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


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Amendment 5 update, Haddock bycatch

May 05, 2011

CHOIR Update

There have been a few developments in the herring management world lately and so we wanted to send out an update to bring you all up to speed.

First, as mentioned in the last update, Amendment 5 is in somewhat of a down period right now, as the Council staff develops the draft EIS and management alternatives for the Council to consider in the Fall. That said, just last week there was a brief discussion of one important part of the Amendment at the NEFMC meeting in Mystic, CT. As you know, one of the key aspects of the Amendment is the development of catch weighing alternatives due to the fact that there is no system in place now to actually weigh what is caught. Over the past few years, the discussions over what such a program would look like have been complex at times and, up until this most recent discussion, the State of Maine had been pushing to include options for exemptions for certain areas, which as you can imagine complicated things greatly.

In Mystic, though, there were a couple of developments that may help simplify the whole catch weighing issue in the amendment. The first development was actually less of a development, per se, and was more of a clarification between Council staff, NMFS and the Council. All parties agreed that the best way to proceed was to have a general requirement that all dealers must weigh their catch, while leaving the actual details to the dealers to decide upon. The Council purposely did not make any attempt to standardize the weighing process; the Council and agency felt that this was the best way to proceed since it will allow for different dealers to find different methods that best suit their operations. For example, one dealer might decide to weigh the trucks at a weigh station, while another may decide to use their own scales to weigh totes. While this was a good development, one thing to watch moving forward is how the document will address the verification of such weights.

The second development was in regards to the whole idea of allowing for certain dealers to apply for exemptions that would allow them to avoid weighing their catch. As mentioned above, this had been something Maine was pushing for, and it was serving to complicate the whole issue greatly. In Mystic, however, Terry Stockwell of Maine made a motion to get rid of the exemption option and it passed with full support by the Council. Therefore, this option is now gone and the weighing option would now apply to all dealers.

This whole discussion took about ten minutes and with that we are back to waiting for the eventual EIS to be produced. While there is still much work ahead on behalf of Council staff to get the document ready, there may be other short discussions in the coming months, so stay tuned. Staff believes that they are on pace to have the document done by Fall, at which point the process will start heating back up again.

The second major issue that came up in Mystic had to do with the haddock catch cap for herring ‘midwater’ trawl vessels. As you know, when the decision to allow these boats into New England was first made, it was done so under the assumption that the gear was not capable of catching groundfish (despite the fact that anyone with knowledge of this gear could have told you this was a false assumption). Given the nature of the gear and the way it is fished, it was not long before these boats were catching large amounts of haddock, leading the fishery participants to ask for a bycatch allowance for haddock. This eventually led to a framework (FW 43) that was done by the NEFMC in 2006 that allowed these boats to catch .2% of the haddock ABC. While this action proved that the earlier assumption that had allowed the boats in was wrong, it was nevertheless approved.

In the years following the initial framework, the haddock catch cap was never reached. Despite large levels of haddock in lobster bait at times, and anecdotal reports of dumping, somehow the reported levels of haddock catch were remaining low. That is, until this past year, when NMFS put in place new rules in Closed Area I that required full observer coverage when vessels were planning on fishing in the closed area and also put in new rules that restricted the dumping of catch at sea without sampling. Within a matter of months, the haddock catch cap was almost 80% full, and the vessels were shutting down their offshore operations because they could not fish without catching haddock. While this was a clear sign to many that haddock was being dumped in the past, and that the gear was fully capable of catching groundfish, it led the pair trawl lobby to start pushing aggressively for an even bigger haddock allowance.

As a result of these efforts, the NEFMC began work on Framework 46 to the groundfish plan, the main goal of which was to address the haddock catch cap. Over a matter of months the document was put together and it was boiled down to three options (info on how to find the document at the bottom of this update). The first option was status quo. The second option was to increase the bycatch allowance from .2% of the haddock ABC, to 1% of the haddock ABC. The third option was a more complex option that would have essentially allowed for a larger increase as well as a potential free for all in the first year of the program due to the method with which the byatch would be accounted for. The pair trawl lobby was pushing very hard for Option 3, while just about everyone else felt that Option 2 was enough as it would allow for a fivefold increase in the current allowance. While groundfishermen have so much on their plates right now that they have not been following this FW as closely as they normally would, there was no doubt opposition to such large increases in the haddock allowance for this pair trawl fleet. (It should also be noted that it is amazing that the pair trawl lobby has gone from saying there is no groundfish caught by their boats, to saying there was a small amount, to now needing to be able to land millions of pounds just to keep fishing.)

After working on the document, the groundfish committee met in Mansfield a few weeks back to discuss the document and vote on a preferred alternative. Maine and Massachusetts pushed hard to get Option 3, which would be the largest increase in haddock allowance. Despite these efforts, the committee chose Option 2 as the preferred alternative. This was met by frustration by the herring trawl lobby and their supporters. They said that they would not be able to keep fishing without the biggest increase. On the other side of the equation you had plenty of people who thought there should have been no increase, at least without more effort being made to put in measures to reduce bycatch where possible. CHOIR’s main concern throughout this process was the issue of dumping and we had asked in multiple letters to have the committee address this issue when moving forward. Unfortunately this issue was not discussed in the context of the FW, and most managers said that it would be addressed in Amendment 5, something we hope they keep their word on!

This brings us to the meeting last week in Mystic. At that meeting, the committee brought forward its preferred alternative, which was Option 2. Shortly thereafter, a motion was made (Jim Odlin/Terry Stockwell) to substitute a sub-option (A) of Option 3 as the alternative the Council should choose. This was followed by a lengthy speech in support of the motion to substitute by David Pierce. Nevertheless, the motion to substitute failed 6-9-1-1 (Mary Beth Tooley, a herring lobbyist, recused herself from the vote), with the states of Rhode Island and Connecticut supporting MA and ME in their effort to get Option 3. Next, when the Council went back to the original motion, Option 2 passed by a wide margin, with the Council then voting to submit the document 16-1. Therefore, Option 2- the increase from .2% to 1% of the haddock ABC- is now moving forward.

As you may have heard, this decision to go forward with Option 2 made many in the pair trawl lobby angry. Despite the fact that Option 2 gives that fleet five times more haddock than before, and this had been what they had been initially asking for, they now felt Option 3 was better. Some have said that the haddock cap in general is the reason that certain parts of the herring trawl fleet are not doing very well. As mentioned above, the pair trawl fleet stopped fishing early this past season since they were butting up against the cap.

But what has not been made clear in comments and articles written on the haddock cap issue is that these boats rely heavily on mackerel landings, and that the mackerel fishery has all but collapsed: landings this season are at roughly 1% of the mackerel TAC, a sharp decline from the already-low landings seen in recent years. There is no doubt that the lack of mackerel is going to impact those businesses that rely heavily on it. On top of that, the herring TACs have also been reduced greatly in recent years as a result of new assessments showing that there are a lot less herring out there than previously thought. So while the haddock issue may have impacted these boats this season, there are certainly other major impacts that have led to problems in the pair trawl fishery. And given that the haddock allowance will now be five times higher, one would have to believe that the pair trawl fleet will not have to shut down early again this season.

Anyways, much more could be written about these two issues but I will stop there. Go the link below on the Council site if you want to read more about the FW, as we have really simplified much of it in my discussion above.

Stay tuned in the coming months- especially towards the end of summer- as Amendment 5 will be getting into a much active phase by the Fall.

How to find the FW 46 document

Go the Council NE Multispecies page found Here and then click on the link below for the FW 46 document.

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