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Big Herring Victory
July 01, 2005
Although it did not happen as planned, our objective to create a coastal “buffer zone” free of midwater trawling from June 1 to September 30 was seriously advanced on June 21 when the New England Fishery Council voted 10 to 4 to make Alternative 7 in Amendment 1 to the Atlantic Herring FMP the “preferred alternative”. Alternative 7 includes the CHOIR Coalition buffer zone (for the Gulf of Maine) and the most restrictive limited access provisions utilizing the September 16, 1999 control date for access to the Gulf of Maine and December 31, 2003 for access to Areas 2&3 i.e. Georges Bank and the Mid-Atlantic herring ishing grounds.
From prior posts, you should be aware that since May 23 we had been advancing a compromise alternative developed with many groups including the American Pelagic Association (APA) representing 8 midwater trawl and purse seine vessel owners and the herring processing company Norpel, Inc. APA and Norpel from New Bedford have been proactive in seeking a compromise and visionary in recognizing our concerns about localized resource depletion resulting from the existing damaging fishing pattern used by East Coast Pelagic Association (ECPA) midwater trawlers in the Gulf of Maine. The compromise included our exclusive Gulf of Maine buffer zone (June through September) and another option to allow a limited 2 trips per month for each midwater vessel during June through August.
We reserved the right to continue advancing the exclusive buffer zone or possibly change our position after the staff analysis of the compromise alternative. The compromise also provided for a more inclusive December 31, 2004 limited access criteria allowing a few more vessels to qualify for the inshore and offshore fishing grounds.
At the May 21 Council meeting we presented our compromise alternative to the Council only after securing an invitation to do so as a result of repeated requests by Dr. David Pierce (Mass. DMF). Dave Pierce strongly encouraged the Council to consider and accept the compromise as did John Nelson (N.H. Fish and Game). The debate among Council members and audience focused on the issues of localized resource depletion and the potential added fishing capacity and fishing effort in the Gulf of Maine under the compromise alternative. Ultimately, the Council rejected our compromise with a vote of 10 against and 5 in favor.
Herring O/S Committee Chairman Lew Flagg then brought forward the Committee’s recommendation to make Alternative 7 the preferred alternative. The Committee narrowly approved Alternative 7 the prior day by a vote of 3 to 2. Our expectation was that Alternative 7 would not be accepted by the Council given that Massachusetts and Maine had long been opposed to its measures: Massachusetts opposed to the 1999 control date while Maine was expected to continue the opposition of ECPA and Jeff Kaelin (a powerful member of the State legislature and particularly on a finance committee) to the ban on midwater trawl gear in the Gulf of Maine.
The Council debate, however, focused mainly on our issue of localized resource depletion and the fact that the newer larger vessels entering the fishery were supposed to be developing the offshore largely untapped herring resource. Council members strongly advancing Alternative 7 included Dana Rice (ME), David Goethel (N.H.), Tom Hill (MA), John Pappalardo (MA). NMFS Regional Director Pat Kurkul surprisingly voted in favor of Alternative 7 at this early juncture. East Coast Tuna members Dave Linney and Steve Weiner were both recognized and made strong comments describing the impacts of localized resource depletion on the tuna and other fisheries. Members Tim Virgin and John Waldron were also on hand at the meeting to support the buffer zone. Zack Klyver (Bar Harbor Whale Watch) also informed the Council of the major negative impacts the midwater fleet has had the last several years on downeast whale watch grounds. The Council was in receipt of 2,080 postcards submitted in favor of the buffer zone by recreational fishermen at the request of the Recreational Fishing Alliance.
Amendment 1 to the Atlantic Herring FMP and Draft Supplemental Environmental Impact Statement (DSEIS) will now be finalized and submitted to NMFS in late July beginning the public review process as well. Public hearings will likely be scheduled for late summer or early September. The document and summaries of public comments will then be brought back to the Council at the November Council meeting where the Council will select the final preferred measures for submission, approval and implementation by NMFS. The Amendment (and the buffer zone if it survives) could be implemented as early as June of 2006.
Although selection of Alternative 7 is a tremendous victory for all of us, I could write pages on the potential pitfalls that lie ahead over the next 12 months. ECPA alone will likely spend a fortune in efforts to derail the alternative here and in Washington. The public hearings, the November Council meetings and making sure NMFS leadership and Congress are aware of the necessity of relief from midwater trawling in the Gulf of Maine will be critical for continued success.