Maine Lobstermen’s Association update: September 2016

First published in Landings, September, 2016.

DMR hearings on Statewide Double Tagging, changes to Swans Island conservation area

The Department of Marine Resources (DMR) has scheduled four public hearings to take comments on proposed rules to require 1) the use of second zone lobster trap tags statewide; 2) the removal of the registration period for the Swans Island Lobster Conservation area; 3) a change in the maximum allowable number of lobster trap tags for the Swans Island Lobster Conservation Area from 475 to 600 traps (for consistency with a previous law change); and 4) the creation of an island limited entry program for Swans Island.

This proposed rule-making would require the use of a second zone tag in all traps when fishing those traps in a zone other than the declared lobster zone. The second zone tag will be in addition to the declared lobster zone tag, and is needed to increase Marine Patrol’s ability to enforce the current 49/51% trap ratio of the Lobster Zone Limited Entry rules.
The Swans Island proposed rulemaking would remove the deadline for registration for the Swans Island Lobster Conservation Area, allowing individuals to register at any time of the year. In addition, it would change the maximum allowable number of lobster trap tags for the Swans Island Lobster Conservation Area from 475 to 600, to comply with existing Maine law. Finally, this proposed rule addresses a recent island limited entry referendum vote for Swans Island to create the Swans Island limited entry program, allowing up to 72 commercial island resident lobster licenses to be issued annually.

Written comments are due to DMR by September 29. Written comments should be sent to Sarah Cotnoir, DMR, 21 State House Station, Augusta, ME 04333; phone 624-6596. Emailed comments should be sent to Hannah.dean@maine.gov.

The public hearings will take place on:
September 12, 6:30 PM, Ellsworth City Hall Auditorium, Ellsworth
September 13, 6:00 PM, Rockland Ferry Terminal
September 14, 6:30 PM, University of Maine at Machias, Science Building, Room 102
September 19, 6:30 PM, Lincoln County Communications Center, Wiscasset

DMR schedules Public Hearing on Pen Bay Closure

The DMR will hold a public hearing on September 6 at 6pm at the Bucksport Middle School to take comments on making the extension of the Penobscot Bay lobster and crab fishing closure permanent. The Commissioner expanded the closed area through an emergency rule-making effective June 21, 2016 in order to protect public health due to the risk of mercury contamination in lobsters and crabs found in the mouth of the Penobscot River north of a line starting at Perkins Point in Castine continuing in a northwesterly direction to Squaw Point (also known as Rocky Point) on Cape Jellison in Stockton Springs. This rule-making would make that emergency rule-making permanent. The deadline for written comment is September 16.

ASMFC Summer Meeting Summary

Lobster Management

At its August meeting, the Lobster Management Board discussed reporting in the lobster fishery, reviewed a conservation equivalency proposal from Maine, and considered approval of Jonah Crab Draft Addendum II for public comment. Following a recommendation from the Technical Committee for increased and improved reporting in the lobster fishery, the Board established a Lobster Reporting Working Group to outline data deficiencies in the fishery and potential solutions; it will report back to the Board in October with recommendations. The Board also approved Maine’s conservation equivalency proposal, which allows lobster fishermen to attach trap tags via hog rings as they move gear in and out of the water. The proposal eliminates the need for exchange tags in the state and improves enforcement in the fishery.

Draft Addendum II to the Jonah Crab FMP considers a coast-wide standard for claw harvest. Given the Board’s request that an additional option be added and that the definition of bycatch in the fishery be reviewed, action was postponed to allow for further review and development. The Board will consider approving Draft Addendum II for public comment in October.

The Board received an update on the New England Fishery Management Council and tasked the Technical Committee with creating a map of lobster and Jonah crab harvest in the Gulf of Maine. The Board recommended that a letter be sent to NOAA’s Office of Law Enforcement requesting lobster become a higher priority through its Joint Enforcement Agreements Program.

Southern New England Lobster Management Changes

The Lobster Board also approved development of Draft Addendum XXV to address the poor condition of the Southern New England SNE) lobster stock. The Draft Addendum seeks to respond to the depleted condition of the SNE stock while preserving a functional portion of the lobster fishery. The document will present a suite of management measures to increase egg production and lower fishing mortality through a combination of management tools including lobster size and escape vent changes, season closures, and trap limits and reductions.

The Draft Addendum responds to the results of the 2015 American lobster benchmark stock assessment which found the SNE stock severely depleted and undergoing recruitment failure with poor prospects of recovery. Declines in population abundance were most pronounced in the inshore portion of the stock where environmental conditions have remained unfavorable for lobsters since the late 1990s. Despite fleet attrition, stock declines have continued. These declines are largely in response to adverse environmental conditions including increasing water temperatures over the last 15 years combined with continued fishing mortality. Declines in in the offshore portion of the fishery were evident as well though not as severe. However, the offshore portion of the SNE stock likely depends on nearshore larval settlement and offshore migration as the source of recruits (e.g., young of the year lobsters). Therefore, the offshore component is expected to see eventual declines as well.

The Draft Addendum will include a suite of management options aimed at increasing egg production from zero to 60%. In its discussion, the Board agreed the addendum is an initial response to the 2015 stock assessment and stock status will continue to be reviewed. The Draft Addendum will be presented for Board review and possible approval for public comment at the Commission’s annual meeting in late October. For more information, please contact Megan Ware, Fishery Management Plan Coordinator, at mware@asmfc.org or 703.842.0740.

Herring Management Goal Discussed

Among other topics, the Policy Board discussed how ASMFC manages the herring fishery. Board members discussed the concept of managing a resource for the benefit of another fishery, specifically referencing the Atlantic herring fishery. One of the objectives in managing the Area 1A quota is to provide a constant supply of bait to the lobster fishery. Some Board members expressed concern that managing the herring fishery for the benefit of the lobster fishery may not be an appropriate role for the Commission. They suggested that perhaps this issue should be considered outside of the Commission process by the involved states. It was acknowledged that the Commission’s management actions can benefit a sector, gear type or other species, but these actions are fully vetted through a public input process. No final action or recommendation on this issue were made at the meeting. For more information, please contact Toni Kerns, ISFMP Director, at tkerns@asmfc.org or 703.842.0740.

Atlantic Menhaden

The Commission’s Atlantic Menhaden Management Board approved Addendum I to Amendment 2 to the Interstate Fishery Management Plan. The Addendum modifies the bycatch provision by allowing two permitted commercial fishermen working together from the same vessel using stationary multi‐species gear to land up to 12,000 pounds of menhaden per trip per day. In this case, stationary multi‐species gears are defined as pound nets, anchored/staked gillnets, and fyke nets. States may implement the new bycatch provision as regulatory processes allow, but no earlier than August 15.

The practice of two permitted fishermen working together from the same vessel occurs primarily in the Chesapeake Bay pound net fishery. This practice enables fishermen to pool resources for fuel and crew. However, the practice was constrained under Amendment 2’s bycatch allowance provision, which stipulated a 6,000 pound/vessel/day limit.
Board members also discussed 2017 specifications but postponed final action on these measures until the Commission’s annual meeting in late October. Addendum I will be available at www.asmfc.org on the Atlantic Menhaden page by mid‐August.

The Board also provided feedback on a draft of the Public Information Document (PID) for Draft Amendment 3. The PID, which focuses on ecological reference points and allocation, will be considered for approval for public comment in October, with a potential public comment period between November, 2016 and January, 2017. The Board also reviewed the timeline for draft Amendment 3 which currently has the Board taking final action on the document in November, 2017. Finally, the Board received an update on the ongoing socioeconomic study in the commercial menhaden fishery and discussed the need to revitalize Advisory Panel membership in preparation for the Amendment 3 process. For more information, please contact Megan Ware, Fishery Management Plan Coordinator, at mware@asmfc.org or 703.842.0740

ASMFC Considers an Award in Honor of Pat White

The Legislative and Governor Appointee Commissioners (LGA) discussed renaming the Hart Award to honor former Commissioner Patten White. However, they ultimately decided the Hart Award should not be renamed. There was consensus that a new award should be created instead to honor Mr. White. Ideas for the new award included honoring a marine educator or fellow Commissioner and individuals with unusual skills sets similar to Mr. White’s (consensus building, close working relationships with fellow Commissioners, and willingness to volunteer for extra duties, just to name a few of Pat’s many good qualities).

Maine Menhaden Fishery

The ASMFC Atlantic Menhaden Management Board approved a total allowable catch (TAC) for the 2015 and 2016 fishing seasons of 187,880 metric tons (mt) per year. The percentage allocated to Maine for 2016 is 0.04%, or 161,466 lbs. States have the responsibility to close directed commercial fisheries once the quota has been reached. An exception to the closure is provided in order to allow a small amount of menhaden to be taken by hook and line for personal use only. A second exception is provided to allow for the incidental take of menhaden as bycatch, up to 6,000 lbs. per day.

Vessels landing menhaden in Maine met the Allocated State quota in July; however sufficient biomass was still available prompting the Maine Department of Marine Resources to gain approval from ASMFC and implement an episodic event fishery on July 31. Vessels participating in the fishery were limited to 120,000 pounds/vessel/day, landed in Maine only, and required to report landings and other information to the state daily. DMR believed that the 2016 menhaden episodic event quota was caught more quickly than daily landings reports indicated, so took steps to ensure it was not exceeded by closing the Maine episodic event fishery on August 5.

On August 15, DMR reopened the 2016 episodic event menhaden fishery, at which time the remaining 2016 episodic event quota was estimated to be approximately 2.3 million lbs. DMR implemented a requirement that all participating license holders declare into the fishery no later than noon on August 18 in order to ensure reporting compliance, and declare a single carrier vessel for the duration of the fishery, as well as limiting fishing and landing days to three days per week (Tuesday through Thursday) with a 120,000 lbs. weekly landing limit. DMR closed the episodic event fishery on September 1.

Amendment 2 of the ASMFC Menhaden Plan enables the Atlantic Menhaden Management Board to set aside 1% of the overall TAC for episodic events. Episodic events are times and areas where Atlantic menhaden are available in more abundance than they normally occur. As part of the set aside provision, the Board developed the mechanism for states to use the set aside including implementation of daily trip level harvest reporting, restricting landings within the state and maximum daily trip limit no greater than 120,000 pounds/vessel. Each state must track landings and submit weekly reports to ASMFC staff.

Herring Update

 

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The Eastern Maine Spawning Area closure went into effect August 28 through September 24, 2016. The closure could be extended if samples show that fish are still spawning. During the closure, it is unlawful to fish for, take, possess, transfer, or land in any State of Maine port or facility, or to transfer at sea from any Maine registered vessel, any catch of herring harvested in the closed area.

Marine Mammal Protection Act, Final Rule on Seafood Import Ban

On August 15, NMFS published the final action to implement the import provisions of the Marine Mammal Protection Act (MMPA), effective January 1, 2017. The rule establishes conditions for evaluating a harvesting nation’s regulatory program to address incidental bycatch and measures to address intentional mortality and serious injury of marine mammals. Under this rule, fish and fish products from fisheries identified in the List of Foreign Fisheries can only be imported into the United States if the harvesting nation has applied for and received a comparability finding from NMFS. The rule establishes procedures that a harvesting nation must follow and conditions it must meet to receive a comparability finding. The rule also establishes provisions for intermediary nations to ensure they do not import and re-export to the United States fish or fish products subject to an import prohibition. Agency actions and recommendations under this rule will be in accordance with U.S. obligations under applicable international law, including, the World Trade Organization Agreement.

NOTE: During its summer meeting, the ASMFC Lobster Board approved Maine’s proposal to continue to allow lobstermen to attach trap tags via hog rings as they move gear in and out of the water. The proposal eliminates the need for exchange tags in the state and improves enforcement in the fishery.