Friday, November 5, 2010

One of the main purposes of this blog is to keep CAFC members informed about fisheries issues. If you go back and read previous posts from the first to the most recent, you can get a decent sense of the issues fishermen are facing. Since we are at the beginning of a new season, I thought it would be a good time to revisit some of the issues that have been raised and give a glimpse into the regulatory process as it stands today.

So, a quick summary: In May 2010 management of the "groundfish complex" changed from a system that allocated fishermen "days at sea" to fish to a "catch shares system. In other words, fishermen previously were told, you can go fish for X number of days and each "day" you can catch X pounds of cod/haddock etc. The new system fundamentally alters the equation by giving groups of fishermen (called "sectors") an allocation of fish based on their fishing history. Fishermen in the "catch shares" scheme can fish whenever they want for as long as they want until they run out of allocation.

If a fisherman runs out of allocation for any single species he/she is done fishing for that year. If a sector runs out of allocation, the entire sector is shut down. So obviously fishermen are doing anything they can to spread their landing out over the year so they do not run out of allocation.

The initial reactions to sector fishing were mixed. Fishermen liked that they were no longer forced to discard all of their by-catch as they were under the previous system. The negatives as you can hear about here from Joe Orlando, a Gloucester Fisherman, are many including some of the onerous tracking requirements.

It is really not exaggerating to say that fisherman are tracked as tightly or more tightly than criminals. And while some people will say that fishermen brought it upon themselves by fishing the stocks to the point that the regulations were necessary, the real story is quite a bit more complex, and it could be argued that failed government policies had as much to do with the decline of stocks as the avariciousness of fishermen.

One of the things that those of us who regularly attend the meeting of the New England Marine Fisheries Management Council (NEFMC) meetings note is that the structure of the NEFMC meetings are reactive. In other words, the council tends to ignore issues until they absolutely have to. The upcoming docket of issues, called "Framework 45" is a perfect example of the hodgepodge way that the council fixes problems.

Here is the agenda for the next NEFMC meeting Nov 16-18. There are two items that ilustrate this point. One is a discussion of dockside monitoring, the other is a change in the allocation of pollack.

The current policy requires dockside monitoring of 50% or more of vessels - whether or not they have an onboard observer or not. Currently the government pays for the observers, however in the next year fishermen are required to pay for the observers, which can be hundreds of dollars per trip. Many fishermen and most council members agree that dockside monitoring is redundant, to onboard observers as well as dealer reporting requirements. For some small ports getting a monitor to show up at all can be challenging and costly.

Aaron Dority of the Penobscot East Resource Center and manager of the Downeast Coastal Communities Sector reported that in one case the monitor cost more than the value of the fish! Just about everyone knew this was going to be the case when the requirement was put in place, yet in the rush to push through "catch shares" the issue was put off...until now. There does not appear to be a clear resolution at this point.

When it comes to pollack, the initial allocations of pollack were so low that many fishermen feared their sectors would be closed down by the end of the summer because they would catch too many pollack. Fishermen argued that the pollack stocks were healthy and there was no basis for such a small allocation. Well, lo and behold, the scientists found more pollack. 600% more to be precise.

For fishermen, the regulatory landscape has been anything but stable. The constant churn of regulations is dizzying, complex and oftentimes contradictory. There have been few bright spots. However, there are two things that encourage fishermen that there may yet be a light at the end of the tunnel. One is that in many places the fish stocks are doing really well. The second is Cape Ann Fresh Catch, and for being a part of something that is doing something positive for fishermen, the community, your own health and for the eco-system you can certainly feel good about that!

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