DMF NEWS is Published quarterly by the Massachusetts Division of Marine Fisheries to inform and educate its constituents on matters relating to the conservation and sustainable use of the Commonwealth's marine resources

Volume 17 Third Quarter July - September 1997

Table of Contents...

  1. Commonwealth Sues on Scup
  2. Saving Whales - one at a time
  3. Federal Rules to Reduce Whale Mortalities Announced
  4. New Lobster Rules on the Horizon
  5. DMF Research Published
  6. "Schoolie" Stripers Diagnosed With lymphocystis
  7. Groundfish Update: Are We There Yet?
  8. Catch and Release Survivorship Studies on Big-Game Fishes
  9. Table of Contents for Rules Update including Public Hearings, Regulatory Updates, and Legislative Updates

Commonwealth Sues on Scup

On June 19 the Commonwealth filed a complaint in the U.S. District Court for the District of Massachusetts to challenge the final rule issued by the Secretary of Commerce and promulgated as a Regulatory Amendment to the Fishery Management Plan for the Summer Flounder, Scup and Black Sea Bass Fisheries. There has been no satisfactory federal response to DMF's frequently expressed concern about equity and fairness for Massachusetts scup fishermen and dealers.

For this first year of scup quota management, the Amendment has divided the annual commercial quota into three fishing seasons with the quota for the summer season (May-October) being allocated between states based on National Marine Fisheries Service records of scup landings from 1983-1992. Massachusetts receives only 15.5% of the summer quota. In contrast, Rhode Island received 60.8% of the summer quota. About 90% of scup landed annually in Massachusetts is caught by inshore fishermen in state waters during the spring and summer.

Issues of equity and fairness for Massachusetts scup fishermen and dealers include:

  1. The Plan Amendment relies on the grossly incomplete and inaccurate NMFS record of Massachusetts commercial landings of scup used to establish Massachusetts' percent share of the scup summer quota and the 1997 summer quota. Landings recorded by NMFS underestimate actual scup landings because the vast majority of scup fishermen in Massachusetts are small-scale, inshore fishermen fishing from small boats and landing in many small ports or at boat ramps. These fishermen and the dealers who buy their scup never have been required to report their landings or purchases to NMFS, or to DMF, with some exceptions.
  2. As a consequence of this grossly incomplete and inaccurate record of scup landings in the Commonwealth, Massachusetts is being forced to slash the state's scup landings in one year by about 80%, a dramatic reduction that is inconsistent with the recovery schedule established by the management plan. The plan has a 7-year recovery schedule. A consequence of this schedule and the poor record of landings that led to Massachusetts 362,029 lbs. summer quota, will be future quotas approaching zero when the schedule calls for further reductions in landings!
  3. The Plan penalizes Massachusetts scup commercial fishermen and dealers for scup discards occurring at other times, in other areas, and in other fisheries (e.g., squid). Discards are fish that are caught but not kept. The Regulatory Amendment requires that discards of scup be subtracted from total allowable catch to establish the annual commercial quota. This procedure has no regard for individual states or types of fishermen, and as a result, the Regulatory Amendment unfairly and inequitably discriminates against states such as Massachusetts whose fishermen have relatively low amounts of scup discard and mortality of those discards because many of these fishermen fish with weirs, pots, and handline (compared to the offshore mixed trawl fishery).

The amount of scup discards can be tremendous. For example, the 1994 scup assessment performed by the Northeast Fisheries Science Center concluded that about 3.2 million lbs. of scup were discarded in offshore and inshore commercial fisheries in 1993. In 1992 discard was estimated to be stupendous, 12.7 million lbs. with most of these discards being juvenile fish! In terms of numbers of fish, in 1992, about 75.3 million fish were discarded. One hundred percent mortality of these discards is assumed, an incorrect assumption for Massachusetts inshore scup fisheries.

The Commonwealth requests the Court hold a hearing on the merits of the complaint at the earliest possible date and "enter a permanent injunction enjoining the defendants from: (a) enforcing in any way the Regulatory Amendment against any fisherman or dealers in the Commonwealth of Massachusetts, (b) prohibiting landings of scup from any federally licensed scup fishermen in the Commonwealth of Massachusetts, and (c) prohibiting any federally licensed dealer in the Commonwealth of Massachusetts from purchasing or possessing scup." The Commonwealth requests that the Court declare the Regulatory Amendment to be invalid and order the Secretary of Commerce (or his designee) to develop and approve a new Regulatory Amendment which is consistent with the Magnuson-Stevens Fishery Conservation and Management Act and which, at a minimum, accurately reflects the historical scup landings in the Commonwealth.

As of the date of this newsletter, no hearing date has been set.

by David Pierce

Saving whales - one at a time

Disentanglement teams help save right whales

As fishermen and many others in coastal communities awaited the outcome of the final federal rules, the June 24 news of an entangled right whale east of Cape Cod had many holding their collective breath. Sighs of relief were heard when news broke of the successful disentanglement by scientists from Provincetown's Center for Coastal Studies (CCS). Senior scientists Stormy Mayo and David Mattila and operations manager Ed Lyman succeeded in removing heavy line with an attached float from an estimated 40 foot (35 ton) right whale. This successful disentanglement was the first for the Rapid Response Team, organized last year with National Marine Fisheries Service and the U.S. Coast Guard.

The whale was first spotted swimming with the gear off Chatham by commercial fishermen who reported the sighting to Coast Guard officials. Coast Guard dispatched a vessel to "stand-by" the whale and await the disentanglement team, that arrived within hours. The team determined the whale was in danger, so began their disentanglement procedures where they attempted to tire the animal (similar to old whaling techniques) before getting close enough to work. At this point they were assisted by commercial fisherman Captain John Our on his 42 ft gillnet vessel, MISS FITZ. From 3:30 until 7:30 p.m. the whale showed enormous strength by towing the floats, a sea anchor and the fishing vessel at speeds of 4-5 knots. When the whale finally tired, Mayo, Mattila and Lyman approached closer in an inflatable Zodiac, and they were able to cut away thick lines from the whale's mouth and along its body. The whale, freed east of Nantucket almost 15 miles from Chatham, was reported to be an 8 year old male, # 1971 in the right whale catalog of known individuals. This may have been the only recorded sighting of this animal in U.S. waters. Most have been in the Bay of Fundy, and this whale has been seen in the Bay of Fundy in mid and late July.

This case was significant for its timing and team effort.

Timing. This disentanglement occurred while NMFS officials in Gloucester and Washington were drafting the final rules. NMFS officials wrestled with various options to reduce serious injuries and mortalities. These options included fishing area closures, gear modifications, as well as surveillance and disentanglements efforts. Many fishermen told NMFS during April public hearings that they would be willing to report whale sightings and assist disentanglements, but they argued against closing down areas or being forced to fish untested gear modifications, that would be costly and result in gear losses. The successful disentanglement proved that some mortalities can be averted by time-tested disentanglement techniques. But fishermen's cooperation to report sightings is critical for success.

Team Effort. Give credit to CCS, Coast Guard, and cooperating fishermen. Coast Guard crews from Chatham and Brant Point (Nantucket) played an important role by remaining on-site with the whale. There have been previous reports of entangled whales where disentanglement teams could not locate the whale, so having a crew remain on-site with the whale is critical.

The whale was reported first by the Chatham vessel DEL HY, and the disentanglement was assisted by Captain Our. Captain Our certainly appreciates the importance of this event. He served along with DMF on the federal Large Whale Take Reduction Team that met six times last fall and winter in Boston. John's input at the meetings was invaluable. He is noted for his candor, expertise, and willingness to contribute to any efforts to "save the whales." His participation in the disentanglement of this 35 ton whale off his homeport demonstrated the role fishermen can play. In fact, CCS may not have been able to work safely to disentangle the whale without the MISS FITZ helping to slow it down. Fishery managers have worried that some fishermen would not report any whale sightings, especially entangled whales, for fear of closures.

Fishermen along the coast can point to the Chatham event as one way their industry can contribute to the solution. To help fishermen identify entangled whales and decide the best course of action, DMF will be mailing commercial fishermen a waterproof card created by CCS scientists. This card highlights the four large whale species and lists what to do (and not do) if one sees an entangled whale. For more information contact DMF in Boston.

Congratulations to the CCS team, Coast Guard and the Chatham fishermen.

By Dan McKiernan

Federal rules to reduce whale mortalities announced

Federal rules were announced on July 16 designed to reduce large whale (right, humpback, fin and minke whales) serious injuries and mortalities. Most of the measures focus on ways to protect endangered right whales, because its population status is more critical than the other three species.

These rules complement DMF's right whale regulations enacted last winter to minimize entanglement risk. In response to the overwhelming public response that included 13,000 comments, the new federal rules differ significantly from those aired at the 12 public hearings along the east coast in the spring. They deviate so much that NMFS is calling them "interim" rules and will accept public comment on them through October 15. Readers should review the NMFS explanations in the final rule for full details.

To meet the objectives of the Marine Mammal Protection Act, the plan closes certain critical habitats to most fishing when whales are expected to occur, and also requires fishermen to modify fishing practices in other areas and times "to create a realistic potential of achieving the MMPA goals without sacrificing large parts of a vital fishing industry." To meet the MMPA goals for right whales, the rate of serious injuries or mortalities of right whales must be less than 0.4 per year down from an estimated 1.1 per year.

Here are the plan's basics:

  • Closures of critical habitats (e.g. Cape Cod Bay) to some gear types during times when right whales are usually present.
  • Restricting fishing in the southeast U.S. driftnet fishery.
  • Prohibit lobster and sink gillnet gear from being set in ways that result in floating line on the surface.
  • Require all lobster and gillnet gear have additional characteristics that reduce entanglement risk (see lists).
  • Require Mid-Atlantic drift gillnets be either tended (fishermen stay with the gear) or stored on board at night.
  • Improve the voluntary network of persons trained in disentangling right whales.
  • Prohibit storage of inactive fishing gear in the ocean.

So how do these rules deviate from those proposed? Here's some of the highlights that affect Massachusetts fishermen:

The "onerous" gear modification proposals were not enacted (except for gear set in certain months in critical habitat). Fishermen are not required to deploy any untested gear designs, such as the break-away buoy link that was to approach 150 lbs. breaking strength, or sinking line between traps. Instead, fishermen may choose from a menu of gear modifications that could reduce the risk of entanglement. This list will change in the future when NMFS and DMF research provides new designs to reduce entanglement risk.

Many inshore areas are exempt from the rules. NMFS analyzed the distribution of right, humpback, fin and minke whales and determined regulation of fishing activity would have no practical benefit for right whale protection.

Dynamic area closures to fixed gear were not implemented at this time. This rule proposed that NMFS would close an area with a "trigger" when four or more right whales reside in a specific area for two or more weeks. NMFS conceded that such a closure would result in fishermen moving the gear to the periphery of the closed area and when whales leave the area they could encounter a dense field of gear. Secondly, NMFS noted that it would take at least two additional weeks to effectively close the area, and by then the whales likely would have migrated from the area. DMF expressed concern to NMFS that, as proposed, fishermen would be hesistant to report whale sightings.

For Massachusetts fishermen, the state's stringent Cape Cod Bay Critical Habitat regulations were adopted. For lobstermen and gillnetters this means a continuation of the rules in place during January - May 15: ban on surface and sink gillnetting; lobster traps must be rigged with sinking line between traps (so-called "groundline") in a multiple trap string, ban on single pots with a minimum 4-pot string; and buoy lines must be predominately sinking line fitted with no more than 1/3 floating line at the bottom of the buoy line. DMF and NMFS are committed to fund research to identify other gear designs that would reduce entanglement risk that could be required in Critical Habitat or added to the list for use in other areas.

Critical Habitats will remain the focus of attention. For example the Great South Channel (east of Nantucket) will be closed to all lobster fishing when whales are expected in the area, but Cape Cod Bay remains open to modified gear. However, Cape Cod Bay would be closed by NMFS in the event that a right whale serious injury or mortality occurred from modified gear set in the area during January - May 15.

For the period May 16- Dec. 31, fishermen who deploy pots in Cape Cod Bay Critical habitat, their gear must have at least two of the characteristics from the "list". Outside Critical Habitat, the gear must have at least one characteristic from the list. Also fishermen who set gear in adjacent federal waters around Stellwagen Bank or Jeffreys Ledge must include two features from the "list" year round. This menu-approach respects time-honored fishing practices that vary significantly among areas based on various physical forces (e.g. strong tides) and sociological factors.

DMF will reconvene the court-appointed Massachusetts Endangered Whale Working Group - composed of state officials, fishermen, marine mammal scientists, and environmentalists - in September to discuss the state's rules enacted last winter in light of the new federal rules and discuss whether any changes to these rules are warranted. If the Group suggests any changes, then DMF may submit these recommendations to NMFS before the October 15 deadline. DMF requests anyone with comments on possible changes to the current state rules or interim federal rules affecting fishing in state waters to contact DMF as well as NMFS before mid-September.

Finally, DMF has been working with NMFS officials to design and fund surveillance programs to monitor right whale presence in Cape Cod Bay and other adjacent waters for 1998. Contact DMF for further details.

By Dan McKiernan

Gillnet Take Reduction Technology List

Gear must be rigged with at least one or at least two, depending on where the gear is set.

  • All buoy lines are 7/16 inches in diameter or less
  • All buoys are attached to the buoy line with a weak link having a maximum tensile strength of 1100 pounds
  • Gear is anchored with the holding power of a 22 pound danforth-style anchor at each end
  • Gear is anchored with a 50 pound dead weight at each end
  • Nets are attached to a lead line weighing 100 pounds or more per 300 feet
  • Weak links with a maximum tensile breaking strength of 1100 pounds between net panels along the float rope
  • All buoy lines are composed entirely of sinking line

Lobster Take Reduction Technology List

Gear must be rigged with at least one or at least two, depending on where the gear is set.

  • All buoy lines are 7/16 inches in diameter or less
  • All buoy lines are attached to the buoy line with a weak link having a maximum tensile strength of 1100 pounds (weak links may include swivels, plastic weak links, rope of appropriate diameter, hog rings, or rope stapled to a buoy stick)
  • For gear set in offshore areas only, all buoys are attached to the buoy line by a section of rope no more than 3/4 the diameter of the buoy line
  • All buoys are composed entirely of sinking line
  • All ground lines are made of sinking line

New Lobster Rules on Horizon

Draft Amendment # 3 to the Interstate Fishery Management Plan for American Lobster

The Atlantic States Marine Fisheries Commission's Draft Amendment #3 to the Lobster Fishery Management Plan will be presented at DMF/MFC public hearings scheduled for August 25 (Gloucester), August 26 (Boston), and August 27 (Buzzards Bay). The goal of the Amendment is a healthy lobster resource and a management regime that provides sustained harvest, maintains opportunities for participation, and provides for cooperative development of conservation measures by all stakeholders.

Objectives Some of the Amendment's objectives are to:

  • Protect, increase or maintain, as appropriate, the brood stock abundance at levels which would minimize risk of stock depletion and recruitment failure;
  • Develop flexible regional programs to control fishing effort and regulate fishing mortality rates;
  • Implement uniform collection, analysis, and dissemination of biological and economic information;
  • Maintain existing social and cultural features of the industry wherever possible;
  • Promote economic efficiency in harvesting and use of the resource;
  • Minimize lobster injury and discard mortality associated with fishing;
  • Increase understanding of biology of lobster by improving data and stock assessment models; and
  • Improve cooperation between fishermen and scientists;

This fishery management plan seeks to restore egg production from the lobster resource in each of the management areas to greater than the overfishing level within eight years from adoption of the FMP, i.e., before the end of 2005. The lobster resource is overfished when it is harvested at a rate that results in egg production from the resource, on an egg-per-recruit basis, that is less than 10% of the level produced by an unfished population.

Management Program
Because of the variety of fisheries for lobster, and the need for management that responds to stock and fishery conditions in multiple specific areas, the management program for Amendment 3 is specified on a number of levels. This fishery management plan (FMP) recommends continuation of all of the management measures that have previously been applicable in federal waters and those measures contained in Amendment #2 to the ASMFC FMP for Lobster. In addition, Amendment #3 will also place additional requirements on state conservation and management programs.

The minimum size for American lobster shall be 3-1/4 inches carapace length. Larger sizes are being considered. It shall be unlawful to possess a V-notched female lobster. The prohibition on possession of a V-notched female lobster applies to all persons, including, but not limited to fishermen, dealers, shippers, and restaurants.

All fishermen must have a permit in order to land or possess a lobster. The permit must be issued by the jurisdiction in which the lobster is possessed. Lobsters caught or possessed in federal waters require a federal permit, plus a permit for each subsequent jurisdiction into which the lobster is brought before it is landed, until or unless an area access program is approved by the Board.

The preferred alternative for pot fisheries is that it shall be unlawful to possess a trap larger than 50" x 27" x 17", exclusive of the runners. Fishermen that already have traps larger than this size shall be permitted a 10-year period to phase-out all existing, larger traps. States/Areas are not prohibited from requiring smaller sized traps. All lobster traps, whether fished commercially or recreationally, must contain at least one rectangular escape vent per trap with a minimum size of 1-15/16 inches by 5-3/4 inches.

The Board intends to implement area-specific proposals to reduce or cap the number of traps. Each of these proposals would likely cap traps at some set number in the first year of the plan. In areas where trap numbers need to be reduced, the plan would then require incremental reductions in the number of traps allowed to be fished by a fishermen.

License limitations, or moratoriums on entry into commercial fisheries may be established for fisheries in state waters within any management area. It is the preferred alternative that no new permits should be issued for commercial fishing in federal waters.

Optional Measures
The following measures may be applied within each of the respective management areas on an optional basis in order to meet the goals of Amendment 3: maximum size limit; mandatory days off/minimum layover days per week; closed seasons; limited trap hauling hours; owner/operator requirement; cap/target for landings; and crew size limitations.

Mobile Gear Fisheries
Mobile gear fisheries will be limited to landing no more than 50 _ 200 lobsters per day up to a maximum of no more than 250 _ 1000 lobsters per trip, for multi-day trips; annual mobile gear fishery landings will be limited to no more than 2 _ 8 % of the previous years total lobster landings. The states and industry have determined that it is undesirable for the mobile-gear sector to target soft, newly-molted lobsters with mobile gear. Therefore, states will be required to institute measures to prevent trawling for lobsters in areas where soft lobsters are common.

Federal Waters
Both preferred and non-preferred recommendations to the Secretary are contained throughout the Management Plan sections on specific management measures. When the plan is finalized and the management regime is known for each of the areas, this section will list all of the recommendations that the Commission will be proposing to the Secretary. In general, the draft Plan recommends that the Secretary: 1) keep the moratorium on new federal permits; 2) continue the federal regulation currently in place; 3) require that fishermen comply with the landing laws of the state in which they land lobsters, regardless of where they were caught; 4) implement any further measures that will be required on a coastwide basis in this plan.

Monitoring and Reporting
The current monitoring and reporting program cannot support effective management of the area management system currently being considered in this plan. Both the amount and quality of the data must increase if the lobster resource is to be effectively monitored and managed. Therefore, the Board is soliciting public comment on the following reporting system.

Monthly Reporting
Each commercial fishermen and dealer will be required to report to their respective states information on their fishing activities. The following types of information may be required to be reported by fishermen: landings by area (as specific as possible), vessel, and gear type; effort by gear type (e.g. # of days fished/catch per day, trap hauls per day, soaktime, bait used). The following types of information may be required to be reported by dealers: pounds and date landed by market category; value.

A small subset (the harbor porpoise program samples less than 5% of fishermen) of the total fishermen in the fishery would be subsampled periodically according to a sampling protocol designed by the Technical Committee. When requested, fishermen are required to permit biologists on Board to sample their catch. Any information collected will be kept confidential.

ASMFC summary as modified by Bruce T. Estrella

DMF Research Published

Two DMF biologists, Michael Armstrong and Bruce Estrella, had their research published in the scientific journal, Fishery Bulletin (Volume 95, No. 3, July 1997). Another biologist, Steven Cadrin, published in the same issue his research done during his years with DMF. He now works for the National Marine Fisheries Service.

Michael's paper, "Seasonal and ontogenetic changes in distribution and abundance of smooth flounder, Pleuronectes putnami, and winter flounder, Pleuronectes americanus, along estuarine depth and salinity gradients," provided a quantitative comparison of the occurrence of these two flounder in various habitats in upper Great Bay Estuary, New Hampshire. Michael found that the potential for competition between these two species was lessened by their distribution influenced by water depth and salinity.

Bruce co-authored his paper, "Seasonal movement of offshore American lobster, Homarus americanus, tagged along the eastern shore of Cape Cod, Massachusetts," with Thomas Morrissey, a former DMF employee of many years. These two lobster biologists concluded from their analysis of lobster tagging data that lobsters tagged off Provincetown, Truro, and Eastham were onshore migrants from an offshore stock that seasonally become "superimposed" on the endemic inshore stock. They concluded: "The relative importance of the offshore lobster resource to recruitment in shoaler waters must be assessed. We need to know the degree of interchange between the two lobster groups in order to refine stock assessments."

Steven co-authored his paper, "Retrospective analysis of virtual population estimates for Atlantic menhaden stock assessment," with NMFS' Douglas Vaughn. These investigators delved into the intricacies of assessments of menhaden (pogy) abundance and their effects on the nature of fishery management advice.

Hats off to these current and former DMF biologists for their accomplishments!

"Schoolie" Stripers Diagnosed With Lymphocystis

Sportfisheries Program biologists have received a number of phone calls regarding "schoolie" striped bass (typically measuring 12"- 18") with fin abrasions and a yellow/white slimy and granular growth on their sides. A good number of these fish were noted in and around Sandwich and Barnstable estuaries along Cape Cod Bay and in West Falmouth Harbor. Anglers from other parts of the state have also reported infected fish in their catches.

Samples obtained by DMF staff were delivered to pathologists at the Woods Hole Marine Biological Laboratory, who diagnosed these fish as having lymphocystis. Lymphocystis is a virus-caused disease fairly common among spiny-rayed freshwater and marine fishes. Effects on individual fish are typically non-lethal but the disease makes fish unattractive to fishermen. Although reported as rare in striped bass, when noted it is commonly associated with temperature stresses, overcrowding, and abrasions to scales and fins.

As the large year-classes produced in the past few years recruit to our waters in record-breaking numbers and these fish prolong their stay in our waters, or over winter here, we expect to see more of this disease and winter fish kills. Anyone noting striped bass with signs of this disease, or fish kills, are encouraged to report them to DMF.

By Paul Caruso

Groundfish update: Are we there yet?

An unprecedented decline in the Northeast groundfish stocks led to Amendments 5 and 7 of the New England Fishery Management Council's Northeast Multispecies Management Plan. The amendments' objectives were to reduce mortality of groundfish (e.g., cod, haddock, yellowtail flounder) caused by fishing, and to increase groundfish abundance. This was to be accomplished by reducing fishing effort and implementing large area closures, gear restrictions, and possession limits for recreational and commercial fisheries.

Nearly three years have passed since Amendment 5 with its emergency year-round area closures. Amendment 7 was implemented about one year ago. Consequently, the obvious question has been asked by managers and fishermen: "Are we there yet?"

To assess the amount of stock recovery, three questions need to be addressed: (1) Have the Council's target fishing mortality rates for the stocks been achieved?; (2) What is the abundance of the spawning stocks (abundance of adult fish) in relation to the Council's minimum thresholds?; and (3) Has there been good production of young fish (recruits) needed to rebuild spawning stocks?

Scientists continue to evaluate the Plan's progress. In June of this year, the status of Georges Bank cod, haddock, and yellowtail flounder, Gulf of Maine cod, and Southern New England yellowtail flounder were reviewed by scientists at the 24th Stock Assessment Workshop (SAW) held in Woods Hole. These assessments will be critiqued by a Congressionally-mandated National Research Council review panel this summer.

In general, results of these stock assessments were positive. The status of Georges Bank cod and haddock and the two yellowtail stocks has improved. Fishing mortality for these stocks are near or below the target levels established for rebuilding. Spawning stock biomass has increased for these four stocks; however, abundance remains low relative to historic levels. Spawning stock biomass is less than the threshold for Georges Bank cod, Georges Bank haddock and Southern New England yellowtail, and near the threshold for Georges Bank yellowtail. A threshold has not been established for Gulf of Maine cod. A threshold is a minimum abundance level above which the probability of good recuiment improves.

Although spawning stock biomass for these stocks has improved from record low levels, recruitment in 1994, 1995, and 1996 remained low relative to historic levels for Georges Bank cod and haddock and Southern New England yellowtail. Recruitment for Georges Bank yellowtail is just average. Thus, the rate of stock rebuilding for these four stocks will be modest over the short term. If fishing mortality remains at 1996 levels, landings should increase for haddock and the two yellowtail stocks. Nevertheless, the SAW concluded that although the situation for these four stocks is better, strong management measures need to be maintained for continued rebuilding that eventually will lead to increased, sustainable landings.

The logic for more protection and keeping fishing mortality under control is clear. Low fishing mortality directly increases the spawning stock biomass by allowing more fish to grow and spawn (reproduce) before harvest. The number of eggs a female produces is proportional to its weight, therefore, the larger the fish, the greater its contribution to spawning stock biomass. The effects of a single year of growth is seen in the following example: a 3-year old cod, weighing around 4 lbs., will increase to over 6 lbs. a year later, an increase of 52%. Additionally, as spawning stock biomass increases, the probability of good recruitment increases. Consistent good recruitment quickly rebuilds the spawning stock. Abundance spirals upwards.

In contrast to Georges Bank cod, the situation for Gulf of Maine cod is bleak. Fishing mortality hasn't declined and remains well above the overfishing definition. Recruitment for the last two years is the poorest recorded. Spawning stock biomass dropped to a record low in 1994; it has since stayed near that level. At the current fishing mortality, spawning stock biomass and landings will continue to decline. The SAW advised that the stock is on the verge of collapse and that fishing mortality should be reduced to a level approaching zero.

Why hasn't the Gulf of Maine cod stock improved like the other stocks? Several factors are at work. Fishing effort may have shifted to the Gulf of Maine due to offshore closed areas and effort restrictions. Approximately 50% of cod landings in the Gulf of Maine are landed by vessels making one day trips. Many of these vessels were exempted from Council days-at-sea restrictions prior to 1997. In addition, the way fishing effort was defined for regulatory purposes was advantageous to the traditional small day-boat fleet found in the Gulf of Maine, and as a result, these vessels were not impacted as greatly as offshore trip vessels by days-at-sea restrictions. Fortunately, in 1997 the Council adopted further Gulf of Maine restrictions such as trip limits and gillnet effort reduction measures to reduce mortality on cod. More restrictions probably will be needed to achieve the target mortality for Gulf of Maine cod.

So the answer to the question: "Are we there yet?" is: "Not quite, but we appear to be heading in the right direction for some stocks." The Georges Bank and Southern New England stocks are beginning to show benefits from recent management regulations. Stock sizes have increased. More protection is needed for Gulf of Maine cod and fishing mortality rates cannot be allowed to increase on the other four stocks if rebuilding is to continue.

By Steven J. Correia

Catch and Release Survivorship Studies on Big-Game Fishes

Since 1993, DMF sportfisheries biologists have been studying physiological effects of rod and reel angling on post release survivorship of sharks and tunas. Catch data generated by DMF's tournament sampling program since 1987 (see article in last quarter's DMF News), show that a high percentage of these big game fish are released. In addition, federal imposition of a commercial minimum size and recreational bag limits for bluefin tuna has increased numbers of this species released annually. The objective of the 4-year study has been to determine physiological effects of angling stress on large pelagic species. This project has received financial and technical support from the National Marine Fisheries Service and generous field support from numerous fishermen.

A two-pronged approach has been taken by DMF biologists to quantify and characterize effects of angling. First, relative health of the fish is determined by taking a blood sample after the fight. High muscular activity and stress induced by angling causes changes and disturbances in fish tissues and organs. These changes, manifested in blood, may be severe enough to alter normal physiology and behavior, and ultimately compromise survivorship. In some cases, fish may die, either on the line or more likely after release. Such as with evaluations in human medicine, various chemical constituents of blood can be used to profile condition of the fish before it is released. For each species, changes in blood chemistry can be compared to several variables which are associated with the fight such as tackle type, fight time, water temperature, and fish size. Is a tuna or shark capable of recovering from the internal disturbances caused the angling event?

The studies second part involves actual assessment of survival with acoustic telemetry. Sharks and tunas fought for extended periods have been outfitted with acoustic "pingers" which allow DMF scientists to follow the fish, tracing its location and depth over several hours. This provides direct evidence of short term post-release survival. In addition, since most of the fish blood sampled to date have been tagged and released, tag-recaptured fish provide direct evidence of long term survival. The levels of exhaustion that tunas and sharks can withstand comes from the correlation of blood chemistry data, fight data, and survival information.

To date, 317 big game fish comprised of 14 species of sharks, tunas, and marlin have been blood sampled during the study. The bulk of these fish are bluefin tuna (105), yellowfin tuna (62), and blue sharks (72). Preliminary findings show that these fish exhibit fluctuations in blood pH and blood levels of hormones, electrolytes, and metabolites due to the fight associated with rod and reel angling. Each species was found to have a different physiological response to angling. For example, the metabolic byproduct of anaerobic glycolysis is lactic acid. Analysis showed that blood lactate levels in angling-stressed tunas were significantly higher than those in sharks and marlin. Moreover, bluefin tuna possessed extremely high levels of blood lactate relative to other species sampled.

During the second phase of the study, DMF biologists have tracked 10 bluefin tuna, 4 blue sharks, and 1 yellowfin tuna for periods ranging from 2 hours to 48 hours. Five of the bluefin were tracked in cooperation with researchers from the New England Aquarium, the University of Hawaii, and commercial tuna fishermen, Bill Chaprales and Jeff Tutein. These fish were not taken on rod and reel; the acoustic tag was applied with a modified harpoon. The behavior of these "non-stressed" fish will be compared to that exhibited by the other five exposed to capture stress. In addition, four of the stressed bluefin were tracked off the coast of Hatteras, NC, where a rapidly expanding catch and release winter fishery has developed.

All of those fish fought on rod and reel, blood sampled, and released carrying acoustic transmitters were determined to be completely exhausted by the event, and all survived the duration of the tracks. In addition, tag recaptures of two blue sharks and one yellowfin tuna that were previously blood sampled by the study provided long term evidence that these fish were not physiologically compromised by the angling experience or the tagging.

It is anticipated that this study will be completed in 1997 with additional tracks of bluefin, yellowfin, and blue sharks. Although preliminary, results of this study indicate that concerns of high mortality due to exhaustive exercise associated with rod and reel angling may not be justified. Nonetheless, this study does not fully take into account long term effects of physical trauma resulting from the fight. Rough handling of fish, use of gaffs, internal hook damage, poor tagging, and excessive time out of water can cause irreparable damage to a fish that is released. Post-release predation is another factor that may increase in association to angling stress. Recovery may take days or months if the fish survives, and will require a metabolic cost. While some degree of physical trauma can be assessed in this study, short term ultrasonic tracking may not be sufficient to measure long term effects of such trauma. Tag recaptures of our sampled fish do help to rectify this. Physiological stress can be minimized by reducing fight and handling time. However, physical trauma can only be reduced through conscious efforts of anglers when choosing to release a fish. Hook design, handling methods, tagging tools, and experience all play a major role in proper release of all gamefish.

By Greg Skomal and Brad Chase


EDITORS: Dan McKiernan & David Pierce
GRAPHICS: David Gabriel

DMF receives state and federal funds to conduct research, management and development of the Commonwealth's marine fishery resources. Information in this publication in alternative formats is available.

Philip G. Coates, Director, DMF
John C. Phillips, Comm'nr DFWELE
Trudy Coxe, Secretary, EOEA
Argeo Paul Cellucci, Governor

Comments and suggestions for the newsletter are welcome. Please contact the Editors at (617) 727-3193, or write to DMF, 100 Cambridge St., Boston, MA 02202.

Publication #17020-12-7000 8/97-$2030

Division of Marine Fisheries
100 Cambridge Street
Boston, Massachusetts 02202

Division of Marine Fisheries

Public Hearings / Regulations / Legislation

Volume 7 Number 3

Table of Contents for Rules Update....

Notice of Public Hearings
Scheduled for August 25, 26, & 27, 1997


Under the provisions of G.L. c. 30A and pursuant to the authority found in G.L. c 130 ss. 17A, 80, and 104, the Marine Fisheries Commission has scheduled hearings on the following:

1) DMF proposal to amend the existing 3-week Sea Herring Spawning Closure (322 CMR 9.00) to enhance spawning protection. Two options will be considered:
Option 1) Retain the 3-week closure but change the starting date to September 17, one week earlier than the current Sept. 24 - October 14.
Option 2) Use biological data gained through monitoring herring spawning condition and then close the fishery when warranted, enabling DMF to close as early as September 17 if herring spawning is early; DMF also seeks comments on a proposal to extend the closure beyond three weeks if warranted (e.g. more than 25% of herring contain spawn).

2) DMF will accept comments on a recent emergency action that clarified the summer flounder possession limits to make them on a per-vessel limit basis instead of a per-permit limit. Also DMF established a process to authorize vessels not engaging in fishing activities to transport summer flounder under the authority of a valid dealer's permit.

3) DMF proposal to require escape vents and biodegradable escape panels in scup pots and sea bass pots (322 CMR 6.12) as required by the interstate fishery management plan.

4) DMF proposal to no longer issue permits to participate in the limited circle-gillnet fishery for bluefish (322 CMR 4.05 ) that is permitted in south eastern Cape Cod Bay and south of Cape Cod.

5) The interstate Lobster Management Plan as drafted by The Atlantic States Marine Fisheries Commission will be presented and comments accepted.

Three hearing dates have been reserved:

Monday, August 25, 1997 Mass. Maritime Academy in Buzzards Bay,
Tuesday, August 26 at UMASS Boston, and
Wednesday August 27 at the Gloucester Fuller School.

All hearings will begin at 6:30 p.m. for items # 1 through #4.
Lobster Management Plan will be discussed at or after 7:00 p.m.

Atlantic States Marine Fisheries Commission

Striped Bass Management Plan Ready for Change

The Atlantic States Marine Fisheries Commission's (ASMFC) Striped Bass Board has voted to develop another amendment to the Atlantic Striped Bass Plan to further manage this important resource for 1998 and 1999. Addendum II is needed because the current plan does not provide management guidance after this year.

After receiving new information that 1996 harvest rates in the coastal fishery were approaching the maximum allowable rate, the Board agreed to identify various options to adjust fishing practices in 1998 and 1999 in response to significant increases in recreational harvest. In addition to these options, ASMFC will describe at public hearings: (1) new modeling techniques being used for striped bass stock assessments and quota estimation and (2) options for allocating quotas between states and user groups. To assure future sustainability of the striped bass resource, the Board will ask for public comment on establishing more conservative harvest rates.

Public comment on these changes will help striped bass advisors and the Board determine final actions for Addendum II. DMF will host ASMFC September hearings on this subject in Gloucester (24th) and Buzzards Bay (25th). Details of the Amendment and the hearings will be distributed as soon as they are finalized.

Regulatory UPDATE

During the period June - August, the following decisions were made by DMF and the Marine Fisheries Commission regarding issues aired at the June 24-26 public hearings.

Groundfish management actions regarding cod trip limits and winter flounder protection for state waters to complement federal actions. Two actions were proposed: A). 1000 lb cod trip limit for any vessel fishing within state waters, and B) a requirement that trawlers fit their nets with 6" diamond mesh (instead of square mesh) to enhance escapement of winter flounder. Both items were postponed pending imminent federal action.
Some background: while many of the offshore stocks have shown positive signs of recovery (See article in this DMF News by Steve Correia), Gulf of Maine Cod and winter flounder have not "turned the corner" to recovery. These two nearshore stocks are probably suffering additional exploitation because groundfish vessels are displaced from offshore closed areas to those remaining open areas nearshore in the Gulf of Maine.
Federal fishery managers have already enacted a 1,000 lb per day cod trip limit, and this rule would apply to any vessel that possesses a federal permit - even if that vessel were fishing in state waters. For a vessel with only a state permit, the federal rule would not apply. Nearly all trawlers and gillnetters have federal permits so they would already be required to comply with the trip limit.
As for winter flounder, the prescribed use of "diamond" mesh would enhance escapement of undersized fish. Ironically, what's good for flounder may not be good for cod. The use of diamond mesh would result in more undersized "roundfish" being caught. Diamond mesh enhances escapement of undersized flatfish, while square mesh works best for roundfish.

Pot Fisheries: Regulation eliminated that required fishermen who participate in various pot fisheries (lobster, conch, fish) to limit their number of traps to the limit of the pot fishery with the lowest limit. This regulation enacted back in the mid '80's proved to be confusing, cumbersome and unenforceable. DMF hopes to devise a trap tag system for fish and conch pot fisheries in 1998.

Striped Bass Commercial Permitting: The Commission discussed the complex system of striped bass commercial permitting. DMF issues to bona-fide charter boat operators striped bass special permits ($10 per permit up to six per boat) to cover the fishing activities of customers when bass are sold at the end of the trip. These "John Doe" permits are not available to private boat operators. DMF and MFC decided to pursue a new and improved permitting system through legislation. One new permit may be a striped bass boat permit covering all anglers aboard the boat. The Commission's Commercial Licensing Subcommittee will be proposing an overhaul of all commercial permit types. Legislation will be filed for 1998.

Mass. Commercial Fishermen's Association Petitions:

A) Request for gear-free zones for mobile gear (trawlers, scallopers) access in Massachusetts and Cape Cod Bays. The Commission was sympathetic to the plight of draggermen who have documented that fixed gear precludes them from seasonal fishing in key areas. MFC requested DMF arrange meetings between draggermen and fixed gear fishermen to determine if agreements between the groups could be accomplished instead of formal regulations. DMF staff will report at the September MFC meeting. DMF and the MFC attempted to broker an agreement between industry groups in 1989 when they undertook a year-long effort to reduce fishing effort and reduce gear conflicts. While the "seamless package" of proposals was not enacted in its entirety, many of the proposals have been enacted one at a time over the past eight years. However, gear-free zones to accommodate trawlermen were never enacted.

B) Request to allow night trawling for scup in Nantucket Sound until midnight, currently prohibited by the night closure to trawling. The Commission has heard past testimony that scup are far more vulnerable at night than during the day. This request would not just allow the so-called "evening tow" from dusk into the darkness; but would also allow an additional tows. However, scup are considered overfished and in need of cutbacks in mortality. The Commission voted against increased access at this time. DMF first enacted the night closure to trawling in 1992 in Vineyard and Nantucket Sounds to protect scup, and extended it later that year to all state waters.

Massachusetts Coastal Conservation Association (CCA) petition to reduce bluefish recreational limit from 10 to 3 fish and to enact a commercial bag limit of 100 lbs. plus one fish. The Commission rejected this petition. DMF expects to enact new rules for bluefish for 1998 when the Atlantic States Marine Fisheries Commission and the Mid Atlantic Fisheries Management Council will be recommending changes for the 1998 fishery to address the decline of bluefish stocks. Recreational rule changes for next year could include a minimum size as well as a drop in the recreational bag limit.

Squid trawling with small mesh nets temporarily extended in 1997 through June 15. This was a 15-day extension of the fishery. Fishermen were allowed to continue to trawl for squid in waters under the jurisdiction of the Commonwealth south of Cape Cod and around the islands. Sea sampling - as well as reports from dealers and fishermen -showed the squid size composition remained predominately large through the period. Cooler than normal temperatures likely delayed the normal succession where squid size shifts to predominately small squid

Legislative UPDATE

H. 90, the bill which would raise penalties for the possession or selling of scrubbed or dipped lobsters and H. 91, which would allow DMF to promulgate regulations regarding the transfer of limited entry fishery permits, were reported favorably from Natural Resources and are currently before House Ways and Means. S. 1013 (S. 1082 was attached), which would permit the on-shore processing of shell-on frozen lobster tails by wholesale dealers, passed the Senate on July 22 and is currently before House Steering and Policy. S. 1074, which would prohibit the sale of live bait in a plastic container, was reported favorably from Natural Resources and is before Senate Ways and Means. The bill is in the process of being redrafted.

For information about these bills or other legislative matters, please contact Priscilla Geigis, Deputy General Counsel, DFWELE. Phone: 617-727-1614, ext. 388.

UPDATE is published quarterly to publicize regulatory matters affecting marine fisheries.
Director: Philip G. Coates, DMF
Commissioner: John C. Phillips, DFWELE
Secretary: Trudy Coxe, EOEA
Governor: Argeo Paul Cellucci
Editor: Daniel J. McKiernan, DMF / Art Dir.: David G. Gabriel, DFWELE

Date Last Update: August 26, 1997