In the News

Fish Talk in the News – Friday, November 8

The ASMFC discussed potential cuts in striped bass catch this week. Photo: FWS

  • On Monday, Senators Mark Begich of Alaska and Elizabeth Warren of Massachusetts hosted a listening session with fishing industry stakeholders at the Massachusetts State House in Boston. Also in attendance were Senator Ed Markey and Congressmen John Tierney and Bill Keating. Senator Warren organized the meeting to hear from fishermen, scientists, and others about the state of New England’s fisheries as part of the ongoing Magnuson-Stevens Act reauthorization process. Members of the panel included fishing industry spokespeople, local marine scientists, and environmental NGO representatives. Regarding Magnuson-Stevens reauthorization, panelists called for flexibility in stock rebuilding timelines, ecosystem-based multispecies management, more frequent  stock assessments, and collaborative research. The economic condition of the fleet also became a topic of debate. While CLF’s Peter Shelley shared statistics showing revenues for the fleet have increased dramatically over the past two decades, industry representatives indicated that the fishery is an economic disaster. Fishermen called for solutions ranging from better marketing for dogfish to federal disaster funding, and the Senators indicated they have been working to secure a proposed $150 million in aid. Scallop industry lobbyist Drew Minkiewicz also suggested that industry has succeeded in funding research, reducing catch, and sustaining an economically viable fleet, and so the scallop industry should be self-regulated.
  • The congressional delegation also used Monday’s hearing as an opportunity to publicize Friday’s announcement that the Small Business Administration will make loans available to Massachusetts fishermen. The Economic Injury Disaster Loans are low interest, federally subsidized loans intended to help businesses meet immediate financial obligations. Applicants may apply for up to $2 million before the August 1, 2014 deadline. Governor Patrick, Senator Markey, the Northeast Seafood Coalition, and others praised the approval of the loan opportunity, while some fishermen said the program probably won’t help.
  • NOAA announced this week that it is raising possession limits for some groundfish species for common pool vessels through April 30, 2014. The rule will increase limits for Gulf of Maine cod, Cape Cod/Gulf of Maine yellowtail flounder, Gulf of Maine winter flounder, and white hake and remove the limit entirely for pollock. From May 1 to October 16, the common pool fleet—which comprises a small percentage of the groundfish fleet, most of which fishes through sectors—caught just 20 percent of its allocation of these stocks.
  • NMFS has extended the comment period on proposed new rules to reduce bluefin tuna bycatch. Bluefin tuna are often caught accidentally by longliners targeting healthier tuna species like yellowfin and bigeye. The new rules would cut the number of bluefin fishermen can catch accidentally, include discards in that limit, and prohibit longliners from fishing for other species once they hit their bluefin cap, providing an economic incentive to reduce bycatch. The plan would also redistribute some bluefin quota from hand gear fishermen to longliners and would create areas in the Gulf of Mexico open only to hand gear. he proposed rule is now open for public comment until December 10.
  • Maine’s Department of Health and Human Services has launched a welfare fraud investigation targeting elver fishermen. The elver fishery is now Maine’s second most valuable, with the juvenile eels fetching up to $2000 per pound and some fishermen making in excess of $100,000 a year. The investigation will involve a review of tax records to see if any elver fishermen receiving welfare benefits failed to disclose income. The Portland Press Herald reported that it was not immediately clear why elver fishermen had been targeted for the investigation.
  • Maryland eel fishermen are hoping for restrictions on Maine’s elver fishery. The ASMFC recently decided to postpone a decision on cutting the elver catch until 2014 to give Maine time to scale back its harvest. Maryland fishermen are not allowed to catch the baby glass eels caught by Maine fishermen, but they can catch yellow eels—the same species, American eels, but at a later life stage and a minimum length of nine inches. Maine’s glass eels have undercut the market for yellow eels, which sell for just $2-3 per pound. Maryland’s fishermen say eel populations are booming, but scientists say populations are depleted, and the US Fish and Wildlife Service is considering an endangered species listing.
  • Commercial striped bass fishermen in Massachusetts are fighting a bill that would transition striped bass to an entirely recreational fishery. The bill would initially limit commercial permits to fishermen who have caught at least 1000 pounds of bass in each of the last five years; these fishermen would then lose their permits if they failed to meet that level in two consecutive years. Beginning in 2025, the state would no longer issue commercial licenses. Proponents of the bill, including nonprofit group Stripers Forever, say it will help conserve bass, while opponents said it would harm fishermen, who often obtain striped bass permits as an economic safeguard but do not actively fish them.
  • A Maryland judge has denied a request to reopen the state’s menhaden fishery. The ASMFC ordered a 20 percent cut in menhaden catch this year, resulting in a 5.12 million pound quota for Maryland. The state Department of Natural Resources closed the fishery on June 29 due to a projection that that limit had been reached, but fishermen say they were nowhere near catching the full allocation. The judge refused to issue a preliminary injunction to reopen the fishery, saying the fishermen had not proven the necessity of immediate relief, but ordered a trial in the spring to evaluate DNR’s implementation of catch limits. In the meantime, stationary pound net fishermen can continue catching up to 6000 pounds of menhaden a day as bycatch.

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