Sunday, August 14, 2011

Fleet Diversity gets a boost

In the ongoing battle to protect the community based fishermen from being consolidated out of the fleet, a small but important victory happened last week. The Groundfish committee of the New England Fisheries Management Council voted to approve a scoping document that begins the formal process of initiating an amendment to Magnusen Stevens that will put protection in place for smaller vessels.

If that all sounds like fisheries gibberish, here it is in plain English: the people who make the fish rules voted to start working on rules to protect a diverse fleet.

The process is somewhat long and cumbersome, but this was an important step to get things going. NAMA (in case you are new here, NAMA is the Northwest Atlantic Marine Alliance and we are one of the organizations that helped launch Cape Ann Fresh Catch and we continue to work very closely with CAFC. I, the primary author of this blog, am Sean Sullivan and I work for NAMA)...NAMA has worked hard to try to get regulators to listen to fishermen who are feeling pinched under catch shares. The primary complaints are that under catch shares they are under economic pressure to get big or get out. We know that the "get big" scenario doesn't work. In fact it can be argued that the whole problem of overfishing is the result of the governments last push to have the fleet "get big".

In any case, over 200 people signed a pledge to support Fleet Diversity. We are still encouraging people to sign the pledge to show fisheries managers that people care about who fishes matters.

Click here to read the pledge and add your name!

In other news, the new CAFC season will be coming along shortly. Fall is typically my favorite season for seafood. Much like terrrestrail plants and animals, fish are often the most "ripe" in the fall having eaten well all summer and adding reserves of fat. Most species will begin to put the feedbag on over the coming weeks and begin schooling up for their migrations. Almost all fish migrate to a certain extent whether it is from rocky shores to deep water, such as lobsters or from deep to inshore such as cod. In my opinion most fish species taste the best in the fall and have the best texture.

Lastly, NAMA has its own blog, and there is some interesting stuff there about fishy events around the area.

Monday, August 8, 2011

100 Dead Fish and Amendment 18

100 Dead fish are 100 dead fish. We can either have one large factory trawler catch all those fish or we can have a diverse fleet that is appropriately scaled to the size of the eco-system, that enriches our communities with local healthy food and provides more jobs.

Quite literally, as seafood consuming folks we have a say in how the fish we eat are caught. Most of us take for granted that there will be folks catching fish in New England from small vessels plying the harbors that dot the coastline of New England - because its been that way for four centuries. But as we look at the current state of the fishery:
  • Three permit holders control 41% of the George's Bank Winter Flounder (which is a choke species*)
  • The groundfish fleet lost 458 crew positions last year.
  • Vessels over 50 ft. increased landings by 8.4% and increased revenues 21.5%
  • Vessels under 50 ft. had landing drop 51.7% and decreased revenues of 34.2%
All of this points to a picture of consolidation of the fleet to larger and fewer vessels. There may always be small vessels plying the waters, but we should not take it for granted or before our eyes we could not only lose the small day-boat fleet and the jobs associated with it, but also the high quality seafood we have come to love at CAFC.

What can you do? Pledge to support a diverse fleet!

Over the coming months, the New England Fisheries Management Council (NEFMC) will debate Amendment 18 to the Magnusen Stevens Fishery Act about whether and how to enact regulations (many of which existed prior to the Catch Shares program) that will help preserve a diverse fleet through allocation caps, quota set-asides for new entrants and owner-operators and measures to foster an affordable fishery through leasing restrictions.

Without these controls in place, we are very likely to see the fleet consolidated further over the coming years, so please consider signing the pledge and lending your voice to a diverse fleet.

* Fishermen are allocated a variety of fish species to catch. Once they catch all of any single allocation they have they cannot fish anymore unless they lease allocations from another fisherman. "Choke species" then are the ones typically considered to be low in allocation.

For example, a fishermen from the South Shore recently reported that he had already caught all of his allocation of Winter Flounder. His choice to continue fishing is to either lease Winter Flounder at $1/lb or stop fishing. Winter Flounder sells for $1.40/lb at the dock. If someone controls a large amount of a choke species they can control who gets to fish.

Monday, August 1, 2011

From the dock...

Local fisherman Doug Maxfield writes a blog about fishing (among other things - fair warning sometimes the content is spicy) and late last week he penned a post about some of the issues we have been concerned about, specifically consolidation of the fishing fleet into fewer boats. We consistently hear that consolidation is happening and it is driving out the small guys most. Doug's view is something we hear all the time from fishermen up and down the coast.

In recent and likely in coming years the costs to go fishing will continue to rise. Everything from fuel to the cost to lease fishing quota (a necessity for many fishermen under the new catch shares management plan). Meanwhile fish prices have remained largely unchanged in the last decade, ranging from 1.50/lb to 2.50/lb.

The resulting picture is not pretty for the smaller day-boat vessels that have the least impact on the ocean and provide the highest quality seafood. Supporting CAFC is a great way to support the local dayboat fleet, but in the long run, more will need to be done to ensure a healthy diverse fishery.

In the coming weeks, NAMA will be making a push to put protections in place for smaller inshore vessels and we hope that some CAFC folks will help us get the message to fisheries managers that people other than fishermen care about who fishes!