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Council Votes for 100% Observer Coverage, No Dumping
April 08, 2009
This past October, midwater trawlers fishing in Groundfish Closed Area 1 (CA 1) were observed having high levels of haddock bycatch. When these boats first gained access to these areas in 1998, it was under the (false) assumption that since they were so-called ‘midwater trawlers’ that they did not interact with groundfish. But just incase, a rule was put in place that said that bycatch of groundfish exceeded (or were likely to exceed) 1% or more of their overall catch, that the access to these areas could be rescinded.
(It should be noted that many have questioned the decision to allow these vessels into the closed areas since the day it happened. The decision was made based on a tiny sampling of tows, none of which were even in the closed areas. Just about every fisherman in the region knows that the name ‘midwater trawl’ is a misnomer, and that the gear is more than capable of catching groundfish.)
As a result of the bycatch observations from this Fall, the NEFMC voted in Novemeber to request that the National Marine Fisheries Service analyze the data to determine whether this 1% threshold had been met and, if so, to determine whether access to CA 1 should be rescinded.
After months of looking over the data, a couple weeks ago Pat Kurkul, head of the Northeast Regional Office of NMFS, released the data and asked the NEFMC to schedule a discussion of this issue.
At today’s meeting, the discussion finally happened. The issue was debated for hours and most of the NEFMC, led by David Pierce from MA DMF and Dave Goethel, a fisherman from New Hampshire, made it clear that they believed action had to be taken. While it took hours to settle on the right motion, they eventually voted to require that midwater trawlers must have 100% observer coverage if they want to fish in CA 1. They also voted (in the same motion) to require that there be no dumping of unsampled catch. This last point is a big one, as many have worried that 100% observer coverage is essentially meaningless as long as dumping was allowed.
The next step is for NMFS to implement the Councils request. The discussion at the meeting between the NEFMC and staff from NMFS seemed to imply that the agency will probably follow through on the NEFMC’s wishes: NMFS did make it clear that they believed that they had the necessary funding for observers to cover all the trips, which is important in terms of these changes being implemented. Also, Paul Howard, Executive Director of the NEFMC explained that the original rule allowing these boats in the closed areas specified that changes to the Letter of Authorization (which allows them into the areas) could be made if the 1% threshold is surpassed, which puts to rest the claims made by some in the audience that the managers do not have the authority to make the move that they made today. But for now we will just have to wait and see how it all plays out and we will keep you posted on any developments.
All in all, this was a major development in terms of management in the herring fishery. Good work to all those who helped in making this happen!