Mandatory reporting: What we’ve learned

First published in the MLA Newsletter, May, 2011.

“We sell ourselves short on how significant this fishery is,” said Department of Marine Resources (DMR) lobster biologist Carl Wilson, referring to Maine’s lobster fishery. “It’s huge.”

In 2008, DMR implemented a mandatory dealer reporting system for all commercial fisheries according to protocols established under the Atlantic Coastal Cooperative Statistics Program. All 1,600 licensed seafood dealers in the state began reporting to DMR on what they bought, who they bought it from, the amount and grade of what they bought, gear types used and ports in which the seafood was landed. DMR also began collecting catch information on the state’s green crab, sea cucumber, seaweed, horseshoe crab, eel, halibut, whiting, herring, sea scallop, shrimp, and spiny dogfish fisheries.

The state’s approximately 650 lobster dealers have been reporting trip-by-trip data to DMR since then. DMR landings program scientists Heidi Bray and David Libby pulled together the results of the first two years of reporting this winter. Their 18-page report, “Managing Mandatory Dealer and Harvester Reporting in Maine,” analyzes data from July 1, 2008 to October 31, 2009, vindicating those who thought reporting was necessary and perhaps opening the eyes of those who didn’t. “Since we started collecting the more detailed information, we know how many active fishermen there are in each fishery and how many fishermen utilize different fisheries, are active in those fisheries, [and] when they switch to those fisheries,” Bray wrote in the report.

Dealer reporting has helped DMR scientists better understand the state’s lobster fleet. “We have thousands of active lobster fishermen,” Bray said, “but a small few are landing the majority of the [catch]. We have a vast number of people that depend on the lobster fishery, but they’re not landing huge catches. They’re earning at least part of their living through the lobster fishery, but the amounts that they’re catching are very low compared to those highliners. So it tells … not just how many active fishermen there are, but how active are they and how active are the really active ones. We can also tell the seasonal types of activities, when people are out and making more trips and how the trips change.” Bray has also gathered socio-economic information such as the number of active fishermen in each fishery and each county.

Wilson has found this information useful. “Although we have only three years of information,” he said, “I think it has given us a better picture of what the true ‘identity’ of the lobster fishery is, in that not only has [the information] given us who’s active and who’s not active, but within those who are active, what is the diversity of the fleet.” Wilson believes that such data will help shape future management decisions. “Now that we have a better understanding of the diversity of the fleet, we can make better decisions. Sometimes management decisions are made and everybody hears about them. Sometimes decisions are made to not take [a certain] action with few people knowing what went on. Regardless of the outcome, making informed decisions benefits everyone. Having trip level data informs the process.”

Although he considers these first years of information “kind of preliminary,” Wilson does see some generalities emerging. “Seventy-five percent of the landings are caught by 30 percent of the fleet,” he said. “Often those are the guys that are heavily invested in the fishery. We interact a fair amount with those guys. But there’s the other two-thirds of the fishermen that might be missed by our sea sampling programs. They might not fish as frequently or they might not have the big boats that could accommodate our samplers easily. In my mind, [the data have] given an awareness of the little guy in the fishery.”

Cutler lobstermen Jeremy Cates, John Drouin, and Norbert Lemieux were not surprised to learn that 30 percent of the fleet landed 75 percent of the catch. “This confirmed what had been suspected for a long, long time,” said Cates simply. Drouin and Lemieux both thought the 30 and 75 percent figures were a fairly accurate assessment. Just looking at different different harbors, boats, gear, and equipment, “tells how [fishermen] work [and] their level of effort and participation,” explained Drouin. “This is a part-time industry that is trying to be run and managed by full-time fishermen.” Cates suggested that clearer definitions of active, full-time and part-time license holders would be helpful. “There are so many differences up and down the coast. Effort is hard to measure and make it equitable,” he said.

Bray defined active as a fisherman who makes one commercial trip in the calendar year. Part-time or full-time definitions vary, depending on who is analyzing the data and how it’s analyzed. “Some scientists have used a minimum number of trips to analyze the activity level of fishermen. Typically, the scientists using the data analyze it multiple ways,” she said.

At this early stage of analyzing trip-level results, Wilson considers Bray’s figures more a matter of describing the quality of the lobster fleet. “Over time,” he said, “that might mean something different to different people, but for me personally as someone interested in the [process of growth and activity] of the fishery, it’s highlighted just how complicated a fishery it is.” He added that although every lobsterman holds the same license, in reality the fleet is very diverse and cannot be pigeonholed into one broad generalization.

These data “suggest that there are a lot of licenses out there that just aren’t being used,” said Downeast Lobstermen’s Association [DELA] executive director Sheila Dassatt. As an example she mentioned that her 87-year-old father still has his license. “At that age they have to give up so much of their independence such as their driver’s license or have to depend on family to help them out. The last thing that they are proud of and can still obtain is their lobster license,” she said.

“On the other hand,” she said, “we have an 800 trap limit, but a lot of the guys and gals are purchasing the tags and perhaps not fishing all of them. They may only be fishing 400, more or less. The problem, she said, lies in the fact that no one knows how many traps are actually in the water at any given time. “Tags have turned more into revenue for the government than what they were intended for, which was to keep track of the number of traps in the water per licensed fisherman,” Dassatt said.

The number of trips taken each year by Maine lobstermen stands out among the data collected. “In the first couple of years, the number of trips completed by the Maine lobster fishery are equivalent to all of the trips made by [all the fisheries of the individual] states [from] Florida to Rhode Island, for all of their species combined,” said Wilson.

Bray added, “The number of trips in Maine’s lobster fishery alone exceeds the total number of trips of all the fisheries combined in any other state on the Atlantic coast. Maine’s lobster fleet has a lot of participants who make a lot of day-trips when compared to other states.” Brays defines a trip to be when a fisherman leaves the dock and returns, regardless of the length of time of the trip.

Wilson said this trip information highlights the size and importance of Maine’s lobster fishery. “For us here in Maine, the lobster fishery is the lobster fishery and is almost taken for granted. Until we had some of this trip level, harvester and dealer data, we were never really able to put it into the context of all the other fisheries on the east coast. So rather than [looking at the data and saying] ‘Aha! Look how bad this is,’ my response is “Aha! Look how good this is.’ It’s really neat!”

Told of the grumbling by lobstermen and dealers about the time the required paperwork takes, Wilson said, “I can say that as their state biologist, I have benefited from this information when I discuss the fishery or in the assessment, or through the Atlantic States Marine Fisheries Commission, or groups, or any kind of inquiries that come in. It’s allowed me to do my job better and represent really what’s going on.”

Active lobstermen

Zone

A

B

C

D

E

F

G

Total

#

1,108

686

860

1,211

543

792

305

4,273

—————————————————————————————————————————

Mandatory reporting has allowed the DMR to:
1. Assess how many harvesters are active in Maine compared to those that hold a license but do not fish.
2. Assess how many harvesters are active in a fishery and how active they are (helps understand the fishing fleet structure and to measure effort).
3. Assess how many harvesters are active in a certain area (county, zone, port or region), which helps in local management decisions. For example, we now know how many lobster fishermen are active per zone, which can be compared with license information to determine the number of latent [not active] license holders.
4. Determine how many fishermen are active by gear type in multi-gear fisheries.
5. Determine basic effort information in a fishery (for example, how many trips took place in a fishery in a certain time period), when those trips occurred and what was caught.

The data have been used to estimate potential impact of lobstering on marine mammals; compared with sampling programs to determine if the programs’ coverage was sufficient; used to help determine the length of the shrimp season and secure disaster relief funds in the shellfish industry; incorporated into stock assessments and ASMFC compliance reports; and used to understand the crossover effort of harvesters between fisheries.

For more East Coast information, visit www.accsp.org/.
For Maine landings, visit www.maine.gov/dmr/comfish.htm.
For custom requests for landings information, contact Bray at Heidi.Bray@maine.gov or 207-633-9504.

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