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11/10 OSC/Section Meeting, SSC Conference Call summaries

November 17, 2009

CHOIR Update

In the past couple weeks there have been multiple important meetings/discussions regarding the Specs process for herring- an 11/10 Herring OSC/Herring Section meeting and an 11/12 SSC Conference call. Here are the summaries.

11/10 Herring OSC/Sea Herring Section Meeting, Portsmouth NH

This was an important one since it was where the Committee voted on recommendations for TAC options to forward on to the full council. While the ASMFC Herring Section was at the table at the meeting, it turned out that the main reason they were there was so that they could be involved in the discussion, as they did not end up voting on anything. While they are set to make their final decisions on this at the ASMFC winter meeting, it is likely they will vote in line with how the Committee voted , as many of the members of the Section are on the Committee, among other reasons.

The meeting began with a detailed presentation by Lori of the PDT options discussed in a previous summary I sent out. New information presented at this meeting included a social and economic analysis that was put together by NMFS. This document (and others) can be found on the Herring page on the NEFMC Wesbsite ( There is some interesting information in there, so worth taking a look at it.

After the presentation the Committee got right down to business and began discussion of which TAC option to pick. While acknowledging the impact these cuts could have on the herring and lobster fisheries, the Committee right from the beginning made it clear that it would be following the SSC advice on the ABC.. But they also made it clear that they would look for leeway when it came to the risk assessment done by Steve Correia and Matt Cieri, regarding exploitation rates of the inshore stock component. That is, they were willing to look at options that had an exploitation rate of the inshore component that was higher than recommended by the PDT.

While I could go on for pages about the discussion that took place, what it really came down to was how to split up the catch between different areas, with the two likely options being Options 2A and 3. The distribution between Areas 1A and 1B were pretty similar in these two options, with the main difference being how the split was made between Areas 2 and 3. The motion that was made by Terry Stockwell was to choose a modified 2A- modified because it was decided that instead of reducing landings over 3 years, they would pick levels that would remain the same over the three years. This option translates to a high exploitation rate of the inshore component (roughly .39 and increases in 2011 7 2012), an issue discussed in depth by the Committee, but was ultimately chosen because they felt the risks were acceptable. The TAC breakdown by area can be seen below. As you will see, it translates to a massive cut in Area 1A- almost down to a third of where it was just a few years ago. Cuts were also made in other areas, as well, but just not to the extent of the cuts in the inshore Gulf of Maine.

2010-2012 TACs (mt)

Area 1A: 26,546

Area 1B: 4,362

Area 2: 22,146

Area 3: 22,146

TOTAL: 75,200

While there was some discussion about whether to pick this option or Option 3, this option was eventually voted on by the Committee (9-2-0). There were some other motions but in the interest of space we will not go into them here. One thing to note is that it was pointed out at the meeting that the SSC would be having a conference call a few days later and that there was a chance some extra quota could be gained by the decisions made on that call. Lori Steele, who is the head of the PDT, stated that any extra fish would need to be allocated to Area 3 due to the already-high inshore exploitation rate.

I think a lot of people were surprised with how the Committee meeting went since there was concern that they could have chosen to ignore the SSC advice altogether and gone with a status quo level for next year. But in the end they went with the SSC advice and the meeting ended with people waiting to see what would happen on the SSC conference call on 11/12.

11/12 SSC Conference Call

As mentioned in an email weeks ago, at the NEFMC meeting in Plymouth in September, the Council asked the SSC to reconsider its recommendation for a 40% buffer between the OFL and ABC. Because of the time constraints the SSC was unable to schedule a meeting and so they ended up having to do a conference call, which took place on the 12th. This call was pretty hectic since there were about 60 people listening in and it was just an awkward way for them to discuss this important issue. That said, they made it happen and hectic or not, they were able to make some decisions.

The first decision was that the lower range for the buffer (17%) was too low and was not precautionary enough. But then things got a bit confusing and it turned out that the SSC was no longer going to stick to its strict recommendation for an ABC based on the 40% buffer between OFL and ABC, due to concerns about the uncertainty in the model and the ability to apply a retrospective pattern to quota projections. (There discussion of this point was far too complex to get into here and so that is a gross oversimplification, mind you). Furthermore, there was more confusion based on the second part of their original recommendation, which was that the level dictated by the 40% buffer was equal to “recent catch”. If you remember, the 40% buffer equated to roughly 90,000mt for the ABC. In 2008, the US fishery caught roughly 90,000mt, so the SSC noticed that these two lined up and used this as an argument for the 90,000mt ABC. But remember that the ABC has to account for the Canadian weir catches, meaning that 14,800mt need to be deducted from the ABC to get the available catch for the US fishery. In other words, an ABC of 90,000mt does not equal 90,000mt for the fishery, and actually equals 75,200mt. This discrepancy seemed to be driving some of the changing viewpoints of some SSC members. So, in the end, they decided that they would simply go with “recent catches” but that is where things get even more complicated.

This further complexity is based on what “recent catches” really means. At first, they had said it should be based on the latest year, which would have equated closely to the level that would have come from the 40% buffer, or 90,000mt. But some felt that this was the wrong way to do it, and that a 3-5 year average should be used. There was a distinct split between SSC members with no consensus being reached on what “recent catches” meant. Some felt things were doing OK and so a longer time period- aka higher quotas- could be used, with others believing things were in trouble and therefore wanting the latest year to be used- aka lower quotas. The bottom line is that, in the end, they left the decision on what “recent catches” meant to the Council and basically said it was up to them to determine the level of risk that was possible, with the three options being the most recent years catch, or an average of either 3 years or 5 years. These translate into levels of 90,000mt, 106,000mt, and 108,000mt. The SSC said in its report that:

“The choice of a recent time period to use in the derivation of ABC depends on the Council’s implicit tolerance to risk. However, it is important to consider that exploitable biomass is projected to decline during 2010-2012 due to the recruitment of poorer than average year-classes. Furthermore, the risk of depleting spawning components and the role of herring in the ecosystem as a forage species needs to be considered. Given the substantial uncertainty in the assessment, the Council should consider a conservative catch limit (e.g., 90,000mt as recommended by the SSC in September)....”

So, as you can see, they felt comfortable letting the Council choose which option to go with, but qualified that by reminding the Council of the importance of herring as forage, as well as by pointing out that their concern is about the health of the resource. The simplest way to put it is that the SSC altered its advice and gave the Council the option to either go with their original advice or to choose a riskier option that would allow for more quota.

This all leads into the discussion that will take place at the NEFMC meeting in Newport, RI, on 11/17. Stay tuned…

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