October 06, 2009

Gillibrand, Bishop Take Action To Keep Black Sea Bass Fishery Open Off Long Island

Closure Will Hurt Small Businesses Already Struggling to Recover

Washington, DC - In an effort to keep Long Island's recreational fishing and boating industry open for business, U.S. Senator Kirsten Gillibrand and Congressman Tim Bishop today took action to stop the National Marine Fisheries Services' (NMFS) decision to close the recreational black sea bass fishery. In a letter to James W. Balsieger, Ph.D., Acting-Assistant Administrator for Fisheries at the NMFS, Senator Gillibrand and Congressman Bishop outlined the stark economic impact the closure would have on a large number of small businesses on Long Island, and urged him to allow the black sea bass fishery to remain open.

"The federal shutdown of black sea bass harvesting from the Exclusive Economic Zone will have a tragic impact on recreational fishermen and will have serious implications for Long Island and communities all along the Atlantic coast," Senator Gillibrand and Congressman Bishop said in the letter. "For Long Island's recreational fishing industry, this closure is another threat to their livelihood during the worst economic conditions in decades.  It is critical that we use the most precise data collection, which includes industry data and other descriptive data that can provide a more true indication of fishing activity. In these difficult economic times, we must consider the impact these decisions have on our fishing communities."

Local Long Island fishermen are outraged by the decision.

Gene Young, President of New York Fishing Tackle Trade Association said, "This closure clearly shows how terribly mismanaged our fisheries have been.  To put a multi-million dollar industry out of business virtually overnight, with no warning, is the ultimate indictment of our broken fisheries management system, and is an insult to our coastal communities."

Capt. Dennis Kanyuk, President of United Boatmen of New York said, "I see this as a ‘shot across the bow' to the entire fishing community.  If NMFS is allowed to get away with this outrage, I have no doubt that they will adopt this strategy for any fishery they choose, with no accountability to the public that ultimately owns the resource."

Over the last four years, Long Island recreational boats, charter boats and tackle shops have lost upwards of 40 percent of their incomes. Closing the black sea bass fishery would add an estimate of another 15 percent to their losses - with New York's party and charter boat industry expecting to lose nearly $1 million in revenue across Long Island.

The full letter from Senator Gillibrand and Congressman Bishop is below:

Dear Dr. Balsiger,

I am writing to express my opposition to the National Marine Fisheries Services' (NMFS) decision to close the recreational black sea bass fishery.  This decision will result in a damaging cost to recreational fishermen in New York.

The federal shutdown of black sea bass harvesting from the Exclusive Economic Zone will have a tragic impact on recreational fishermen and will have serious implications for Long Island and communities all along the Atlantic coast.  The Long Island recreational fishing industry primarily targets bottom fish, such as Fluke, Porgy and Black Sea Bass. This industry has been especially hard hit this year by the early Fluke fishery closure, summer Porgy restrictions and now the six-month Black Sea Bass fishery closure.   In the last four years, Long Island recreational boats, charter boats and tackle shops have lost between 25 - 40 percent of their incomes. These figures do not take into account those businesses bankrupted by the closures.  This new closure will saddle the industry with additional losses of approximately 15 percent compared to last year, with the New York party and charter boat community anticipating additional lost revenues of nearly $1 million Island-wide as a direct result of the sea bass closure.

The data from the Marine Recreational Fishing Statistical Survey (MRFSS) that was used to make this decision has been criticized because the MRFSS is designed to show trends over several years -not snap shots on two month waves.  For this reason, a report prepared in 2000 for NMFS by the National Research Council strongly indicated that MRFSS cannot be used for in-season management adjustments, stating: "attempts to use MRFSS for in-season monitoring...have usually not been successful," and added "in-season management of most recreational fisheries [using MRFSS] is presently not possible."  Despite this advice from its own scientists, NMFS has nonetheless decided to close the sea bass fishery on the basis of one wave of preliminary MRFSS data from May and June of this year.  Moreover, according to the most recent Stock Assessment Update by the Mid-Atlantic Fishery Management Council, released in July of this year, the biostock for black sea bass surpassed the 2008 spawning goal.  The assessment went on to say that the stock is not overfished nor is experiencing overfishing. In short, information exists that claim the stock is fully restored to historic levels.

Furthermore, in light of the fact that MRFSS data is not the most accurate way to measure current catch levels, NMFS should pursue new assessments that are more precise.  This review should include industry data, as well as other descriptive data that can provide an index of fishing activity.  Sustainable fisheries are critical not just to conservation interests, but to our commercial and recreational fishermen as well.  It is with this in mind that we concentrate our conservation efforts on those stocks that need protection for the future of this industry and not those that are rebuilt. In doing so, we must also rely on the best data available.

For Long Island's recreational fishing industry, this closure is another threat to their livelihood during the worst economic conditions in decades.  It is critical that we use the most precise data collection, which includes industry data and other descriptive data that can provide a more true indication of fishing activity. In these difficult economic times, we must consider the impact these decisions have on our fishing communities.

Thank you for your attention to this critical issue.  If you should have any questions, please feel free to contact Kristen Walsh in my Long Island Office at (631)-249-2825 or Jon Schneider at (631)696-6500.

Sincerely,

Kirsten E. Gillibrand
U.S. Senator

Timothy Bishop
U.S. Representative