Guest Column: ASFMC Lobster Board Seeks Better Data on Lobster Fishing

Megan Ware is a fisheries management plan coordinator at the ASFMC. ASFMC photo

At their February 6 meeting, the Atlantic States Marine Fisheries Commission’s (ASMFC) Lobster Board is expected to take final action on Draft Addendum 26.  The draft addendum, which considers changes to harvester reporting and biological data collection requirements, was prompted by recent actions including the declaration of the Northeast Seamount and Canyons National Monument, the New England Fishery Management Council (NEFMC) Deep Sea Coral Amendment, and discussions regarding offshore energy. Each of these actions has the potential to negatively impact the lobster fishery; trying to estimate the economic impacts associated with these actions, however, has proven difficult. The ASMFC collects data by state but changes in the fishery are happening on a much finer scale; we are not consistently collecting data related to effort and location across states; and not all fishermen are required to report.  
To address these issues, the draft addendum poses three questions for public comment: What percentage of harvesters should be required to report? Should the current data elements be expanded? And at what spatial resolution should data be collected? Options pertaining to the first question include maintaining a minimum of 10% harvester reporting, modifying the 10% harvester reporting to focus on active fishermen as opposed to latent permits, and implementing 100% harvester reporting. For the second question, the options include maintaining status quo, adding on data elements such as depth, bait type and soak time (Maine already collects depth and soak time but this is not yet a requirement in the lobster plan), and adding data elements related to gear configuration. Finally, options regarding the spatial resolution of data range from maintaining the state areas to adding Lobster Conservation Management Areas (LCMAs), adding distance from shore (Maine already reports this but other states do not), implementing 10-minute squares, or establishing an electronic tracking pilot program.
Two public hearings were held in Maine (Scarborough and Ellsworth) in January and a total of 63 individuals attended. At both hearings, participants supported maintaining the 10% harvester reporting requirement and did not support increasing this to 100%. Comments included: the 10% harvester reporting is already statistically valid; given there is 100% dealer reporting there is no need for 100% harvester reporting; 100% harvester reporting is costly to the state and time consuming for fishermen. There was support for having the current 10% modified to focus on active permit holders, as opposed to latent permits. Several individuals commented that focusing on active fishermen is a better use of time and money. For the question regarding data elements, the greatest support was for maintaining the status quo, with several individuals noting that Maine is already exceeding the Commission’s baseline requirements by requiring depth, soak time, and distance from shore. Finally, regarding the spatial resolution of data, there was no support for the Board to pursue an electronic tracking pilot program. At the Ellsworth hearing, the greatest support was for status quo, while at the Scarborough hearing, participants were split between status quo and mild support for the use of 10-minute squares.