King Mackerel Quota

King Mackerel Quota

On February 8, the 2010 hook and line Kingfish quota for the Southern Gulf, was declared full by the National Marine Fisheries Service, and the season officially ended. In the Florida Keys, King Mackerel presents the clearest example of the often highhanded manner in which federal fishery managers hoard enormous stocks of fish, as if they belonged to them personally.

By all accounts – from anecdotal, visual, scientific, and actual landings – there are prodigious amounts of fish available for harvest. Even the tricky little formulas that scientists devise to assess the health of the stocks, can no longer be manipulated to hide the huge volume of fish. Net boats must nip off a corner of the massive schools in order to not exceed the 25,000 lb trip limit, and hook and line fishermen catch their 1,250 lb day limit in an hour or less.

The penurious 523,000 lb yearly hook and line quota – which gets filled in less than a month of fishing, even with a daily trip limit – highlights the absolute power of fishery managers, and exposes a system that has lost sight of it’s mission. While reasonable people might argue that net boats with spotter planes could impact the stocks, and should have a quota, there is no example of single hooks on single lines, ever leading to the over-fishing of a commercial species in the Keys. Yet, fishery managers dangle a piddling 100,000 lb quota increase in front of our industry, as if they are benevolent guardians who might dole out a treat if the fishermen remain patient and compliant.

Fish stocks are not the private domain of the NMFS bureaucracy. They are a national resource that belongs to all of the American people. For the vast number of people who want fish as part of their diet, and have no way to catch their own, commercial fishermen provide access to the food. The job of fishery managers should only be to insure that people have a continuous supply of seafood, as large as the sustainability of the stocks will allow.

Fishery managers used to aim for a catch amount that they termed, Maximum Sustainable Yield. It was a good goal, and served the needs of fishermen, fishery managers, and the general public. Bureaucrats, however, are never content with simple goals for very long, and have recently muddied the regulatory waters with a slew of new acronyms to set catch limits – none of which are understood by anyone outside of the bureaucracy.

The very term Maximum Sustainable Yield, was an anomaly for the bureaucracy. It was so clear and concise that virtually everyone knew what it meant. Apparently though, its very simplicity made it unacceptable to fishery managers as the sole criteria for evaluating catch amounts. Fishery bureaucrats solved the dilemma by renaming MSY, Over-Fishing Limit or OFL. The contradiction in terms, seemed not to bother the determined managers in the slightest. In fact, they liked the new confusion so much that they created more terms to befuddle the outside world about how much fish should be caught – or could be caught, or can be caught, or…whatever.

In order to figure out what the bureaucrats are doing, fishermen now have to understand: Acceptable Biological Catch(ABC), Annual Catch Limit(ACL), Annual Catch Target(ACT), Acountability Measure(AM), Optimum Yield(OY), Maximum Fishing Mortality Threshold(MFMT), Minimum Stock Size Threshold(MSST), and Status Determination Criteria(SDC). While some people may feel overwhelmed by the bureaucratic terminology, and the seeming complexity of the science, federal fishery managers have provided us with a simplified explanation that everyone should be able to understand.

ABC may not exceed OFL. The distance between OFL and ABC depends on how scientific uncertainty is accounted for in the ABC control rule. Account for scientific uncertainty in estimating the true OFL. Recommend: OFL>ABC AMs prevent the ACL from being exceeded and correct or mitigate overages of the ACL if they occur. ACTs are recommended in the system of accountability measures so that ACL is not exceeded. The setting of an ACL begins with specifying an OFL. This is the yield above which overfishing occurs. It corresponds to fishing at the MFMT which is usually the fishing mortality rate corresponding to MSY(FMSY)……

If it still doesn’t seem quite clear to you, then understand that it is not supposed to. The bureaucracy purposely keeps us all confused about what they are doing, and if we start to understand something, they immediately change all the rules. This ‘acronymical’ nonsense exists only to serve the bureaucracy. It is completely unnecessary for effective fishery management, and if eliminated entirely, would facilitate a nationwide rise in bureaucratic efficiency and industry productivity.

Like the weatherman who calls for a 50% chance of rain when it’s pouring right outside his window, fishery managers tell us they must wait for the ABC to be less than the OFL, and the MFMT to line up with the MSY(FMSY), before they can accept the self evidence of the huge stock size. It seems that everyone but the fishery managers can see out the window, yet the handful of bureaucrats have absolute control over whether or not an entire industry is permitted to catch more fish.

To give hook and line fishermen a 500,000 lb annual quota, when there is over a hundred million pounds (my estimate is as good as theirs, and undoubtedly more accurate) in available stock, exposes the ruined credibility of fishery managers. It is patently obvious that we are no longer dealing with a system that is intended to safely maximize output, and allow reasonably priced food to reach the tables of America. Science and economics are being manipulated by some hop-scotching agenda of ecosystem politics, and are primarily used to expand the scope of the bureaucracy.

In reality, there should be no quota at all for hook and line fishermen. With the limited number of licenses, and daily trip limits (they shouldn’t exist either), it is inconceivable that Keys fishermen could damage the viability of the stocks. The pelagic fish are only here for a few months, and there are only so many winter days on which conditions are favorable enough to make a catch. If the hook and line quota were increased 10 fold, to 5 million pounds, it wouldn’t make a dent in the population of Kingfish.

Our small boat commercial industry in the Keys is slowly being starved out by closures, elimination of licenses, and reduction in traps numbers. Nothing is ever done to offset the losses, and the lost fishing effort has imperiled the future of our entire fishery. Greatly expanding the kingfish quota is an action that fishery managers could implement immediately, and give a much needed shot in the arm for a struggling industry, as well as restore some of their own lost credibility.

While we have no illusions that common sense will take over completely, there are some people in the bureaucracy who see what should be done, but apparently, either fear isolation by their peers, or are overruled by autocratic superiors. There are also some thinking people on the councils, and we must hope that they exert their independence, and take fishery management back to where it belongs – stock protection that allows Maximum Sustainable Yield.

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6 Responses to “King Mackerel Quota”

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