Not all anglers own smartphones, and they may not be able to correctly identify their catch. Furthermore, they may not choose to log their catch voluntarily every time they go fishing. After all, as every fish moves the recreational sector closer to meeting its quota, there is a reverse incentive that discourages reporting.

Researchers from the University of Florida recently conducted a study of the utility of smartphone apps in Florida’s recreational sector.36 The study compared data from NOAA’s Marine Recreational Information Program survey to data from iAngler, a pilot program for voluntary reporting. The researchers concluded that the app entries had significant biases that made the system an unreliable source of data. They hypothesized that if these biases could be corrected, iAngler and technologies like it could improve data information quality and provide valuable catch-rate data to fisheries managers. Another study conducted by the University of Minnesota examined the biases in fishery-focused citizen science smartphone apps.37 The study opined that it will eventually be beneficial to integrate fishery smartphone apps but acknowledged that it would take time and deliberate management. The report recommended that fisheries scientists develop formalized standards for metadata and data collection in order to create a shared minimum data set; it also advised app designers to create incentives for anglers to use the apps, such as gamification—earning points and badges as well as other virtual competitions—and integration with social media. So while self-reporting cannot fully replace other data collection methods, there could certainly be a place for it in future cooperative research initiatives.

Since all species within a shared ecosystem affect one another, NOAA has slowly been implementing ecosystem-based fisheries management since 1996.38 Many organizations have expressed their opinions on how best to manage the ecosystem as a whole instead of addressing species one at a time. For example, the Marine Fish Conservation Network and the Morris-Deal Commission have outlined the need to identify forage fish, such as herring or menhaden. 39 Some of these species are targeted for commercial harvest, but they also serve a critical ecosystem function as main food sources for other species, from commercially important fish like tuna to marine mammals and seabirds.40 Both access- and abundance-focused recreational advocates note that annual catch limits for forage fish species typically do not take into consideration their greater ecosystem function, instead focusing only on ensuring that enough fish remain for the population to perpetuate itself. Both access- and abundance-focused recreational advocates believe that at least some forage fish species should have fishery management plans to ensure that their populations remain high enough to provide adequate food supply for a healthy and balanced ecosystem.


Access to fisheries without an adequate abundance of fish is an empty victory. The only way to ensure a pleasurable experience for the anglers of today and tomorrow—and a profitable enterprise for the commercial sector—is to maintain management principles founded in sound science and with an eye toward long-term productivity. Interested parties have central concerns, most notably the need for more reliable fisheries data, improvement in ecosystem-based management, and updated utilization of management technology. Maintaining the Magnuson-Stevens Act’s foundation of peer-reviewed, science-based decisions will facilitate cooperation between varying stakeholders and result in a collaborative national fisheries policy that benefits both the recreational and commercial sectors.

Alexandra Carter is a research associate for Oceans Policy at the Center for American Progress. Michael Conathan is the director of Ocean Policy at the Center.


  1. Pacific Fishery Management Council, “Applicable Laws: Magnuson-Stevens Act,” available at (last accessed February 2018).
  2. Magnuson-Stevens Fishery Conservation and Management Reauthorization Act of 2006, Public Law 109-479, 109th Cong., 2d sess. (January 12, 2007), available at
  3. U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service, “2016 National Survey of Fishing, Hunting and Wildlife-Associated Recreation” (2017), available at
  4. National Marine Fisheries Service, “Fisheries Economics of the United States, 2015” (U.S. Department of Commerce, 2017), available at
  5. Alan Lowther and Michael Liddel, “Fisheries of the United States, 2016” (Silver Spring, MD: National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration, 2017), available at
  6. Congressional Research Service, “Reauthorization Issues for the Magnuson Stevens Fishery Conservation and Management Act” (2014), available at
  7. Robert Montgomery, “Bypass plan” ESPN, March 10, 2010, available at
  8. Steve Bowman, “From the editor,” ESPN, March 10, 2010, available at;, “Recreational Fishing Ban,” available at (last accessed March 2018).
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  10. Recreational Fishing Alliance, “What’s Your ‘Freedom to Fish’ Worth?”, available at (last accessed March 2018).
  11. Charles Witek, “’Alternative Management’ of Fisheries: Can it Work?”, Marine Fish Conservation Network, May 23, 2017, available at
  12. Atlantic States Marine Fisheries Commission (ASMFC), “Summer Flounder Recreational Management in 2017” (2016), available at
  13. ASMFC, “Summer Flounder,” available at (last accessed March 2018).
  14. Letter from Peter Clarke to ASMFC Summer Flounder, Scup, and Black Sea Bass Technical Committee, May 12, 2017, available at
  15. ASMFC, “ASMFC Finds New Jersey Out of Compliance with Addendum XXVIII to the Summer Flounder, Scup, and Black Sea Bass FMP,” Press release, June 1, 2017, available at
  16. ASMFC, “Department of Commerce Decision May Impact ASMFC’s Ability to Conserve Atlantic Coastal Fisheries,” Press release, July 14, 2017, available at
  17. Freedom of Information Act request, tracking number DOC-NOAA-2017-001606. Details available at (last accessed March 2018).
  18. National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA), “Status of Red Snapper (1988-2005): How has the health of the red snapper population changed over time?”, available at (last accessed March 2018).
  19. NOAA, “Final Rule to Adjust Gulf of Mexico Red Snapper Sector Annual Catch Limits, Annual Catch Targets, and Quotas,” Press release, June 6, 2017, available at (last accessed February 2018).
  20. NOAA, “Gulf of Mexico Historical Recreational Landings and Annual Catch Limits (ACLs),” March 1, 2018, available at
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  22. U.S. Department of Commerce, “Department of Commerce Announces Changes to the 2017 Gulf of Mexico Red Snapper Private Angler Recreational Season,” Press release, June 14, 2017, available at
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  24. Letter from Earl Comstock to U.S. Secretary of Commerce Wilbur Ross, June 7, 2017, available at
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  29. RED SNAPPER Act, S. 1686, 115 Cong. 1 sess. (Government Printing Office, 2017), available at; RED SNAPPER Act, H.R. 3588, 115 Cong. 1 sess. (Government Printing Office, 2017), available at
  30. Modernizing Recreational Fisheries Management Act of 2017, S. 1520, 115 Cong. 1 sess. (Government Printing Office, 2017), available at
  31. U.S. Senate Committee on Commerce, Science, and Transportation, “February 28, 2018, Executive Session,” available at (last accessed March 2018).
  32. Strengthening Fishing Communities and Increasing Flexibility in Fisheries Management Act, H.R. 200, 115 Cong. 1 sess. (Government Printing Office, 2017),
  33. Letter from 19 fishing organizations to Sens. John Thune (R-SD) and Bill Nelson (D-FL), February 12, 2018, available at; Letter from Eric Brazer to Sens. John Thune (R-SD) and Bill Nelson (D-FL), February 8, 2018, available at
  34. Letter from 61 nongovernmental organizations and 2 individuals to Reps. Rob Bishop (R-UT), Raul Grijalva (D-AZ), Doug Lamborn (R-CO), and Jared Huffman (D-CA), September 25, 2017, available at; Letter from Oceana and supporters to Members of Congress, October 23, 2017, available at
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  37. Paul A. Venturelli, Kieran Hyder, and Christian Skov, “Angler apps as a source of recreational fisheries data: Opportunities, challenges and proposed standards,” Fish and Fisheries 18 (3) (2017): 578–595, available at
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Board declines request to cap Kodiak sockeye harvest

The Board of Fisheries won’t take up an out-of-cycle request to cap Kodiak sockeye salmon harvests during certain periods of the season, though it won’t be the last time the issue comes up.

The board declined to accept an agenda change request that proposed a new management plan for the commercial sockeye salmon fishery in the Kodiak Management Area setting weekly and seasonal limits on sockeye harvest. The request, submitted by the United Cook Inlet Drift Association, raises concerns brought to light in a recent Alaska Department of Fish and Game genetic study showing that Kodiak commercial fishermen catch hundreds of thousands of Cook Inlet-bound sockeye salmon during the summer.

An agenda change request, if accepted, would have added the proposal to the docket for an upcoming meeting within the next few months, as opposed to waiting until the next Kodiak cycle meeting in 2019–2020. However, the board members rejected it, with some saying they agreed it was a conservation concern but that an agenda change request was not the right venue to address it.

The United Cook Inlet Drift Association wrote in its request that the proposal was based largely on allocation concerns after the revelations of the Kodiak sockeye harvest sampling study.

“Now … with the aid of genetics, we know much more about the timing, locations, extent and magnitude of the harvests of the Cook Inlet origin salmon stocks,” the request states. “This ACR is a first opportunity to look at the harvests of Cook Inlet stocks in the Kodiak Management Area.”

The study, originally presented at the Board of Fisheries meeting in Kodiak in January and again at the Upper Cook Inlet meeting in February, analyzed genetic information from sockeye harvested in select areas of Kodiak during the commercial fishing season. Over three years, the researchers put together a picture of which sockeye stocks are harvested in the Kodiak fishery, ultimately finding that most of them were Kodiak-bound but a portion were Cook Inlet fish. In one year of the study, Cook Inlet stocks contributed 37 percent of the total harvest in the sampling areas, with the other two years less than that.

The Board of Fisheries requested that the researchers further analyze the data to break out stream-specific stocks within Cook Inlet for the work session. Fish and Game geneticist Kyle Shedd presented those results at the meeting Thursday, again cautioning that the results shouldn’t be applied too broadly because the researchers didn’t sample all the areas and it was only a three-year study.

According to the stream system breakout, the Kenai River contributed the most fish to the Kodiak sockeye harvest, at more than 5 percent in 22 of the 47 time periods analyzed. Kasilof River and Susitna River sockeye were less common, correlating with the size of the runs on the three rivers.

Read the rest of the article here.

Smallest sockeye harvest in last 10 years; late runs made openings complex

Sockeye salmon were scarcer in Upper Cook Inlet this year, but coho, chum and pink salmon were more plentiful than expected.

Commercial fishermen in Upper Cook Inlet harvested fewer overall salmon this year than average, and made less, according to a season summary released Tuesday by the Alaska Department of Fish and Game. Sockeye harvests were smaller than average, and they showed up late, frontloading the commercial fishery with most of its sockeye catch for the season before July 20.

Fishermen were expecting a slow year, based on the preseason forecast, and the actual harvest was slightly larger than the forecast. Commercial fishermen brought in about 1.8 million sockeye, according to the season summary, compared to the preseason forecast of 1.7 million sockeye.

“The Kenai River run exceeded the forecast by approximately 700,000 sockeye salmon and Fish Creek exceeded the forecast by 4,000 sockeye salmon,” the report states. “The Kasilof River sockeye salmon total run estimate was very close to forecast with approximately 4,000 sockeye salmon less than expected, while the number of sockeye salmon returning to the Susitna River and all other systems (minor systems) was less than forecast.”

The commercial sockeye harvest was the smallest in the last decade, about 18 percent lower than the 2007–2016 average, according to the season summary. Altogether, fishermen harvested about 3 million salmon of all species, about half a million fewer than the recent 10-year average.

Sockeye are the most valuable species on the books for Cook Inlet fishermen — about 93 percent of the value in a typical year is in sockeye salmon. In 2017, it was about 83 percent, or $19.6 million. Average price per pound paid to fishermen fell around $1.86, according to the season summary.

It was a middle-ground price compared to other years and other areas of Alaska — last year, Upper Cook Inlet fishermen received an average of about $1.51 per pound, while they received an average of $2.18 per pound in 2013. The volume was smaller, though, leading to total season exvessel value 21 percent below the recent 10-year average, according to the summary.

“It was a real small harvest expectation,” said commercial fisheries area management biologist Pat Shields. “We exceeded it by a little bit. … It’s not the strongest by any means, but it was a good price that helped the harvest. And the coho run helped — it came in late but pretty good.”

Late run timing left managers puzzling on how to schedule commercial openings. Historical models showed that the Kenai River sockeye run should have been about 40 percent complete by July 20, when managers re-evaluated the run size, but it was still only at about 265,000 fish, though commercial fishermen had harvested about 1.4 million sockeye.

The sockeye run has been late to show up in the rivers before, but the one this year was exceptionally late, Shields said. Final calculations are still in the works, but he estimated it was between four and seven days late, which made it hard for managers to decide whether to open up commercial fishing with the expectation the fish would show up or close commercial fishing on the off chance the fish didn’t show up at all. This year, they erred on the side of caution and closed the fishery twice to boost passage.

“(Managers are) really nervous about taking that late of a run timing prediction in the middle of the season and believing it,” Shields said. “We knew it was going to be late. … It caught us off guard, both sockeye and coho, and we took restrictions on the commercial fishery.”

After those closures, the sockeye showed up in force, and managers exceeded their escapement goals on the Kenai and Kasilof rivers and on Fish Creek at the end of the season. None of the margins over the goals were wide, but it was frustrating for the managers and for the fishermen who were restricted from fishing in season, Shields said.

Read the rest of the article here.

Board of Fisheries Observations Part 6

In Part 4 we mentioned that the Board had been given incorrect data from ADF&G during deliberations on Central District Drift Gillnet Fishery proposals. The incorrect information included inflated rates of overall northern coho exploitation and an inflated rate of the drift catch of coho in full-inlet openings versus Area 1 openings. As it turns out, recent research data shows that the drift fleet catches fewer coho in full inlet openings than when it is restricted to Area 1, south of Kalgin Island. The Board was given the corrected data after deliberations.

We’ve been hoping that the Board would regard the corrected data compelling enough to reconsider proposals to restore additional time and area to the drift fleet. On this final day of the meeting, it appears that they are not willing to reconsider.

Only two changes were made to the Drift management plan. Between July 16 and July 31, in the middle tier for Kenai sockeye (2.3-4.6 million), we may get one district-wide opening instead of being restricted to Area 1. The other change is an alignment of the boundaries of the Expanded Kasilof Section with the Anchor Point Section.

The Mat-Su Borough opposed that minor adjustment, claiming that it would target more of their coho…  Mat-Su spokespeople impressed everyone with their greed during the meeting. Now they are pretending that the Board has done them wrong:

From the Valley Frontiersman:

Board of Fish Lowers the Boom on Mat-Su Basin fisheries (3/2). In a 4 to 3 vote by the Alaska Board of Fisheries in Anchorage today, the Mat-Su Basin fisheries were dealt a blow. The commercial drift gillnet fishing fleet will be allowed more time in the Conservation Corridor—a protected fish passing lane to the north, hard won by the Matanuska-Susitna Borough Fish & Wildlife Commission at the last board meeting in 2014 and staunchly defended this week before a Fish Board, which was mostly deaf to the conservation plight.

By the way, the Mat-Su Borough representatives were also given the corrected data about drift exploitation of coho but they have never let science interfere with their efforts to eliminate commercial fishing.

Board of Fisheries Observations Part 5

We’ve been very disappointed with the outcome at this meeting for all of the reasons mentioned in the previous reports. On the other hand, this is the first Board meeting in a long, long time where we gained anything at all.

The atmosphere of the meeting has been much improved. Commercial fishers and proposals from commercial fishers or groups have been treated with the same respect as other user groups, rather than the disrespect shown to us at previous Board meetings. Chairman John Jensen has set a new example on that matter. We hear that KRSA is outraged that the Board is treating people decently and fairly.

KRSA has a bunch of paid consultants here including Kevin Delaney, Mac Minard and Ray Beamesderfer. These guys are also on the Mat-Su Borough’s payroll for this.

UCIDA doesn’t have any paid consultants. Audrey is our only paid staffperson here, on her normal salary. UCIDA folks who have attended, on their own time, include Board members Dave Martin, Erik Huebsch, Dan Anderson, John McCombs, Ian Pitzman, Dyer VanDevere, Steve Tvenstrup and Dino Sutherland,  Members Steve Vanek, Teague Vanek, Catherine Cassidy, Wes Humbyrd, Brent Keene, Bob Merchant, Bob Wolfe, Mark Mahan, Judd Walker ,David Hillstrand, Bruce Gabrys, Ray Bellamy, JR., Coby Wilson, Jeff Widman, Brent Western, Eric Nyce and  John Gucer.( If anyone was left off the list, please accept our apologies.)

Representatives from Pacific Star, Icicle, Snug Harbor and Inlet Fish have also been in attendance.  Our thanks go to them.


Board of Fisheries Observations Part 4

Part 4

UCIDA brought proposals to the Board to restore full-inlet fishing time and eliminate the 1% rule.

The Board decided to restore only one full inlet opening between July 16 and July 31. They declined to eliminate the 1% Rule in August for the drift fleet.

Our proposals were based on new science that shows that it is not possible to selectively harvest particular stocks. The net result of time and area restrictions has been under-harvest of Kenai and Kasilof sockeye (producing chronic overescapements) and under-harvest of other surplus coho, chum and pink salmon. This has cost the industry and the local and state economies millions of dollars.

Opposition to our proposals, as usual, was primarily based on Mat-Su sockeye and coho exploitation rates. ADF&G provided bad exploitation data that had to be corrected after the Board made their decisions on the proposals. ADF&G ultimately used the exploitation rates of Little Susitna River and Jim Creek to convince the Board not to restore more full-inlet fishing time or eliminate the 1% Rule.

For years UCIDA has documented and argued the inappropriate use of the Little Susitna River and Jim Creek as index streams for coho exploitation. Intense sport fish pressure, discontinued coho stocking programs and serious urbanization effects on their productivity should have ruled them out long ago. We have also recommended that the state should restore coho stocking programs in those systems (a relatively inexpensive endeavor).

The Mat-Su anti-commercial fishing people have refused to allow stocking of those systems. We can only interpret that as their intent to use those streams as tools for continuing to chip away at all commercial fishing effort. ADF&G has documented that there are more than a million surplus, unharvested coho in the Northern District. But no one can harvest them because coho sport fishing in Jim Creek has to be restricted. Really?!

Board of Fisheries Observations Part 3

The drift fishery in Upper Cook Inlet has been increasingly restricted since the 1990s in efforts to allow more sockeye and coho salmon to reach Mat-Su drainages. Since the 1980s, invasive northern pike, introduced by residents, have been spreading through the Mat-Su drainages and endangering, through predation on juveniles, production of sockeye, coho and king salmon populations.

ADF&G and the Mat-Su Borough took no action to effectively control the spread of the invasive specie, nor measure the effects on salmon populations, nor even acknowledge that there was a potential problem for salmon productivity. They had been stalwart in their denial of the problem through the last Board cycle in 2014. During this Board meeting, they have finally acknowledged that there is a problem but they have no plan or intention of mitigating the situation.

The Mat-Su Borough’s position regarding the invasive pike problem is to insist that commercial fisheries be increasingly restricted to compensate for their production problem. Unfortunately, the Board has bought into this approach again.

Board of Fish Observations Part 2

UCIDA went into the Board meeting with high hopes of utilizing recent scientific data to restore some fishing time and areas. Once again, science has been overwhelmed by propaganda.

KRSA and the Mat-Su Borough have continued their strategy of condemning commercial fishing’s legitimate harvest of surplus salmon stocks. This is a subtle, twisted argument that implies commercial fishing gets more than a fair share. The fact is that only commercial fishing can effectively harvest the enormous surplus of salmon in Upper Cook Inlet. That’s why there has been a commercial fishery here for more than 135 years.

One of the ways they use this strategy is to react to any increase in commercial fish opportunity by insisting that any more fish we get comes out of their share. This is not true. There are abundant, unharvested surplus stocks of sockeye, coho, chums and pinks in Cook Inlet. Increased harvest of the surplus by commercial fishers does not take anything away from other groups, it just increases the total utilization.

UCIDA carefully explained this reality in comments to the Board, including very simple, descriptive pie charts. The alternative (wrong) reality of increases in commercial causing decreases in other users’ opportunity for harvest, has been repeated over and over again by KRSA, Mat-Su representatives, and Board members Payton, Morisky and Cain.

What the BOF is ignoring….

WASHINGTON (Saving Seafood) – March 1, 2017 – In his first address to Department of Commerce employees this morning, newly confirmed Secretary of Commerce Wilbur Ross included U.S. fisheries among his top priorities for the department.

In a list of ten challenges facing the Commerce Department’s 47,000 employees, including the launch of more NOAA satellites and changes to the methodology of the 2020 U.S. Census, Mr. Ross specifically identified the need for “obtaining maximum sustainable yield for our fisheries.”

Maximum sustainable yield (MSY) refers to the largest catch that can be sustainably taken from a fish stock over an indefinite period of time.
Promoting sustainable fishing by achieving maximum sustainable yield is one of the primary goals of the Magnuson-Stevens Fishery Conservation and Management Act (MSA), the chief law governing fisheries management in the U.S.

The U.S. commercial fishing industry is a vital part of the U.S. economy, with landings of 9.7 billion pounds of seafood in 2015 worth $5.2 billion, according to the latest “Fisheries of the United States” report from NOAA Fisheries. Nevertheless, nearly 90 percent of seafood consumed in the U.S.
is imported into the country.

Mr. Ross has previously expressed his support for domestic fisheries and his desire to reduce America’s reliance on seafood imports, which has created an
$11 billion trade deficit for the U.S. seafood industry.

“Given the enormity of our coastlines, given the enormity of our freshwater, I would like to try to figure out how we can become much more self-sufficient in fishing and perhaps even a net exporter,” Mr. Ross said at his January confirmation hearing, according to Politico.

Mr. Ross was confirmed in a Senate vote 72-27 Monday night. He is a successful billionaire investor and founder of the private equity firm WL Ross & Co., from which he has agreed to divest as he takes on his new government role.

Board of Fish Observations

Part 1

Bring your hipboots or chestwaders to the Board of Fish meeting.

KRSA and the Mat-Su Borough have been adamantly insisting that every minute of commercial fishing in Upper Cook Inlet is a terrible assault on the opportunity for sport or personal use fishing. They argue this vague “opportunity” concept while ignoring scientific data.

“Opportunity” is not a scientifically defined regulatory measure. It is a nebulous concept that is easy to manipulate. KRSA and Mat-Su representatives persistently imply that “reasonable opportunity” is hooking a coho salmon every 15 minutes on any waterway with a coho population or dipnetting 10 sockeye per hour.

They have a wicked double standard on “opportunity.”  They say that it is just fine for commercial drift fishers to spend 4 to 6 days fishing in restricted areas in order to harvest the same amount they could catch in one unrestricted opening. Inefficient use of fuel, time, energy and processor’s extra costs – no problem. But they are broadcasting the new complaint that they are “under attack” from “reallocation by a thousand cuts.” (Wonder how much they pay PR pros to come up with their little sayings? Wonder why they aren’t spending that money on conservation?)

43961 K-Beach Road, Suite E
Soldotna, Alaska
(907) 260-9436

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