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Congressman Joe Courtney

Representing the 2nd District of Connecticut

Connecticut Delegation Advocates for Changes in Fisheries Management to Level the Playing Field for New England Fishermen

May 23, 2016
Press Release
Under current law, New England fishermen are held to more stringent harvesting caps than mid-Atlantic fishermen when operating in the same waters offshore

WASHINGTON, D.C. —Today, Representative Joe Courtney (CT-02) and U.S. Senator Richard Blumenthal (D-Conn.), along with Senator Chris Murphy (D-Conn.), and U.S. Representatives John B. Larson (CT-1) Rosa DeLauro (CT-3), Jim Himes (CT-4), and Elizabeth Esty (CT-5) sent a letter along with nine Massachusetts delegation members to the U.S. Department of Commerce asking for changes to the Mid-Atlantic Fishery Management Council (MAFMC), which sets fishing quotas for many fish species caught by New England fishermen. Specifically, the letter asks that MAFMC to work in coordination with the New England Fisheries Management Council (NEFMC)on a joint management plan for black sea bass, summer flounder, and scup fisheries. Under current laws, mid-Atlantic fishermen harvesting fish off the coast of New England can at times legally take more than ten times that of New England vessels.

“As Members of Congress from states with rich fishing heritage and storied maritime industries, we write today to voice our concerns about the current fishery management structure for the black sea bass, summer flounder, and scup fish stocks,” wrote the delegation members.  “As fluctuations in ocean temperatures shift fish populations northward, New England fishermen are unfairly shortchanged when bountiful stocks managed by a Fishery Management Council outside of their region allocates local states low catch quotas.

“Looking at the current trend of northward movement of fish stocks, we urge the Department of Commerce to direct the MAFMC to work in coordination with the NEFMC on a joint management plan for the black sea bass, summer flounder, and scup fisheries. Until NEFMC member states’ interests are officially considered when negotiating fishery management plans through joint management, our fishing communities will continue to suffer from the existing out-of-date allocation formula.”

Warming ocean temperatures are causing some fish stocks that had formerly been more prevalent in the mid-Atlantic to migrate further north than they had before, including popular targets for fishermen such as summer flounder, black seabass and scup. The changing migration patterns of fish stocks mean that many fishermen from mid-Atlantic states, such as North Carolina, are now regularly venturing further north from their traditional fishing grounds, bringing them into direct competition with New England vessels operating off the coasts of Connecticut and Rhode Island.

Fishing regulations for different fish stocks in U.S. waters are managed by a series of Regional Fishery Management Councils. Among the specific items that these councils regulate are the fishing quotas, or amount of a specific fish species that a fishing boat may catch. The mid-Atlantic fishermen, under the jurisdiction of MAFMC, are allowed to harvest substantially more summer flounder, black seabass, and scup than the northeast fisherman who are a part of NEFMC. While New England fishermen are catching more and more of these species in their nets, they are forced to continually throw many of these fish back into the water. The mid-Atlantic fishermen operating in the same area can at times legally take more than ten times the catch of the New England vessels.

Full letter and below and available online

May 23, 2016

The Honorable Penny Pritzker
Secretary
U.S. Department of Commerce
1401 Constitution Avenue, N.W.
Washington, D.C. 20230

Dear Secretary Pritzker:

As Members of Congress from states with rich fishing heritage and storied maritime industries, we write today to voice our concerns about the current fishery management structure for the black sea bass, summer flounder, and scup fish stocks. As fluctuations in ocean temperatures shift fish populations northward, New England fishermen are unfairly shortchanged when bountiful stocks managed by a Fishery Management Council outside of their region allocates local states low catch quotas.

It has long been acknowledged that changes in our oceans’ ecosystems would require greater coordination among Regional Fishery Management Councils established through the Magnuson-Stevens Act (MSA).  In fact, in a 2007 report to Congress on council management coordination required by the 2006 MSA reauthorization, the Mid-Atlantic Fishery Management Council (MAFMC) stated that “issues arise when overlapping species are managed exclusively by one Council.” However, there are several overlapping species that we believe would be most prudently managed jointly by the MAFMC and the New England Fishery Management Council (NEFMC) rather than exclusively through the MAFMC.

Since the aforementioned 2007 report, New England fishermen have consistently voiced their concerns regarding black sea bass, summer flounder, and scup quotas set by the MAFMC. New England states are noticing these fish stocks moving northward into traditional New England fishing grounds, yet state-by-state commercial allocations remain so low that our fishermen continue to throw catch overboard as fishermen coming from as far away as North Carolina can legally take sometimes more than ten times that of New England vessels in the same waters. Using summer flounder as an example, the MAFMC June 2015 summer flounder assessment state-by-state allocations provided New England states a combined quota of less than 25 percent share, while North Carolina had a share of over 27 percent. Furthermore, that same assessment noted that 24 percent of all commercial summer flounder caught in 2014 were in Statistical Area 537—a zone just to the east of Long Island Sound and south of Cape Cod.

Looking at the current trend of northward movement of fish stocks, we urge the Department of Commerce to direct the MAFMC to work in coordination with the NEFMC on a joint management plan for the black sea bass, summer flounder, and scup fisheries. Until NEFMC member states’ interests are officially considered when negotiating fishery management plans through joint management, our fishing communities will continue to suffer from the existing out-of-date allocation formula. We sincerely request that you take these considerations into account look forward to greater coordination among the coastal Atlantic states. Thank you for your attention to this important matter.

Sincerely,                                  

REP. JOE COURTNEY                                                                                      

SEN. RICHARD BLUMENTHAL

SEN. CHRISTOPHER S. MURPHY                                                

SEN. EDWARD J. MARKEY

REP. ROSA L. DeLAURO                                                                

REP. JOHN B. LARSON

REP. RICHARD E. NEAL                                                                                  

REP. WILLIAM R. KEATING

REP. MICHAEL E. CAPUANO                                                                       

REP. STEPHEN F. LYNCH

REP. NIKI TSONGAS                                                                                       

REP. JAMES A. HIMES

REP. ELIZABETH H. ESTY                                                                

REP. KATHERINE M. CLARK

REP. JOSEPH P. KENNEDY, III                                                                      

REP. SETH MOULTON

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