Guest column: Collision course? ASMFC draft Addendum 27 and the Take Reduction Team

The Atlantic States Marine Fisheries Commission (ASMFC) is moving forward with a new Addendum intended to support the resiliency of the Gulf of Maine/Georges Bank (GOM/GBK) lobster stock.
As discussed in past industry meetings, the one thing we all agree on is that at some point in the future stock abundance levels will change. The question has always been, how should we react to a declining stock?

Pat Keliher is Maine’s DMR Commissioner. DMR photo.

In 2017, when this talk about resiliency began, we were thinking about what to do in the future. Then ASMFC had to turn its attention to whales, so Addendum conversations were put on hold for a few years. However, following the 2020 stock assessment, which continued to show signs of reduced settlement in the GOM/GBK stock, the ASMFC Lobster Management Board reinitiated work on the Addendum with the understanding that now there is also evidence of declines in the ventless trap and trawl surveys, which further underscored the need to take action to protect this valuable resource.

Addendum XXVII (the “resiliency Addendum”) to the lobster fishery management plan is intended to protect the GOM/GBK lobster stock from future declines. The Addendum proposes several options to standardize management measures within and across Lobster Conservation Management Areas (LCMAs), including a trigger that, if reached, would automatically implement management actions such as changes to gauge and vent sizes to improve protection of the GOM/GBK spawning stock.

The Board voted to send the draft Addendum out for public comment, and I was successful in delaying these meetings to allow time for industry conversations ahead of any ASMFC public hearings. DMR is currently conducting Zone Council meetings to discuss the recent science underlying this Addendum.
I’m sure many of you are scratching your head, asking “why now?” when you’re facing unprecedented pressure from right whale regulations. It is an excellent question and one I will keep raising with the Lobster Management Board.

Lobstermen have always supported protection measures that have served the resource well. But as we look to the future, we want to ensure that the lobster stock remains strong, even as environmental conditions may change. It’s why we’ve been calling this the “resiliency” Addendum — to ensure that the stock is protected in ways that will allow future generations carry on this legacy.

Not that long ago, your forefathers within the fishery made sacrifices for the future; that is really what you’re being asked to consider now. Sure, it’s true your forefathers weren’t facing unprecedented pressures from the federal government and the environmental organizations, but in the end this Addendum is similarly about the future health of the lobster stock that can’t be ignored.

What we learned just recently is that work on this Addendum is now overlapping with the work that NOAA is planning for the Take Reduction Team (TRT) at their upcoming May meeting. At that meeting the TRT will begin deliberations to bring the lobster fishery up to a 90% risk reduction goal. What this means is not entirely clear – it could be a major shift in the 10-year timeline that is spelled out in the 2021 Biological Opinion. It has us asking more questions about the viability of such a timeline when they have yet to evaluate the effectiveness of the current rule.

There will be much more to come on this as we learn what NOAA’s plans are, but it is certain that the Addendum will continue to move ahead while these questions are being answered.
I’ve made it clear that the Management Board should closely monitor the effects of the federal whale regulations on fishing effort and the lobster stock and, if necessary, make appropriate adjustments to the fishery management plan. This gets back to the “why now?” question. There is a lot in play right now and the “why now?” question might be better asked as “what’s next?”

We know expanded federal whale rules could include effort reductions. If whale rules benefit the lobster stock and help with resiliency then this MUST be taken into account by the Lobster Board. I know that I can’t ignore the signs of a declining stock, but I also know I can’t ignore that other factors are at play. The Lobster Board must have an understanding of the entire playing field.

Obviously, there is a lot for us to talk about and think through together. It’s been a long couple of years, and I look forward in the coming months to finally getting a chance to have these conversations in person.

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