False Albacore, aka Little Tunny, Fat Albert, Tuna Mac or just simply knuckle busters are tons of fun from Florida to Maine. But, currently, they are an unmanaged species giving them little to no protection from over harvesting. Luckily, good management and good science are on the horizon, thanks to the American Saltwater Guides Association (ASGA). Team Cheeky Fishing sat down with ASGA VP and Policy Director, Tony Friedrich recently, to talk about their exciting False Albacore tagging project, which Cheeky is sponsoring, and to find out what anglers can do to help.
Team Cheeky:Tony, can you tell us a bit about who ASGA is and why they exist?
Tony Friedrich (ASGA): ASGA was founded by myself and John McMurray over three years ago. John and I have worked on countless fisheries policy issues over the years. We deeply care about the resource and about the next generation of anglers. We saw the writing on the wall for many species and instead of working on our own we decided to create a new association. There was a lack of a cohesive voice for those conservation minded anglers especially in the saltwater community. So we created ASGA. We see saltwater as almost a generation behind freshwater as far as their view on conservation and fisheries science. We aim to correct all that. The Guides Association is based on a simple phrase, “Better Business through Conservation.” The simple fact is that the better the resource, the more fish are in the water, and the better our guides and anglers are going to do while fishing. ASGA takes a holistic, researched approach. We live and die by the sword of science and realize that our sector, the recreational fisherman, is as much responsible for the fishery as anyone. We don’t turn anyone, including commercial fishermen, into the boogie man and demonize them.
Cheeky:Tell us a bit about your background and what got you to the ASGA?
TF: I grew up in a hunting and fishing family. If you were born into my family you were fishing from a really young age. It was the only thing I ever wanted to do. After college I got a job with Coastal Conservation Association (CCA) as director for the state of Maryland. Did some great work. Conserved species and made policy changes. I then focused on federal fisheries policy on Capital Hill. After years in DC of this policy work it became clear that we needed a larger voice to move the needle. It became apparent that we needed a new association to charge forward, and the AGSA was formed. At a young age, I was fortunate enough to become close with Lefty Kreh. Lefty taught me so much about not only fishing, but what it meant to have a conscience for the fish. He was more than a mentor to me, and so many others. Part of this is carrying the torch for him.
Cheeky:What is the Albie Project all about?
TF: False albacore is a fascinating species. Tiny tuna that come close to shore and give anglers that feeling of the raw power of a pelagic fish. It is really shocking how little we know about them. We know almost nothing about where they spawn, their migration patterns outside of the anecdotal. We have no idea about how many are out there. And, they have no protection. I could go out there tomorrow and catch 5,000 pounds of false albacore, come to the dock and throw them in a dumpster and I would have done nothing illegal because they are unmanaged. In some areas they are used for bait. Cut bait for sharks, grouper or for offshore. But so many communities rely on them coming through for a few months a year to sustain their livelihoods and the community’s economy. One man’s trash is another man’s treasure.
We started hearing from our guides in Montauk and Martha’s Vineyard: “Where are all the albies?” So when we looked into it, knowing that they were unmanaged, we realized there was no science. When you talk with fisheries managers you often hear that they have no science and no budget for the science. So we decided to raise the money, do great science and give it to them to help them better manage the fish. So, we have a parallel track right now with a science initiative and a policy initiative. We are working with the South East Science Center to install thousands of dart tags and have 100 acoustic tags that have to be surgically implanted. We will be gathering data for the next two years at least. The price tag is ¼ million dollars so I started calling our sponsors like Cheeky and others and the project came together.
At the same time, we are asking fisheries managers to consider managing the fish. We know how long that process can take so we are doing the science and the policy work together. Time is of the essence and I am not a patient man. We are not willing to wait.
Cheeky:What can anglers do to help? TF:Sign on to the letter going to the South Atlantic Fishery Management Council to add False Albacore to the SAFM Plan and be managed.
*** TAKE ACTION: Add your signature to ASGA’s letter to request that False Albacore be added to the South Atlantic Fishery Management Plan.