The Price of Mismanagement

The bill for decades of overharvest has come due in the form of an overfished summer flounder stock

Posted on July 25, 2007

The most recent summer flounder stock assessment brought some unwelcome news to East Coast anglers last week and will almost certainly result in additional catch reductions for recreational fishermen. The assessment, conducted by National Marine Fisheries Service, indicated that years of mismanagement have finally caught up to summer flounder, and steps will have to be taken to set the recovery back on course.

In technical terms, the assessment revealed that overfishing is currently occurring in the summer flounder fishery, and also determined that the stock is overfished. "Overfishing" on a stock occurs when too many fish are harvested to meet management goals. An "overfished" designation means the spawning stock has been depleted below a safe level and not enough spawning-age fish remain for the population to sustain itself unless harvest is reduced.
In this case, overfishing has finally forced the stock into an overfished condition, and fisheries managers are now required by law to reverse both.
The problems faced now by summer flounder are a predictable result of managers' failure to take a conservation-minded approach to the fishery over the long term. Managers have instead opted to set catch regulations at the very highest limits allowed under federal rebuilding guidelines. While that philosophy translated into longer seasons and more liberal regulations for anglers in the past, those same regulations also were the least likely to achieve the ultimate goal: rebuilding the stock to healthy levels.
The bill for the risky approach to summer flounder management is unfortunately coming due now.
The recovery of summer flounder has been complicated by many factors, not the least of which is its enormous popularity and ready accessibility coastwide. Businesses dependent on fish and fishing rely on summer flounder to help fill ice chests for their customers.
"There is a lot of concern right now over summer flounder, and rightfully so," said Richen Brame, CCA Atlantic States Fisheries Director. "Anglers today are being asked to help correct the mistakes of the past 25 years and we hope this is a lesson to managers to take their role as stewards of the resource seriously. You cannot manage these fisheries on the edge of a cliff and hope everything works out. The history of this fishery is littered with missed conservation opportunities, and now we all have to pay the bill."
CONTACT: Ted Venker, 1-800-201-FISH