Meeting Roundup: December 2011

First published in the MLA Newsletter, December, 2011

The Atlantic States Marine Fisheries Commission

The Atlantic States Marine Fisheries Commission (ASMFC) made a number of important decisions at its meeting in Boston in early November.

Herring

The Atlantic Herring Section reviewed the 2011 fishery, set the 2012 Area 1A sub-annual catch limit allocation, and reviewed the New England Fishery Management Council’s (NEFMC) Draft Amendment 5 to the Atlantic Herring Fishery Management Plan. The Section agreed to divide the Area 1A catch limit allocation into two seasonal periods, with 72.8% available from June through September and 27.2% available from October through December. Each season will close when 95% of that period’s quota has been harvested; the remainder from the June through September period will be rolled into the October through December period.

Lobster

The ASMFC American Lobster Management Board adopted a 10% reduction in exploitation by all fishing sectors and all gear types starting January 1, 2013 as the first phase in the Board’s efforts to rebuild the southern New England stock. The 10% reduction would come from changes in the minimum size limit, maximum size limit, and/or closed seasons. State agencies will convene meetings of the Lobster Conservation Management Teams for Areas 2 through 6 to develop plans consistent with the suite of approved options. States are required to submit plans by December 24 for Technical Committee review.

The Board also moved forward on the development of Draft Addenda XVIII and XIX to initiate the second phase of its rebuilding efforts. Both addenda will propose area-specific measures designed to link the scope of the southern New England fishery to the size of the resource. These options would include, but are not limited to, a minimum reduction in traps fished by 25%.

Menhaden

The ASMFC’s Atlantic Menhaden Management Board approved Addendum V to the management plan for Atlantic Menhaden. The Addendum establishes a new interim fishing mortality threshold and target with the goal of increasing abundance, spawning stock biomass, and menhaden availability as a forage species. The new threshold and target equates to 15% and 30%, respectively. The next step in the amendment process is development of a Public Information Document which will contain information about biological, environmental, social, and economic information, fishery issues, and potential management options. The document also provides for public information about changes observed in the fisheries; actions that should or should not be taken in terms of management, regulation, enforcement, and research; and any other concerns about the resources or the fisheries. A draft document will be presented to the Board at the ASMFC’s next meeting in February, 2012.

River Herring

The Shad and River Herring Board met to review state-submitted sustainable fishing plans for shad and river herring, the development of federal amendments pertaining to bycatch by the New England and Mid-Atlantic Fishery Management Councils, the recent petition to list river herring on the Endangered Species List, and the 2010 Fishery Management Plan Review.

In August, 2011, the National Resources Defense Council petitioned the National Marine Fisheries Service to list river herring on the endangered species list throughout all or part of the species range. NMFS has concluded that, given the information contained in the petition, listing may be warranted. As a next step, NMFS will conduct a status review of river herring. It has requested any information pertaining to river herring be submitted by January 3, 2012. In 2010, American shad, hickory shad and river herring commercial landings all increased from 2009.

MLA Board of Directors’ meeting

At the November 15 MLA Board meeting in Belfast, Department of Marine Resources Acting Commissioner Keliher spoke to the directors about the Legislative Resolve that directs the DMR to hire an independent contractor to review the lobster limited entry system. Commissioner Keliher explained that over the years many bills have been brought before the Legislature from people who are not able to obtain a lobster license in a timely manner. Governor LePage wants the lobster entry system fixed, and for it to include the option of license transferability. The independent analysis must be completed and results reported back to the Marine Resources Committee by 2013.

The Commissioner is reaching out to lobster industry groups and zone councils for feedback. To date, he has met with Zone G, which recommended leaving the current system alone, and the Lobster Advisory Council, which stressed the need to conduct outreach and get broad input from the industry.

The MLA Directors stressed to the Commissioner the need to consider the social and economic ramifications of any changes. Several directors raised their dislike of the Canadian system (which allows for the transfer of licenses), citing the high cost of entry. Others raised concerns over transferability because it could lead to consolidation of the industry and could increase effort in the water if latent effort is not properly addressed. Others emphasized maintaining local control of the entry system through the zone councils but also noted that the current system forces kids to commit to lobstering before they are teenagers and does not provide incentives for them to go to college.

The Board was informed that the ASMFC’s Lobster Board voted to reduce catches for the southern New England lobster stocks by 10% beginning in 2013, despite the peer-reviewed scientific finding that the stock has collapsed. The ASFMC’s Menhaden Board voted to reduce the catch by roughly 37% beginning in 2013. It is difficult to predict if this will lead to a reduction in pogy supply for lobster bait, but it likely will to lead to a price increase due to the reduction in supply. Pat White received the prestigious David H Hart award for his service to ASMFC  (see sidebar). Pat is not seeking to be reappointed to ASMFC when his term expires in January. The MLA has nominated Steve Train of Long Island to the Governor to take Pat’s seat.

The Board was briefed on the November Lobster Advisory Council meeting during which members discussed marketing and the tiered license system. LAC members were generally not interested in considering a tiered license system, since it has been voted down by the zone councils. The LAC formed a subcommittee to continue to explore the issue of marketing Maine lobster. MLA Directors agreed that the industry would benefit from additional marketing, but cited mistrust between harvesters and dealers and lack of confidence in the Lobster Promotion Council as barriers to moving forward. They suggested that the lobster industry would be more supportive if a marketing plan were created that detailed the level of investment is necessary, how the funds would be spent, and the expected benefit and return to the industry.