Fisheries Allocations Still Out of Whack

Scup is latest in long line of allocations that shortchange recreational sector

Posted on August 31, 2010

While the news from the most recent Mid-Atlantic Fisheries Management Council meeting indicated a rosy future for scup, the Council’s failure to seek an economic study of the way scup are allocated between the recreational and commercial sectors presages a far dimmer future for scup anglers.

After approving a 41 percent increase in total allowable catch for 2011, a move that was fully justified by the science and welcomed by the recreational community, the Council began a preliminary discussion on revisiting the allocation issue, as was suggested by the Council’s own Scup Monitoring Committee. Commercial fishing interests immediately assailed Council members for raising the issue, and an acrimonious, hour- long debate, described as “really ugly” by one of the seated Council members, ensued. Ultimately, a motion recommending that the National Marine Fisheries Service conduct an economic study in order to determine the optimum allocation was indefinitely tabled. At the request of one Council member, the matter was finally referred to a Council committee for further consideration.
 
“The Council is allowing the scup fishery to follow the same disturbing path followed by summer flounder,” said Richen Brame, CCA’s Atlantic States Fisheries director. “The allocations for these fisheries have been frozen in time even though the fisheries themselves have evolved. The Council should be leading the charge for an economic study to determine where the greatest benefit from this fishery lies today, and not hiding from the fact that conditions change.”
 
Up until 2006, allocations for various fisheries were set using an awkward, backward-looking system that arbitrarily selected landings records from a time frame as short as three or four years, and allocated the fishery going forward based on that snapshot. The system often produced wildly skewed allocations that were never revisited, prompting the reauthorization of the Magnuson-Stevens Fishery Conservation and Management Act in 2006 to include a requirement directing the management councils to review allocations periodically using, among other criteria, economic studies to determine the where the greatest value of the fishery lies.
 
The current scup allocation, set back in the 1990s, gives 78 percent of the resource to the commercial sector, leaving only 22 percent available for public access. As a result of fisheries managers’ success in rebuilding the stock, there is fear that increased landings will push down the price paid to commercial fishermen, while recreational fishermen still suffer under the strictest regulations in history.
 
“The Council should be proud that its conservative management has made scup a fishery success story. They have done a wonderful job here,” said Charles Witek, Chair of CCA’s Atlantic States Fisheries Committee. “What possible harm could a rigorous economic evaluation of the recreational and commercial scup fisheries do? Such information is currently required for proper management. The recreational community is asking that the Council fulfill all of its obligations, and forge ahead with an economic study that will free scup allocations from the shackles of the past, and shape a fishery that will provide the greatest benefits in the future.”
 
CONTACT: Ted Venker, 1-800-201-FISH