MLA comments on menhaden management changes, Statoil wind project, right whale stock assessment

First published in the MLA Newsletter, December, 2012.

It’s been a busy fall for the MLA. Proposals for a wind power project, possible changes to the ASMFC menhaden plan and right whale regulations all required comment from the MLA on behalf of its members. Those comments are summarized below.

Draft Amendment 2 to the Interstate Fishery Management Plan for Atlantic Menhaden

Ensuring a steady and sustainable bait supply remains a top priority for MLA.  The fate of the menhaden management plan will strongly influence the industry’s bait supply and its outcome is extremely important to the Maine lobster industry.  Maine lobstermen have long depended on regionally available sources of bait such as herring, menhaden and redfish.  Atlantic herring has long served as the most significant source of bait, however, the Maine lobster industry has diversified its bait supply following reductions to the Area 1A herring quota which started in 2007.  Through this diversification, Maine’s reliance on menhaden has increased significantly…

A 2011 study conducted by the Gulf of Maine Research Institute shows that menhaden accounts for nearly 40% of the bait supply in the Casco Bay area of Maine located in Zone F.  Any cuts in the availability of menhaden for bait in the Maine lobster industry could lead to bait shortages and would certainly lead to increases in bait price…

The MLA fully supports the Commission’s efforts to ensure that menhaden are sustainably managed for use in the bait and reduction fisheries and to meet predator demands.  However, given the level of uncertainty in the current stock assessment, large reductions in catch are not warranted at this time. The MLA strongly urges the ASMFC to conduct a new benchmark assessment to reduce this scientific uncertainty and provide clear advice regarding the level of reductions needed to achieve Target F.  Recent analysis conducted by H.F. Geromont and D.S. Butterworth suggest that the menhaden stock has not likely been overfished over the last decade.  These findings further reinforce the need to conduct a new benchmark assessment before severe cuts or a rebuilding schedule is established…

The MLA is very concerned about the negative economic impacts on Maine lobstermen if there are significant cuts in the amount of menhaden available for use as bait.  If cuts are to be made, the MLA supports a cap based on the three-year average landings level which equates to a ~7% reduction over 2011 landings levels.

Comments on the content of the Environmental Assessment Statement required for Stat Oil’s proposed commercial wind lease in the waters offshore of Boothbay Harbor

As the Maine lobster industry copes with low profitability and … changing ecosystem dynamics, great care must be taken to ensure that any new ocean development does not further strain this fishery…

Maine lobstermen depend upon a healthy lobster population and ecosystem in which those lobsters can thrive.  But even more vital is their ability to access the resource.  Lobstermen recognize that the ocean is a vast and often unpredictable place.  They require a great amount of flexibility to remain successful year after year; what works in one season or one year may not work the next.  Any offshore ocean energy development must be sensitive to the dynamic nature of lobster fishing and the environment in which lobstermen operate.

MLA members have many questions regarding Stat Oil’s lease application to develop a pilot wind project consisting of four 3 MW wind turbine generators in deep water off the coast of Boothbay.  Their greatest concern, however, is the lack of information regarding the company’s long-term objective to develop a full-scale deepwater floating wind turbine facility.  Statoil should provide some indication of the location and scale of the full-scale project if this pilot proves successful…

Maine lobstermen have raised many concerns regarding the routing of the transmission line to the CMP Boothbay substation.  The impacts could vary significantly depending on the type of cable, how it is routed and laid…

The Environmental Assessment must fully consider the economic value of the proposed development site to the lobster fishery today, and also its potential value to the fishery in the future  … The MLA is concerned that current data are inadequate to understand the past and present use of this area by lobstermen, or to understand its importance to the fishery in the future….

Maine lobstermen have expressed great concern over the impact of displacing fishermen from territories that are currently fished.  The Maine lobster fishery is highly territorial which makes it difficult for a fisherman to move easily from one fishing area to another.

The MLA strongly urges any ocean energy development plan to be done in a manner that minimizes loss of fishing bottom or displacement of fishermen to other areas, as both scenarios will add economic strain to those fishermen and to fishermen in surrounding areas.  These economic impacts must be understood, and there must be a process to provide economic remediation to those affected.

Comments on Draft 2012 Marine Mammal Stock Assessment Report on the North Atlantic Right Whale

The Stock Assessment Report (SAR) attributes the annual human-caused serious injury and mortality data for entanglements and ship strikes to either the U.S. or Canada.  The MLA does not believe that U.S. fisheries should be held responsible for serious injury or mortality that occur in Canadian fisheries since those fisheries are not part of our management plan. Therefore, understanding where the human-caused significant injury or mortality takes place is extremely important in more accurately assessing progress against PBR (potential biologic removal)….

Appendix III includes a description of the Northeast/Mid-Atlantic American Lobster trap/pot fishery.  The section on temporal and spatial distribution of the fishery states that “fishing effort is intense and increasing throughout the range of the resource.”  This statement should be corrected to reflect that effort in the lobster fishery is not increasing throughout the range of the resource.  For example, Maine and Massachusetts both have limited entry programs in place, and NMFS does not issue new federal permits.