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10/6 Joint Herring Committee/Herring Section Meeting Summary; Upcoming Meetings
October 20, 2009
The NEFMC Herring Committee and the ASMFC Sea Herring Section had a joint meeting on October 6th in Portland, Maine, to discuss the Herring Specifications (Specs) for 2010-2012. As previously mentioned here, there has been some major developments over the past 6 months in regards to herring science, based primarily on the updated TRAC assessment completed during the summer. When the SSC used the new data, they set a new ABC which is dramatically lower than in recent years and this translates to much lower quotas across the board. While the new assessment and the new ABC had briefly been discussed at the Herring Committee meting in September, this meeting in Portland was the first meeting that was dedicated to discussion of the new science and the Specs. Because of the dramatic nature of the cuts required by the new science, there was some release of emotions from certain members of the Committee/Section regarding their views of the science and the resulting cuts it requires, as well as some reaction from the public. There was a good attendance for the meeting, no doubt because of the nature of the discussions taking place.
One notable example of this was the reaction by David Pierce, of MA, who had submitted a letter before the meeting explaining that he and the state believe that the ABC should not be lowered, and that the current ABC should ‘roll over’ for a year. The basis for this stance was a legal one. Pierce argued that the new Magnuson Act does not require this new ABC to be followed until 2011 because the herring fishery is not overfishing (and herring is not overfished) and therefore ACLs are not legally required until 2011. This is a complex legal argument that he was making and one that most believe does not hold up. Most believe that regardless of this technicality, the science is the science, and the law requires science to be followed. This issue will be determined by NMFS and its lawyers and we will keep you posted on any developments.
In addition to the discussion of the new ABC, a new piece of work was presented at this meeting that could arguably have more of an impact on the Specs than the new ABC. Steve Correia, a scientist with MA DMF, presented a risk analysis that he and Matt Cieri, a scientist with ME DMR, put together regarding the levels of fish that can be removed from the various areas within the fishery based on the overall biomass, the inshore and offshore components, and the mixing ratios between components and areas. Without going into much detail, it is believed that there are two major stock components in the fishery- an inshore and an offshore. While many people believe it is much more complex than that, for all intents and purposes these are the two stocks of herring. The most concern right now is with the inshore component as this has been the most heavily fished component over the last decade. The risk analysis determined that the inshore component is roughly around 100,000mt and that there should be an exploitation rate of roughly .24-.28 if you want to keep the inshore component at healthy levels. They took these numbers, and the mixing ratios, and put together a TAC Allocation Tool which computes the levels of fish that can be taken from the various areas throughout the year to ensure this exploitation rate is not exceeded.
While there is a lot of information that could be discussed regarding this risk analysis, the bottom line is that Correia’s presentation was pretty shocking. It showed that the TACs may need to be cut even more than previously believed, especially in Area 1A. It also showed that the fishing levels on the inshore component have been well above the .24-.28 range in recent years. In short, even if you were to not lower the ABC, you would have to cut the quotas inshore. When you combine the lowered ABC and the risk analysis, you have even bigger cuts. The Committee/Section reacted pretty strongly to this risk analysis, and it was clear that many had not seen this results before the meeting as they were visibly shocked.
After seeing the presentation, the Committee/Section discussed the results and then struggled with how to proceed. They decided to ask the PDT to do two things- first, to lay out some options for the Specs based on the historical levels of TAC distribution and fishing effort based on the new and the old ABC. In other words, to take the two ABC levels and split them up to show what the area TACs would look like based on three different scenarios. These three scenarios were the historical levels, the levels in 2001, and the levels in 2009. They then asked the PDT to look at 3 more options, for each ABC, that used the risk analysis data to determine what the area TACs would be based on three more scenarios. These scenarios were ‘Max Area 1A’, ‘Max Area 2’ and a balanced approach. Basically this meant the PDT would take the TAC Allocation tool and play around with the numbers and see how you could maximize the 1A quota, the 2 quota and then what a balanced approach would look like.
The bottom line is that things dont look good no matter what scenario or option that they choose and the real tough decisions will be how the managers split up the area TACs. While much of the last paragraph may sound confusing, it is pretty simple. Basically what they asked the PDT to do was to set out a bunch of options, some of which conform to the risk analysis, some of which that do not. And they did the options twice- once based on the new ABC, once based on the old. The big thing here is how you distribute the available ABC over the different areas over time. Since different parts of the fishery have interests in different areas, there are some tough decisions that must be made. Since the new data is complex, by lying out options the PDT will help simplify the issues and allow the Committee to make the decisions they need to make. As PDT options show, the numbers are all pretty low no matter how you cut it up, so its not going to be an easy decision for the managers.
There is a lot of work yet to be done and so I will not go into any more detail now but wanted to give you all an update on what has happened so far and to give you the documents so you could take a look at them. I could literally go on for 10,000 more words explaining all the complexities of this issue, but will leave it at that and if anyone wants more detail, please let me know. Again, I am going to attach three things here- the TAC Allocation tool, the ‘read me’ for the tool, and the PDT Spec options.
There are some important meetings coming up, stay tuned for more information.