CHOIR: Coalition for the Atlantic Herring Fishery's Orderly, Informed, and Responsible Long-Term Development


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Lessons Learned From Herring Amendment 1

February 06, 2006

By Mike Flaherty
Found at: MSBA News

(The article below by MSBA Member, Mike Flaherty, was published in the February 2006 issue of Commercial Fisheries News.)

As someone who has been deeply interested and involved in the New England Fishery Management Council’s management of Atlantic herring, I appreciate the depth of coverage, analysis, and opinions that Commercial Fisheries News has devoted to this issue.

While I’m not a commercial fisherman or a processor or a paid lobbyist, at this time I would like to share with you some of my thoughts and observations as someone who has learned a lot during the Amendment 1 process. My hope is that folks will take some lessons learned here and apply them toward future management measures by working together not only on sea herring, but other species as well.

Here are the words New England council Chairman Frank Blount used at the Council’s November 2005 meeting in Hyannis, MA to describe his frustration at council members who could not agree on what to do with Amendment 1 to the Atlantic Herring Fishery Management Plan.

“I think it’s a pretty sad state of affairs when we can work on an amendment for three-and-a-half years and come up with seven alternatives, with input from everybody over years and years and years, and then come up and say at the final meeting that nobody supported any of them.”

By the end of that meeting, the council was persuaded by an overwhelming “tidal wave” of public support for Preferred Alternative 7, which proposed to establish a “buffer zone” to protect herring from the ultra-high efficiency of pair and single midwater trawlers.

As a result, the midwater herring trawl fleet found itself prohibited from the inshore Gulf of Maine—Area 1A—for four months of the year. Of course, midwater trawlers do have the option of switching over to purse seine gear, but that can be an investment upwards of $500,000.

A matter of scale

The premise behind the need to limit midwater trawl activity in Area 1A was based on reports that the gear employed by midwater trawlers, notably pair trawlers, is of a scale so large that its dead discard rate dwarfed that of the traditional purse seine gear, which at one time was the dominant gear type in the herring fishery.

Indeed, during the Amendment 1 process, many folks testified how they saw localized depletion of herring in the inshore Gulf of Maine as pair trawling increased while purse seining decreased. As a result, total mortality on herring from those midwater trawlers working in that area could actually be much higher than the 60,000 metric tons (mt) of total allowable catch (TAC) set for that area -– a figure already described as being “of concern and may be excessive” by the Council’s own Scientific and Statistical Committee back in June of 2003.

Why it happened

The reason why the Amendment 1 process took so long and ended up as it did was due to many things. However, unquestionably the overriding factor was that a few powerful factions within the herring industry were unwilling to budge, even a little bit, when it came to working with many of the other valid stakeholders who rely so much on a healthy and abundant inshore herring resource.

I think lobbyist Jeff Kaelin summed up the position and attitude for the majority of the midwater fleet well on July 2004 when he testified, “We are very much opposed to any restrictions in Area 1A at all.”

The herring fishery is a public resource. The sooner the midwater lobby realizes this and opens up to the notion of cooperation and compromise, then the better for all.

Reduced TAC desired

During the herring specification process, which preceded the amendment process, it was the hope of commercial groundfishermen, tuna fishermen, environmentalists, recreational fishermen, whale watch groups, and a growing number of others to reduce the Area 1A TAC by 15,000 mt, equivalent to 25 percent.

This seemed reasonable since the long-term goal of the herring management plan was to develop the relatively untapped TACs in the offshore areas. In turn, this would also help spread fishing effort out.

When that motion failed, a very modest reduction of 5,000 metric tons–eight percent–was proposed.

At the time, the executive director of the Massachusetts Fisheries Recovery Commission, Vito Calomo, helped to derail the motion by imploring, “The 5,000 mt in the scope of the whole herring plan really isn’t a lot, but the 5,000 mt taken out of 1A is a tremendous amount.”

When that motion also failed, the focus for many then turned toward limiting the impact of massive midwater trawlers inshore for the above stated reasons.

Too late

Now fast forward to November 2005 when the New England council was debating the merits of Alternative 7. When push came to shove and it was near certainty that the council was going to prohibit late entrants to the Area 1A herring fishery, suddenly Calomo saw the light.

“Reduce the TAC. Not reduce the people who fish for the TAC,” he insisted. “If we are concerned so much about Area 1A, reduce the TAC,” Calomo repeated. The fact of the matter is that this whole mess could have been avoided long ago if Calomo and others were just a wee bit more flexible and open to compromise and cooperation on reducing the Area 1A TAC over a year ago.

Unfortunately, since he and others shot that option down earlier on in the process, an Area 1A reduction wasn’t even on the table as part of any of the Amendment 1 alternatives. So by that point, the council couldn’t have reduced the TAC even if it wanted to.

The missed opportunities for the herring lobby to work together with everyone else are endless. One can go as far back as four years ago to when representatives of the Coalition for the Atlantic Herring Fishery’s Orderly, Informed, and Responsible Long-Term Development (CHOIR) approached the East Coast Pelagic Association (ECPA) and others to hammer out a small, voluntary, five-square-mile area as an experimental buffer zone.

As CHOIR’s Rich Ruais testified at a May 2005 meeting of the herring oversight committee, “They walked away from us on that. Absolutely no help whatsoever. We repeatedly had meetings whether it was in Rockland, ME or Gloucester, MA. Absolutely nothing came from any effort to work with ECPA on this issue.”

Joe Jancewicz of the East Coast Tuna Association added, “I was at those meetings up in Rockland in the O’Hara building when we tried for the compromise. I was the one who drew out on the chart what would be nice to compromise with. We pretty much got laughed out of the building.”

Now ECPA and all other midwater trawlers are banned from all of Area 1A for four months of the year. I wonder if they now wish they gave more consideration to the much smaller area when they had the chance?

APA effort commended

Out of all of this, there was one very notable example of cooperation. In the hope of hammering out a “compromise alternative,” the herring boats based out of New Bedford and represented by Peter Moore of the American Pelagic Association (APA) did reach out to CHOIR. Tremendous credit needs to be given here to Moore as his actions were at APA’s peril of being perceived as breaking ranks with the remaining midwater lobby, which continued to cling to its hard-line positions.

As Moore described at the June 2005 New England council meeting in Portland, ME, “We’re really sticking our necks out here in trying to move this compromise ahead.”

The purpose of this “Alternative 8” was to allow midwater trawlers to fish in Area 1A, but only allow two trips per month during the peak season. Alternative 8 had very good support. Unfortunately, because of its late timing, it did not gain enough support from the full council to be included in Amendment 1, as it would have probably further delayed the amendment. However, it remains a shining example of what can be done if folks work together.

As we move forward, whether the topic is herring, groundfish, marine protected areas, or any of the other issues where so many different stakeholders are impacted, I hope that more folks take a moment to reach out to the other side to work on real and reasonable solutions.

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