Summer Flounder Stock Assessment Requested by Legislators

Members of the U.S. House of Representatives push for bechmark assessment to review 2017 quota

Members of the United States House of Representatives are requesting a benchmark assessment for summer flounder in 2017.Kevin Falvey

New Gretna, New Jersey — In a bipartisan letter submitted Sept. 29 to assistant administrator for fisheries Eileen Sobeck, members of the United States House of Representatives stressed the importance of scheduling a benchmark assessment for summer flounder in 2017. Citing the socioeconomic value of the commercial and recreational summer flounder fishery and the looming quota reductions proposed for 2017 and 2018 due in part to a lack of data, Rep. Tom MacArthur and four other representatives indicate that any delay in the assessment of summer flounder "would be a major mistake and threaten the health of the summer flounder population as well as the economy of the communities the fishery supports."

At issue are the findings of the 2016 assessment update, which indicate that a 30 percent reduction to the 2017 summer flounder total allowable catch (TAC) was required based on predicted low recruitment and spawning stock biomass (SSB) relative to the SSB target. These findings were driven by the results of the 2013 summer flounder benchmark assessment, which utilized an out-dated stock assessment modeling approach. If unchanged, the resulting 2017 TAC will be one of the lowest quotas in the management history of the summer flounder fishery.

A benchmark assessment is needed in 2017 so better assessment techniques that are now available can be used to assess both male and female summer flounder independently based on their different life history characteristics. A sex-specific assessment approach can better predict the stock size-recruitment relationship and other biological reference points. Also, biological data on male and female summer flounder gathered primarily from the recreational fishery over the past two years must be inserted into the stock assessment. Doing so would close significant data gaps, which produce uncertainty in the current assessment and further reduces available quota.

"It is imperative that the benchmark assessment is scheduled for 2017 as a benchmark assessment is the only opportunity to incorporate new data sources as well as utilize a different modeling approach developed by Dr. Pat Sullivan under a multiple year science program directed and funded by Save the Summer Flounder Fishery Fund (SSFFF)," explained Greg Hueth, chairman of SSFFF. "If not, both the commercial and recreational industry are going to be in big trouble over the next few years due to the reductions that NOAA is proposing. "

"We appreciate Mr. MacArthur taking the lead on this issue and understanding the need and urgency to improve the science used to set annual fishing limits for fisheries such as summer flounder," stated Jim Donofrio, executive director of the RFA. "The industry has made considerable investment in fieldwork and data analysis to address many of the deficiencies in the stock assessment for summer flounder. It is our hope that NOAA Fisheries acknowledges this work and recognizes the importance of scheduling a benchmark assessment for summer flounder in 2017 in light of the significant quota reductions proposed for 2017 and 2018."