CHOIR: Coalition for the Atlantic Herring Fishery's Orderly, Informed, and Responsible Long-Term Development


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Closed Area I Rule comment period opens

September 08, 2010

CHOIR Update

Over the last year or so, there has been a battle ensuing over midwater trawl access to a groundfish closed area known as Closed Area I, or CAI. This is an offshore area that has been off-limits to groundfish boats unless they can gain special access by meeting certain standards (proven through scientific research). Midwater trawlers were initially let into this area (and all closed areas) under the assumption that they did not interact with groundfish. As most people knew then, and everyone knows now, “midwater” gear is very capable of catching groundfish. Because of this, many groundfishermen have been pushing hard to make it so these midwater boats have to meet the same standards they have had to meet to enter these areas.

This effort by groundfishermen and others led to NMFS taking action by proposing a rule last year that would require these boats to carry an observer every time they enter the area. While the data was pretty clear that these boats do catch groundfish, this rule will allow the agency to gain even better data. The proposed rule also laid out a system that would require these boats to pump all fish onboard for sampling if they wanted to dump it, with exceptions for safety, mechanical failures, and dogfish interactions.

While there were plenty of concerns people had with this rule because of the potential abuse of the exceptions, there was strong support for the agency taking strong steps regarding midwater trawl access to this area and this support led to a final rule with regulations officially going into effect in November of last year. This rule incorporated the requirement for 100% observer coverage, the requirement for sampling, and the exceptions mentioned above.

But, in the final rule, NMFS included an additional exception that would allowed for so-called “operational disccards” to be dumped after towing without being sampled. Operational discards are the contents of the net that are not pumped up, and the midwater trawl fleet pushed hard to get this exception put in place. This exception led to a lawsuit filed on behalf of groundfish fishermen from Cape Cod who worried that the exception would undermine the whole rule.

To make a long story short, this lawsuit has led to the opening of a second round of public comments, which published this week. Instead of rehashing anymore here, below you will find a link to the PDF of the proposed rule.

We encourage you to read this rule and send in comments on the issue. This is an important issue because for NMFS to gain accurate data on what these boats are catching in CAI, they need to be able to sample all catch. If these discards are unsampled, who knows what is being missed! Stay tuned for more info on this comment period.

Proposed Rule can be found: Here

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