Jakes Outdoor Adventures

The National Marine Fisheries Service on January 24, 2017 announced that they will be closing the Recreational Cobia Season for 2017 in Federal Waters. You may remember that the Federal Government did the same thing last year, and the 2016 Cobia Season in North Carolina and Virginia was in danger of never happening. However, a group of fishermen, tackle shop owners, and Charter Boat Captains lead by Billy Gorham spent countless hours communicating with stakeholders and regulators. Gorham the owner of Bowed Up Lures and an avid Cobia Fisherman and these other motivated stakeholders took it upon themselves to study and educate themselves on the Federal regulations on what triggered this closure. Jonathan French a Washington DC policy expert and Gorham also assisted the group and also advocated during the meeting and public hearings. Because of this both states were able to keep their seasons open.
Here are some facts all fisherman need to know. The Magnuson Steven Act (passed in 1976) established regional fisheries management councils that are supposed to be using “best science available” to set quotas for saltwater fish harvests. The Act seeks to prevent overfishing and rebuilding overfished stocks.
According to the South Atlantic Marine Fisheries Council (SAMFC) that was using highly questionable MRIP fisheries survey data, the South Atlantic States (Georgia north to New York) almost tripled the annual Cobia quota. Many fisheries managers expressed concerns about using MRIP data to estimate Cobia catches. Commercial data is easy for fishery managers to compile because each commercial fisherman must report their landings with trip tickets and electronic reporting. Recreational Cobia landing are much more difficult to estimate, as very few intercepts of boats with cobia ever take place. SAMFC uses a formula that estimates angler’s efforts, and multiplies it by the average size of the observed fish, and a grossly bloated estimate of fishing pressure. In some cases, less than a dozen fish measured will be treated by the SAMFC like thousands are being caught.
Another challenge is the much lower ACL. SAMFC claimed that they have “genetic information indicating that there two stocks of Cobia”. They claim that one stock occurs in the Gulf of Mexico and goes to the east coast of Florida (Gulf Mexico Stock), and the second is from Georgia to New York. SAMFC used this justification to split the old Atlantic Management Zone. The East Coast of Florida was removed from the South Atlantic Zone and transferred to the Gulf of Mexico Zone. The SAMFC also allocated almost 66% of the old Atlantic Quota to east Florida, and now that quota is part of the Gulf Quota. The remaining 620,000 pounds that were left were then split between the rest of the Atlantic States, even though both NC and VA catch more Cobia than east Florida has in the last 5 years. The allocation was not fair, and in fact there are two peer reviewed academic studies published by Texas A&M and South Carolina Department of Natural Resources that refute SAMFC’s genetic science claims. SAMFC is required to use best science available by law. Best science says that the Cobia ACL and east Florida should be returned to the South Atlantic Zone.
If you want to fish for Cobia this year you need to attend all public Federal and State Meetings and contact your elected officials. I will update this story in next month’s column.
Jakes Outdoor Adventures Jakes Outdoor Adventures Reviewed by kensunm on 7:00:00 PM Rating: 5

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