Congressman Jim Saxton (NJ-03) was joined by his colleagues, Congressmen Frank Pallone (NJ-06), Chris Smith (NJ-04) and Frank LoBiondo (NJ-02), today in sending a joint letter to W. Peter Jensen, Chairman of the Mid-Atlantic Fishery Management Council (MAFMC), that challenges the National Marine Fisheries Service's (NMFS) latest proposed cuts to the summer flounder quota.
The letter asks Jensen to conduct an independent peer review to gauge the NMFS stock assessment. In part, the letter states: "We are concerned about the total allowable landings recommendation recently put forward by the National Marine Fisheries Service. We are writing to encourage you to activate the Council's Scientific and Statistical Committee (SSC) to provide an independent review of the NMFS assessment and consider whether current environmental conditions are preventing the stock from rebuilding."
The letter goes on to state: "The recently enacted Magnuson-Stevens Fishery Conservation and Management Reauthorization Act of 2006 included new requirements for the Fishery Management Councils to have and regularly use Scientific and Statistical Committees. As the SSCs can provide independent peer review of the NMFS stock assessments, we encourage you to activate the Council's SSC and ensure it is prepared to review the 2007 assessment using a robust review process."
The four Members represent most of the Jersey Shore from Cape May to Sandy Hook. They complained that the NMFS's proposed total allowable landings of as low as 11.64 million pounds for the 2008 fishing season are far below the level NMFS estimated just seven months ago. NMFS cut the fluke quota from 30 million pounds in 2005, to 23 million pounds in 2006 and to 17.1 million pounds in 2007, despite the fact that the summer flounder fishery has steadily improved over the rebuilding plan.
"We are all pretty upset about the NMFS proposal and have asked Chairman Jensen to help provide a fully independent review," Saxton said. "We had expected the quotas set only earlier this year to set the pace for the next several years. Those quotas were already significant cuts from 2005 and 2006 levels. The livelihoods of our fishing community is at stake. If the latest proposed cuts are put into place, our fishing-related jobs and businesses will definitely be negatively affected.""Our request for an independent review aims to open and enhance the flounder management process and assure a more comprehensive, thorough and extensive assessment of the critical and mitigating factors," said Smith. "The current biomass target goal is simply unattainable," Pallone said. "Therefore, it is important for the Council to request an intense review of the summer flounder stock assessment that includes both targets and methodology. This will help to ensure that a future biomass target is supported by the most up-to-date information.""For years, our fishermen and the businesses which make their living off of the ocean have been negatively impacted by policies based on suspect science. I have serious concerns about the scientific conclusions NMFS is using to determine next year's summer flounder catch," said Congressman LoBiondo. "Not seven months ago, the estimate presented by NMFS stated that 2008 yields would be more than 19 million pounds. I believe NMFS' recommendations need to be closely reviewed to ensure the decisions being made which significantly affect South Jersey fishermen are justified by sound science."