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Council Makes Quota Decisions: 11/17 Meeting summary
November 26, 2009
The NEFMC met yesterday in Newport, RI, and spent the entire day discussing herring and herring related issues. Some very important decisions were made at this meeting, including the final decisions on the quota issue. Here is the meeting summary:– 11/17 NEFMC Meeting, Newport, RI
The first agenda item for the day was the setting of management priorities for 2010. As has been discussed here in the past, each year the Council sets it workload priorities in November. Due the high number of Coouncil-managed species, there is only so much that can be done each year. Over the last couple years, herring has been a priority, as the Council has been developing the new amendment (Amendment 5) to the Herring FMP that is focused on putting in place a new monitoring system in the fishery. So, as you can imagine, it was important that herring was chosen as a priority at the meeting so that work on this important amendment can continue. There is also the current amendment (Amendment 4) that is being done to deal with Specs and the ACL/AM process which also needs to be completed, meaning the setting of herring as a priority was that much more important.
The first step in the priority process is when the NEFMC Executive Committee (Ex Com) meets to set what it thinks should be the priorities. The Ex Com met recently and it decided to prioritize herring. The first part of that is the completion of Amendment 4 and the second part is Amendment 5. Amendment 5 previously had 4 parts to it: measures to establish a catch monitoring program, measures to address interactions with teh mackerel fishery, measures to address river herring bycatch, and measures to address access to groundfish closed areas, all of which were prioritized under Amendment 5. Importantly, an additional measure was added to his list by the Ex Com that is aimed at the protection of spawning aggregations. This 5th measure was also prioritized. This is an important addition that will allow the Council to ensure that spawning aggregations, such as that found on Georges Bank, are not depleted. (There has been a lot of concern over the amount of spawn fish being taken by midwater boats in Area 3, for example, and this should allow the Council to look into what is happening and take action if necessary). So, in short, herring was prioritized in full which will allow all of this important work to continue on in 2010. Good work to all those who made this happen!
The next order of business at the meeting was for Dr. Steve Cadrin, Chair of the SSC, to give a report of the SSC discussions pertaining to the Herring ABC issue. Since this was discussed in the previous summary, I will not discuss here. In addition to discussing the report, the Council asked Dr. Cadrin questions about the report and the herring science in general. Dr. Cadrin did his best to answer these questions but since he is only one part of the SSC, it was clear he was not comfortable elaborating on points since he did not want to speak for the members of the SSC who were not in attendance. He did make it clear that while the Council had the choice of what ABC option to go with, he and the SSC wanted them to realize that there are concerns with the health of the resouce and that they needed to keep that in mind when choosing their option.
While Dr. Cadrin was still at the table, the Council decided to go ahead and began the discussion on which ABC to choose for the herring fishery. As mentioned in the last emial, there were three options that the SSC chose to forward on to the Council regarding ABC: the most recent year’s catch, a 3 year average and a 5 year average. At first, Mare Beth Tooley made a motion to go with the 5 year average, which was the highest option, seconded by Jim Odlin. After some discussion on the 5 year average, a motion was made by Dough Grout to change the option to go with the 3 year average, which was believed the be the middle ground. This was discussed for a while before an attempt was made by Sally Mcgee to go with the the recent year’s catch, the lowest of the options. There was some discussion of this attempt and there was some support by a handful of Council members, who felt that due to the advice by the SSC that the risk was too high to go with anything other than the SSC’s first recommendation of 90,000mt. This went to a vote, and it was voted down. In the end, the Council then voted on the motion to go with the 3 year average, which was passed, meaning that the ABC was chosen to be 106,000mt. The Council then broke for lunch.
After lunch, Doug Grout decided to quickly revisit the decision made before lunch to go with the 106,000mt ABC for the next three years. He said that his intention at first was to have that ABC be used for only 2010, not for all three years. It was pointed out that the Council believed that his motion had been for all three years, and that what had been voted on. Regardless of this technical issue, Doug Grout moved to have the ABC be set according to a sliding scale based on the lowering Overfishing limit (OFL) over the next three years. If you remember, based on the SSC advice and the PDT options, the OFL was set to go down over the next three years based on projections of fishing at the current level of FMSY. This would have meant that the ABC would have gone down each year from 2010 to 2012. Grout felt that it was important that the ABC the council chose would also go down each year, and this was behind his move. After some discussion, the Council voted and Grout’s attempt lost by a very narrow margin (8-9), meaning that the Council chose to keep ABC level for the next three years. One thing to note is that this vote made it so that the buffer for scientific will get very small in future years, as the OFL will be going down but the ABC will remain static.
With the ABC set, the Council then moved on to deciding how the ABC would be split up by area. If you remember, the Herring Committee chose to go with Option 2A, which translated to the foll wing area splits: Area 1A: 26,546mt, Area 1B: 4,362mt, Area 2: 22,146mt and Area 3: 22,146mt. As mentioned at the Committee meeting, and again at the Council meeting, the staff and many council members believed that if any additional quota was made available by the SSC, this quota should be put in Area 3. This is because Option 2A makes for a high exploitation rate of the inshore component and if any extra quota was added into Area 1A, 1B or 2, this would impact the already-high exploitation rate because all of those areas have inshore fish in them during parts of the fishing season. While it seemed pretty clear that the Council was going to move to have the extra 16,000mt of quota put into Area 3, Mary Beth Tooley first made an attempt to have the extra quota split evenly among area based on the current proportions. This was shot down and the Council moved to put the extra tonnage in Area 3. Some concern was voiced from the audience about this move because of the concern about Area 3 fishing levels. A couple years back, the areas were re-drawn and the border of Area 3 moved inshore, meaning that Area 3 is not technically “offshore”, as part of it abuts Cape Cod. While this concern is a very valid one, in the end the Council voted to go with the Option 2A, with the extra quota being added to Area 3. It seemed clear that they felt it too risky to put any more fish in Areas 1A, 1B and 2. As mentioned before, this option translates to massive cuts in Area 1A with smaller cuts in the other areas. While there was some discussion of other issues, including a roll over of any quota not caught by the New Brunswick weir fishery, in order to wrap this up I will not go into that now, and will send out the official. summary of the meeting when it is made available.
Now, this was the final decision the Council is going to make on the whole issue of quotas for 2010-2012. Lori will now work to finalize the document, with the hope of submitting it to NMFS by mid-December. What happens then is hard to say as NMFS has a lot of leeway in what they do with these Council recommendations. They can make changes to any of these decisions and so this whole process is not compete yet, although, again, it is complete as far as the Council is concerned. I will keep you all updated on any developments in this process.
While this concluded the biggest decisions of the day when it came to Specs, there was a short discussion at the end of the day regarding the restructured draft document for the catch monitoring program in Amendment 5. As mentioned last month, the Committee decided to try and rewrite the discussion document, essentially mixing an matching parts in an attempt to simplify the document. While it is up for debate as to whether this restructuring simplified anything, Lori and the Committee felt it needed to be done and so it was done. The Council needed to vote to have this method approved or not, and so this was the last discussion. There was a discussion about whether or not anything would be removed from the document when Lori rewrites the document, and it was made clear that this would not happen (eventhough a couple things seemed to have been removed at the Committee meeting in September). So with the understanding being that nothing would be removed, the Council voted in favor of moving forward the restructured draft document. The next step is for Lori to do the revisions and then have the Committee to begin working on the amendment again.
So, as you can see, a lot happened at this meeting. I could have gone longer but I figured that this was long enough, but if you have any questions on what happened yesterday, please let us know. Within a couple weeks the Specs document will be submitted and then everyone will finally get back to work on monitoring, so stay tuned for ways to get involved in that effort.