Atlantic Highly Migratory Species Recreational Fisheries Roundtable Summary

May 10, 2017
Silver Spring, Maryland

NOAA Fisheries is committed to:

  • Sustainable saltwater recreational fisheries resources.

  • Promoting saltwater recreational fisheries for the benefit of the nation.

  • Enabling enduring participation through science based conservation and management.

The final recreational fisheries roundtable discussion of 2017 was hosted by the Atlantic Highly Migratory Species Division (HMS) in conjunction with their spring 2017 Advisory Panel meeting. On day two of the meeting, a dedicated session was held to allow HMS Advisory Panel members, recreational fishing constituents, and other members of the public the opportunity to voice their concerns and discuss issues outside of the AP meeting agenda. The goal was to improve understanding of the priorities of HMS recreational anglers by NOAA fisheries’ Atlantic HMS Division and national staff.

The participants identified and prioritized a list of potential discussion topics on which they wanted to speak in greater detail. While the topics listed below were covered in depth during the meeting, participants indicated a desire to do more of these exercises in the future.

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Atlantic Bluefin Tuna Trophy Category

Many participants from the charter/headboat fleet would like to see more quota available for the trophy Atlantic bluefin tuna category later in the year fishing year. Participants expressed concerns that in the south Atlantic area the trophy category closed in March, limiting or preventing opportunities for anglers in the southern portion of the area to fish for trophy fish when they were available. Other participants expressed support for increasing trophy category quota to avoid losing overall U.S. Bluefin quota at the International Commission for the Conservation of Atlantic Tuna (ICCAT) because of U.S. under harvests. Still other participants expressed that increasing trophy category quota and/or extending the trophy category season may assist in increasing total bluefin mortality as it would reduce catch and release fishing that is conducted using light tackle which leads to long fight times and possibly higher mortality. Researchers in the room cited recent studies that found that bluefin mortality rates may be low even with long fight times.

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For-Hire Vessel Safety Gear Requirements

U.S. Coast Guard (USCG) commercial fishing vessel on-board safety equipment requirements which may be applied to Atlantic HMS for-hire vessels would be cost-prohibitive and unnecessary for many vessels that do not sell fish. Participants noted that imposing USCG safety requirements, particularly on vessels that have the ability to sell some species but do not, would be excessive and may drive some operators out of business. Participants discussed the possibility of creating separate charter/headboat permits; one permit authorizing sale, which would be subject to USCG commercial vessel safety requirements, and a second permit under which sales would be prohibited.

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Electronic Reporting

Most participants were following the evolution of electronic monitoring and electronic reporting in fisheries data collection, particularly regional fishery management council efforts. Participants expressed strong interest in the implementation of future reporting programs, in particular ensuring they are compatible with existing or developing reporting requirements and minimize additional burdens on anglers and operators. Meeting participants discussed the HMS mobile application for reporting bluefin tuna, billfish, and swordfish catches (launched in 2016). Some participants expressed challenges finding the app in the App Store; others were unaware of the app until the day before meeting. Meeting participants urged NOAA Fisheries to launch a stronger outreach/education campaign about the reporting app so that anglers/operators understand what data are collected and how they are used.

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Permits/Permitting and Reporting Compliance

Participants explained that NOAA Fisheries Northeast, Southeast, and Headquarters offices are perceived as a single ‘NOAA’ entity, thus there should be more, and better, streamlining and communication between the various regions. Participants expressed a desire for a single (preferably online) location for all permits and criticized the inefficiency of having constituents contact three different NOAA Fisheries offices to resolve permitting issues. Expanding on the permits discussion, the topic of reporting compliance was raised by constituents, including a desire for increased penalties for people who are non-compliant with reporting requirements. A request was made that NOAA revoke permits or prevent permit renewal if permit holders are not compliant with regulations, including delinquent reports. Participants suggested that if people do not report in a timely manner, especially electronic Vessel Trip Reports (eVTRs), they need to face repercussions. Finally, it was suggested that NOAA Fisheries continue outreach and education on permits and regulations so anglers understand which permits and endorsements they need to go fishing as well as which regulations they need to follow. Meeting participants want a cultural shift from one where regulations are ignored on the water to one where they are followed.

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Post Release Mortality (PRM)

Post release mortality continues to be an issue of concern for highly migratory recreational fishermen. When fishing for blue marlin, high-speed trolling does not involve “dropping-back” because the leader material is too big to make dropping-back effective. Because there is no drop-back, participants noted that fish are typically hooked in the mouth when they strike the moving bait, thus some felt that J-hooks are preferable as terminal tackle, deep hooking rarely occurs, and this type of blue marlin fishing should be exempt from the circle hook requirement in billfish tournaments. Furthermore, participants reported an ongoing concern that compliance with requirements to use a circle hook with dead bait/trolling is low in tournaments. Participants acknowledged that some tournament directors do not enforce the rules and, in general, the circle hooks requirements are unenforceable. Other participants recognized that there is a learning curve to circle hooks, but once anglers/operators learn how to use them they usually do not switch back to J-hooks. Some felt that anglers who are more active will likely invest the time to learn the technique. Participants suggested that NOAA Fisheries should consider exempting lures that have fish parts encased in synthetic material (i.e., acrylic) from the circle hook requirement and that “exposed natural bait” phrasing could be used in the regulations to accomplish the exemption. The need for more post release mortality studies was expressed, particularly species-specific studies. Finally, one participant explained how his use of an extended selfie stick to get photos of people and their fish boat side helped keep the fish in the water during the entire release process, which helped reduce mortality.

Finally, attendees were asked what recreational fishing issues they were most concerned about looking 5-10 years into the future. Following are their candid answers in no particular order or organization:

  • Increased education.

  • Community education.

  • Communication/education.

  • Maintaining angler enlightenment/education.

  • Lack of understanding/implementation of recreational policy.

  • Complicated regulations.

  • Survival of democracy.

  • State of stock assessment.

  • Lack of stock assessment scientists.

  • Accurate stock assessment International compliance.

  • Yellowfin tuna disappearance and blackfin tuna.

  • Recreational shark fishing.

  • Caribbean small boat quota.

  • Area closures.

  • Denied access to fishery.

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Regional Recreational Fisheries Contacts



Brad McHale


Randy Blankinship

National Recreational Fisheries Contacts

Russell Dunn

Tim Sartwell

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