March 28, 2017
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 South Atlantic Regional Recreational Fisheries Roundtable was the fourth of nine planned public discussions with saltwater recreational fishermen in the spring of 2017. These conversations were the latest in a series of agency efforts over the last seven years to develop a strong working partnership with recreational fishermen. A similar set of meetings conducted in 2013 was well received by recreational fishing interests and bolstered mutual understanding of priorities between saltwater recreational fishermen and NOAA Fisheries.
The 2016-2017 discussions looked to build on past progress by creating new and strengthening existing relationships through direct, face-to-face communication; identifying mutual interests; highlighting regional concerns and priorities; identifying inter-regional issues; and providing NOAA Fisheries with important clarifications and insights to inform regional and national agency planning.
This summary provides a general overview of the opinions expressed during the discussion in Jacksonville, Florida; it is not a meeting transcript. Many of the topics were discussed at length.
Fishery management issues were the primary discussion topic during the meeting. Perspectives included:
Anglers shared concerns that the South Atlantic marine fisheries are too diverse to manage as a single unit and expressed interest in more fine scale regional management.
Participants often noted the need for more regulatory flexibility. Suggestions for management changes include specific bottom fish seasons, a reef stamp associated with state fishing licenses, and implementing a harvest tag system for certain species such as goliath grouper.
One constituent noted that private anglers and for-hire captains have very different motivations for going fishing and perhaps should be managed differently. The for-hire captain sells the opportunity to catch fish whereas the private angler may only catch a fish or two for that night’s dinner.
A noticeable shift in effort has occurred from offshore to inshore. Sales of smaller in-shore boats have increased placing the inshore species under more pressure while the mid-range offshore boats seem to be disappearing.
Fishermen shared growing frustrations and concerns regarding the perceived lack of recreational community voices in management decisions.
Frustration with extended closures and other management restrictions that appear to be out of touch with what they see on the water has led to more anglers ignoring regulations with little fear of being caught because enforcement is lacking.
Anglers noted that constant communication, education and visibility can enhance trust between managers, scientists, and the fishing public.
The high abundance of some species (black sea bass and red snapper) is inhibiting access to target species. Yet some species are really struggling. For example, fishermen noted mahi mahi (Dolphin) saw one of the worst fishing years in recent memory in 2016.
Anglers felt that there has been an increase in top level predators (sharks, dolphins, etc) which eat more of the discarded catch, including those being released on descending devices.
Some anglers have are interested in increasing the amount of data provided by anglers, participating in recreational data reviews and stock assessments (Southeast Data Assessment and Reviews) and the Marine Resource Education Program (MREP).
Conversely, other anglers have great skepticism about providing data fearing it could be “used against them.”
Barotrauma remains a concern within the recreational community, with interest in reducing discard mortality for recreationally caught fish.
Fishermen were asked to identify their most significant concerns about the long-term viability of recreational fishing. Issues identified included:
Improving fishing access and reducing fisheries closures.
Reducing regulation in recreational fisheries.
Sustainability of the fish stocks in the face of diminishing water quality, climate change and invasive species, such as lionfish
Improving cooperation between fishermen, scientists and managers.
Habitat degradation/loss i.e., sea grass.
Health and availability of forage/bait fish.