MLA Update: June 2016

Printed in Landings, June, 2016.

MLA May Directors Meeting

The MLA Board took a moment to honor Pat White, who passed away suddenly in mid-April. The family organized a beautiful service in York which was extremely well attended by Pat’s family, friends and colleagues from the lobster industry. MLA will honor Pat’s memory with a donation to the Alzheimer Foundation. Further, MLA will rename its annual Golden V-notch Award the Pat White Award.

MLA Vice President Kristan Porter of Culter. MLA photo.

MLA Vice President Kristan Porter of Culter. MLA photo.

The MLA Board elected officers to serve a one-year term. The slate of David Cousens, President; Kristan Porter, Vice President; John Williams, 2nd Vice President; and Donald Young, Secretary/Treasurer was unanimously supported by the Board after considerable discussion. David Cousens announced that he plans to step down from the MLA board when his term expires in 2019. Arnie Gamage stated that he plans to step down when his term expires in 2018. The MLA Board will be planning its leadership transition over the next few years.

Patrice reported that the Lobster Quality tour with Jean Lavallee was a success, attracting 170 attendees along the coast. The feedback from all who attended was extremely positive. There is a strong desire to continue to offer this program in future years. Yet Board members said that it was difficult to get many lobstermen to commit to attend. Some were put off by the notion of improving lobster handling. If the program is offered again, MLA should reconsider how it markets the workshops to lobstermen. It would be better to focus on lobster biology and the status of the lobster through the supply chain than lobster handling. The program may attract more lobstermen during the winter months, and could be linked to the Maine Fishermen’s Forum.

Patrice updated the board on an important herring workshop being held by the New England Fisheries Management Council on May 16-17 in Portland. The workshop will focus on which methodology the Council will use to set the herring quota in the future and how many fish should be available for commercial harvest versus being left in the ocean for ecosystem benefits. The meeting will not focus on the issue of the impacts of midwater trawl boats on inshore stock, known as localized depletion. That issue will be dealt with as part of Amendment 8 to the herring plan. The MLA Directors acknowledged the difficulty in balancing the lobster fishery’s need for a steady supply of bait while ensuring that the herring stock stays healthy.

ASMFC has set the herring fishing days for Area 1A. During June, vessels may land herring three (3) consecutive days a week; July 1 – 14, vessels may land herring four (4) consecutive days a week; July 15 – September 30, vessels may land herring five (5) consecutive days a week until further notice. By starting with three landings days per week and then adjusting to four and then five days during Trimester 2, the allocation is projected to extend through the end of the trimester. Landings will be monitored closely and the directed fishery will be adjusted to zero landing days when the trimester’s allocation is projected to be reached.

The initial Area 1A sub-annual catch limit (ACL) is 30,397 metric tons (mt) after adjusting for a carryover from 2014. The final 2016 Area 1A sub-ACL will include the following reductions: 8% bycatch, 3% research set-aside and 295 mt fixed gear set-aside. The Section allocated 72.8% of the sub-ACL to Trimester 2. The Atlantic Herring Section is scheduled to reconvene via conference call to review fishing effort and adjust landing days as necessary on July 11.

The NEFMC continues work on development of a management plan to protect deep sea corals. The Council plans to address the impacts of lobster gear in the deep sea coral areas. The Council is exploring the extent of their authority under section 303B of the Magnuson Act to regulate the lobster fishery if it is found to negatively impacts corals.

The MLA organized a small meeting of stakeholders in the Penobscot Bay area to discuss NOAA’s upcoming hydrographic survey. While the details of the survey are not yet known, it was a productive meeting. It is anticipated that this inshore survey will be conducted with jet boats or local lobster boats using cages.

DMR has informed MLA that there is a lack of clarity in the federal regulations on the highflyer requirement for lobstermen fishing outside of 12 miles. Marine Patrol is working with NOAA Fisheries and Office of Law Enforcement to clarify the requirements. Until regulations are clear, DMR Marine Patrol will not be enforcing the offshore high flyer regulations.

MLA Directors discussed a request by a New Jersey lobster dealer, Point Lobster Company, which is seeking changes to the how states enforce various gauge sizes. The request has gone to ASMFC and the state of New Jersey. The MLA Directors support unfettered trade of lobster among states, however, the current restrictions have been put in place by the state of New Jersey. The MLA understands that New Jersey is looking to other states such as Massachusetts and Rhode Island for alternative means to enforce the minimum gauge size. MLA will continue to monitor this issue.

The ASMFC Lobster Board voted to task the lobster Technical Committee to explore further the relationship between Gulf of Maine and Georges Bank lobster stocks, investigate the benefits of harmonizing the competing management measures among Areas 1, 3 and the Outer Cape, and to investigate and develop a Traffic Light Analysis as a potential control rule using average harvest and abundance values from the last 10 years as baselines.

MLA Directors will meet the first Wednesday in June and July at 5 p.m. at Darby’s restaurant in Belfast. There is no meeting in August.

ASMFC May Meeting Roundup (Reprinted from ASMFC meeting summary) 

American Lobster Board

The American Lobster Management Board met to discuss management action to address the poor condition of the Southern New England lobster stock (SNE), address various aspects of the Jonah Crab Fishery Management Plan (FMP) including Draft Addendum I and the harvest of claws, and discuss the potential for a National Monument in the New England coral canyons and seamounts area.

The Board reviewed a report from its Technical Committee. Model simulations of the potential impacts of gauge size changes in the SNE fishery showed that a 5‐10 mm increase in the minimum size would result in increased biomass over time. While this type of management action would result in short‐term reductions in harvest, catch levels would be expected to stabilize in the long run. The report also highlighted that although natural mortality has increased over time, fishing mortality is a larger source of mortality in the stock.

lobster abundance chartA report by the Rhode Island Department of Environmental Management showed a correlation between traps fished and the exploitation rate in SNE, suggesting current trap reductions should reduce exploitation. The report also showed short‐term harvest reductions from changes to the gauge size, especially as the result of increases to the minimum size.

Finally, a report from the Plan Development Team presented a suite of potential management objectives ranging from increasing spawning stock biomass through large reductions in harvest to perpetuating the fishery at the expense of the stock. The report also investigated the potential to standardize regulations in SNE, noting that this would reduce uncertainty in future stock assessments and improve enforcement.

Following these reports, the Board initiated development of an Addendum to address the poor condition of the SNE stock by lowering fishing mortality and increasing egg production through a combination of management measures, including gauge size changes, season closures, area closures and trap reductions.

The Board discussed future management of the Gulf of Maine/Georges Bank (GOM/GBK) stock. While the 2015 Benchmark Stock Assessment found abundance levels to be high, updated indices show a decline a settlement in recent years. In order to compile more information on changes occurring to the GOM/GBK stock, the Board charged the Technical Committee with a number of tasks, including investigating the connectivity between Gulf of Maine and Canada stocks, describing how changes in ocean currents are affecting larval supply patterns, and developing a Traffic Light Analysis as a potential control rule.

The Board approved Addendum I to the Interstate Fishery Management Plan (FMP) for Jonah Crab. The Addendum establishes a bycatch limit of 1,000 pounds of crab/trip for non‐trap gear (e.g., otter trawls, gillnets) and non‐lobster trap gear (e.g., fish, crab, and whelk pots) effective January 1, 2017. This caps incidental landings of Jonah crab across all non‐directed gear types with a uniform bycatch allowance. While the gear types in Addendum I make minimal contributions to total landings in the fishery, the 1,000 pound limit provides a cap to potential increases in effort and trap proliferation.

The Board also initiated the development of an addendum to consider establishing a coast-wide standard for claw landings in the Jonah crab fishery. The FMP currently specifies the fishery be strictly whole crab except for those individuals who can prove a history of claw landings in New Jersey, Delaware, Maryland and Virginia. However, claw fishermen from New York and Maine have since been identified and these individuals are currently only allowed to land whole crabs. NOAA Fisheries provided regulatory guidance on implementation of the current exemption in federal waters, highlighting the exemption may not be consistent with National Standard 4 (measures shall not discriminate between residents of different states). As a result, the Board initiated a draft addendum to create a coast-wide claw standard with options for a strictly whole crab fishery, a whole crab fishery with the allowance for a specific volume of detached claws per trip, and the unlimited landing of claws that meet a 2.5” minimum length. The draft addendum will be presented in August.

Finally, the Board discussed potential federal and Presidential action which could limit lobster fishing in the offshore canyons and seamounts. The Board reviewed results from the ASMFC’s offshore lobster and Jonah crab survey which provided detailed information on lobster and Jonah crab fishing and revenue in and around the offshore canyons. The survey was initiated at the request of the New England Fishery Management Council, which is currently drafting an Omnibus 5 Deep‐Sea Coral Amendment which could limit lobster traps in discrete coral zones or broad regions. Responses to the survey showed a high dependence on the canyons for revenue from lobster and Jonah crab fishing.

Law Enforcement Committee

The Law Enforcement Committee (LEC) reviewed recent work of the lobster enforcement subcommittee. David Borden briefed the LEC on the desire of the Lobster Management Board to ensure the success of trap reduction and stock recovery efforts, and the need for successful enforcement. The subcommittee will continue work on various enforcement strategies, especially for offshore enforcement.

The LEC heard a report from Rene Cloutier on the status of Maine’s trap tag transferability pilot program. The LEC agreed that Maine has done a good job of developing a program that seems to be working well to reduce untagged traps, and to make tag replacement and distribution more accountable. The LEC heard a report on future work by the ASMFC to address minimum size differences among states, and a review of V‐notch enforcement effectiveness and standardization. Jon Cornish of Maine Marine Patrol briefed the LEC on recent action to implement bycatch limits for non‐trap and non‐lobster trap gear. Megan Ware advised the LEC that a new addendum may be developed to consider claw harvest. The LEC will be asked to review management options and provide input at future meetings.

Menhaden Management Board

The Menhaden Board approved draft Addendum 1 to modify the bycatch provision which will primarily affect the Chesapeake Bay pound net fishery. The board also extended the episodic event set aside program which reserves 1% of the coast-wide total allowable catch to be used by New England states and New York in areas and times when menhaden occur in higher abundance than normal. New York is currently reporting unusually large amounts of menhaden in the Peconic Bay estuary.

The board provided guidance to the Technical Committee regarding which total allowable catch levels (TAC) it would like in order to review stock projections at its August meeting. The Board recommended the following nine stock projections: 1) status quo TAC of 187,880 mt, 2) 5% increase, 3) 10% increase, 4) 20% increase, 5) 30% increase, 6) 40% increase, 7) TAC that results in 50% probability of being below F target in 2017, 8) TAC that results in 55% probability of being below F target in 2017, 9) TAC that results in 60% probability of being below F target in 2017. The Technical Committee will complete the stock projection runs and provide information to the Board about how each TAC level will impact the stock relative to the 2015 benchmark stock assessment reference points. The Board will use the stock projections at its August meeting to establish a TAC for the 2017 fishing season. The Board will address menhaden management more comprehensively through the development of Draft Amendment 3 to the FMP over the next two years.

New England Fishery Management Council (April 2016 meeting) (Reprinted from NEFMC meeting summary)

Habitat — Coral Amendment

NEFMC’s development of the Deep-Sea Coral Amendment moves ahead. The Council approved several motions to conduct in-depth analyses based on new information provided by researchers over the past several years. These included revised and new coral zone boundaries for a number of canyons south of Georges Bank and for locations in the Gulf of Maine, as well as a provision that would allow modifications to the coral management areas in the future through framework adjustments.

The NEFMC guiding principle in developing the Amendment is that it “is utilizing its discretionary authority under Section 303(b) in the MSA to identify and implement measures that reduce, to the extent practicable, impacts of fishing gear on deep sea corals in New England. This amendment contains alternatives that aim to identify and protect concentrations of corals in select areas and restrict the expansion of fishing effort into areas where corals are likely to be present. Deep sea corals are fragile, slow-growing organisms that play an important role in the marine ecosystem and are vulnerable to various types of disturbance of the seafloor. At the same time, the importance and value of commercial fisheries that operate in or near areas of deep sea coral habitat is recognized by the Council. As such, measures in this amendment will be considered in light of their benefit to corals.”

Herring Amendment 8

As Amendment 8 to the Atlantic herring fishery management plan takes shape, the Council is hosting a May 16-17 herring workshop in Portland, during which participants will share ideas about developing catch strategies that will more explicitly account for the role of Atlantic herring in the ecosystem. Staff will share the workshop outcomes at the June Council meeting in Portland.

The Council approved the problem statement below that will guide the development of management measures to address concerns about localized depletion. The Herring Committee’s work on this issue will be reviewed again at the September 2016 Council meeting.

“Scoping comments for Amendment 8 identified concerns with concentrated, intense commercial fishing of Atlantic herring in specific areas and at certain times that may cause detrimental socioeconomic impacts on other user groups (commercial, recreational, ecotourism) who depend upon adequate local availability of Atlantic herring to support business and recreational interests both at sea and on shore. The Council intends to further explore these concerns through examination of the best available science on localized depletion, the spatial nature of the fisheries, reported conflicts among users of the resources and the concerns of the herring fishery and other stakeholders.”

Finally, the Council initiated a framework adjustment to the FMP to consider revising the Georges Bank haddock catch cap and associated accountability measures and their implementation. Haddock, particularly on Georges Bank, is a robust stock. This is also the case with the Atlantic herring stock: it is not overfished, overfishing is not occurring, and catches have remained steady, between 70 and 95,000 metric tons, since 2010.

Because of interactions between the two stocks, the mid-water trawl fleet is faced with a potential major problem if the accountability measures are triggered again. The fleet was not allowed to fish in a large portion of Herring Areas 3 and 1B because the six-month-long Georges Bank accountability measure was triggered in October 2015. The result has been a long closure that was just lifted on May 1. A repeat of the same situation would likely produce substantial negative impacts on the herring fleet, the majority of which are mid-water trawlers.

In seeking a remedy, the Council initiated the framework with the following goal: To incentivize the midwater trawl fleet to minimize the incidental catch of haddock in the herring fishery while providing the opportunity to fully harvest the sub-ACL of herring for herring management Areas 3 and 1B.

In June, the Council will review the Herring Committee’s progress on developing measures, with final action planned later this year and implementation during fishing year 2017. Depending on the specific measures included, the action will likely involve the Groundfish Committee and its Plan Development Team.

Industry-Funded Monitoring Herring Fishery Alternatives

The Council refined the herring fishery monitoring alternatives now under consideration in the Industry-Funded Monitoring (IFM) Amendment. The NEFMC plans to select preferred alternatives and to review and approve the draft Environmental Assessment associated with this action at its June meeting.

Approved motions in April addressed: A) slippage restrictions and consequence measures on trips selected for monitoring (exceptions would be allowed for safety, mechanical failure, or excessive amounts of dogfish in the net); and B) slippage reporting requirements (affidavit or VMS) on herring trips selected for at-sea monitoring and electronic monitoring/portside sampling coverage.

The Council also approved two types of approaches that would apply to the percent monitoring target levels. A “combined” approach for the at-sea monitoring alternatives would allow coverage through the Standard Bycatch Reporting Methodology, or SBRM, to count towards the overall selected coverage target level. The second, an “additive” approach for the electronic monitoring/portside sampling alternatives, would mean that the selected coverage target level would not include the SBRM coverage.

Proposed refinements were made to catch and biological sampling protocols for at-sea monitors who would collect information on any retained catch (kept and incidental) and discarded catch, to better meet the objectives identified for the herring coverage target alternatives. In addition, at-sea monitors would collect information on fish lengths, but not on marine mammals, sea birds, and sea turtles. Finally, more training was recommended for monitors of high-volume fisheries, as well as analyses on impacts related to ports not currently available for portside sampling.

In June 2015, NOAA Fisheries, implemented a revised SBRM amendment that was developed in coordination with the New England and Mid-Atlantic Councils. The action implemented 1) a new prioritization process for the allocation of observers if agency funding is insufficient to achieve target observer coverage levels; 2) bycatch reporting and monitoring mechanisms; 3) analytical techniques and allocation of at-sea fisheries observers; 4) a precision-based performance standard for discard estimates; 5) a review and reporting process; 6) framework adjustment and annual specifications provisions; and 7) provisions for industry-funded observers and observer set-aside programs.

The Omnibus IFM Amendment proposes to establish a standardized administrative structure that could apply to any new industry-funded monitoring programs. Currently, provisions include monitoring coverage targets for the herring and mackerel fisheries, which are under development. Industry funding would be used in conjunction with, not instead of, federal funding to pay for additional monitoring to meet FMP-specific monitoring coverage targets.

Atlantic Large Whale Plan Monitoring Group

NOAA Fisheries convened a whale plan monitoring group meeting in May to discuss potential strategies to update the co-occurrence model. The co-occurrence model was used to guide management decisions regarding whale rules for fixed gear fisheries along the Atlantic coast. The fisheries data used in the model varies significantly by state, and is now outdated. There was considerable discussion about what data should be collected and how data should be collected, in order to improve the utility of the model. The group also discussed whale sightings and abundance data inputted into the model and how that can be improved. The group further considered evolving the model to make predictions on the risk of entanglement in fishing gear, rather than simply predicting co-occurrence of whales and fishing gear. This topic will be more fully explored through the Take Reduction Team.