Striped Mullet FMP AC Workshop Recap
Last week the Striped Mullet Fisheries Management Plan (FMP) Advisory Committee (AC) met with NC Division of Marine Fisheries (DMF) staff for three days to discuss ideas on how to achieve the necessary reductions needed to end overfishing and the overfished status of striped mullet. This is the part of the striped mullet fisheries management process where stakeholders are asked to present ideas and recommendations to lower annual fishing removals, increase the number of age-0 recruitment, and increase the number of spawning females in the stock.
These ideas and recommendations will be incorporated into the management options in Draft Amendment 2 to the Striped Mullet FMP which will later be presented to the Marine Fisheries Commission (MFC) at their November meeting for approval to be sent out for public review. The public will then be asked (if the draft is approved) to submit public comment to express their likes or dislikes with the options presented in December and January.
The information used to determine the stock status of striped mullet and the necessary reductions to rebuild the stock came from the April 2022 Stock Assessment of Striped Mullet in North Carolina Waters. As you all know, this stock assessment has caused and continues to cause much heartburn in our fishing communities. NCFA was there throughout the stock assessment process asking questions about the data being used and working on ways to get more and better data incorporated into this assessment. Not for lack of trying, this stock assessment was ultimately peer reviewed and approved for management leaving us where we are now, needing reductions.
Another important piece of the FMP process is the “2 and 10 rule”. Under our current NC Statue (113-182.1) pertaining to FMPs, the plan must end overfishing in 2 years or less and have a 50% probability of ending an overfished status in 10 years from the date the FMP is adopted. This legal timeframe is the main driver of these draconian reductions imposed on fishermen when a stock assessment shows a decline (or anticipates a decline) in a stock. This hard and fast “2 and 10 rule” does not take into account reproductive and life cycles differences in species that we manage and instead forces management to work against instead of with natural cycles like fluctuations in fish abundance and other multitudes of environmental factors.
According to the stock assessment, removals of striped mullet need to be reduced by at least 21.3% to reach the spawning stock biomass (SSB) threshold and 35.4% to reach the SSB target. SSB simply means the total weight of the fish in a stock old enough to spawn. To achieve these reductions DMF staff presented the Striped Mullet FMP AC with a multitude of options as seen in their Sustainable Harvest Issue Paper.
As a member of the Striped Mullet FMP AC, one of my most important responsibilities is to present to my peers some of the discussions and ideas we talked about during the workshop. Here is some of what I took away from the meeting.
During discussion, the AC mostly agreed that commercial size limits for striped mullet was not a management option that needed to be included in Amendment 2 to the FMP. The rational for this was to not create unnecessary discards in a fishery where all sizes are utilized. Another component discussed and mostly agreed upon was that there should be no changes in the current mesh sizes and gill net lengths. Changing mesh sizes could easily result in greater pounds of removals and our current 800-yard gill net limit is constraining enough as is.
Season opening and closing dates was also discussed thoroughly. While there could definitely be benefits to the stock there were also many possible pitfalls discussed at the table. Most notably changes in fishermen behavior. If you have a start date, derby fishing would likely occur along with the many other negative issues associated with it. Controversially, if you have a season closing date you may force the exact opposite and create a derby ending where fishermen fight to the last minute for everything they can catch.
Trip limits as a standalone management option were also mostly decided to not be a viable option to reduce removals. The dynamic nature of the runaround gill net fishery that harvests the majority of striped mullet is not conducive to specifically catching a set poundage. Image if you will, moving fish, moving tide, moving boat. Not to mention shore line, shoals, stumps, hangs, and other boats on the water to have to navigate around while setting around a school of fish. Trip limits would only result in too many dead discards.
Area closures and quotas also were discussed but were mostly decided to not be viable options. Area closures could possibly stack fishermen in smaller areas and catch of striped mullet could possibly be recouped in another area especially during the spawning migration. The group also mostly agreed that quotas are not the best management tool for species like striped mullet that mature quickly and recruitment (age-0 fish) can vary greatly from year to year. For example, if recruitment were to be low one year a set quota would allow for over harvest and in a good recruitment year a quota may fall well below the sustainable harvest level.
These were the ideas the group mostly agreed were NOT the best options to rebuild striped mullet. Although these ideas were for the most part rejected, it was important that we discussed the rationale behind those decisions. It is also important to note that just because the AC did not think some of these ideas were the best way to manage the stock it does not mean that some (if not all) of these “rejected” ideas will still be presented to the Marine Fisheries Commission (MFC) to be included in options in Draft Amendment 2 to the FMP.
Just as we discussed many options that we did not think would work for the fish or the fishery, we also discussed options that would rebuild the stock and cause the least amount of burden on the people catching the fish. The group came up with and mostly agreed upon several combination options to achieve the necessary reduction in removals and hopefully create the least amount of burden on the mullet fishery.
The simplest option was a year-round striped mullet weekend (Saturday and Sunday) harvest closure. This option would make it illegal to harvest mullet on the weekend but still allow all commercial gear to operate and utilize other fisheries. Workshop members also noted that if a weekend harvest closure is implemented, fishermen need to be able to legally possess striped mullet caught on Friday and sold on Saturday. This option represents a 25.7% reduction.
Another option was a weekend harvest closure and a 1,000-pound trip December 1st-September 30th. This option represents a 28.5% reduction.
A weekend trip limit of 100 pounds and a December 1st-September 30th 1000 pound trip limit was also suggested as an option. The weekend trip limit was looked at as a way to reduce discards in other fisheries. This would achieve a 22.3% reduction.
Several other options were also mostly agreed upon and most are listed in the Sustainable Harvest paper linked above. And also, important to note, of all the many combination options presented, the combination options that included end of season closures were generally rejected by the group.
Now is the time in the fisheries management process to get your ideas out there.
If you like some these ideas and think they will work for how you operate in the striped mullet fishery, let me know. If you don’t like any other these ideas, let me know. If you have an idea that you think is better for everyone and it meets the reduction needed, let me know. If you don’t want to talk to me, contact DMF (1-252-726-7021) and they will put you in contact with the right person. The important thing to remember is this is the idea stage. If you have an idea for an option now is the time to get it on the official document to be considered.
The Atlantic States Marine Fisheries Commission (ASMFC) meets this week Tuesday August 1st through Thursday August 3rd at the Westin Crystal City in Arlington, VA.
Agenda and Meeting Materials:
A few things to note that my be of interest to our readers:
Tuesday August 1st
12:30-1:30 Coastal Sharks Management Board
1:45-5:45 Atlantic Striped Bass Management Board
Wednesday August 2nd
10:15-12:45 Coastal Pelagics Management Board
-Spanish Mackerel discussion
1:45-3:45 East Coast Climate Change Scenario Planning Initiative
Thursday August 3rd
8:30-9:00 Spiny Dogfish Management Board
9:15-10:45 Interstate Fisheries Management Program Policy Board