It’s time to listen to the fishermen who are asking for more ecological protections for the fish, not less.

This post comes to us from Aaron Dority, Downeast Groundfish Initiative director at the Penobscot East Resource Center in Stonington, Maine.

Last week, over a dozen fishermen and Brett Tolley (NAMA’s organizer) and I attended the Northeast Fisheries Management Council meeting in Mystic, CT.  

While there, we urged Council members to establish measures to protect inshore fishing grounds, particularly in the western Gulf of Maine, from excessive fishing pressure. 

The Gulf of Maine

A quick overview of why this is necessary: In 2010, the council established groundfish “sectors:” groups of fishermen governed by an overall catch cap or limit, that allows annual trading of fishing quota. When they created this new management system, the council also eliminated inshore fishing protections that were part of the old system. 

The new regulations and lack of inshore protections resulted in a perfect storm of heavy fishing pressure concentrated in a very small area, followed by a stock collapse and numerous nearshore fishermen who, with nowhere left to fish, were put out of work. 

Many community based fishermen have nowhere left to fish.
Several of those fishermen, representing three different sectors, attended last week’s meeting and asked that some of the old rules be reinstated and superimposed onto our existing regulations. 

Ed Smith, a Gloucester fisherman, told council members that “pulse fishing” or heavy fishing on discrete aggregations (often fish that are feeding or spawning) is destructive, and that when, where, and how fishing happens matters as much as – if not more than – how many fish are taken out of the sea. 

From my perspective, when fishermen tell managers that we need more protections for the fish, rather than less, the managers need to take these comments seriously, and act accordingly.

Last week, this only partially happened. The council voted to assign a committee to devise inshore area protections. That was a win. But the council also explicitly forbid the re-establishment of trip limits, the precise management measure that fishermen were asking for. 

The additional motion that the council passed will enable much greater transparency in the quota leasing market, a currently opaque series of transactions that often hides the true extent of fleet consolidation today. So the final result was generally positive, but not exactly what the fishermen were asking for. 

Where does this leave us? Well first, that 12 fishermen all spoke in favor of ecological protections that will also benefit future fishermen: this was a tremendous feat. 
It showed council members how much fishermen care about this issue, and flexed some political muscle that some fishermen didn’t realize they collectively had. 

In fleets and fish, diversity is a good thing.

Last week’s votes on the fleet diversity amendment were not the final votes. Ultimately, those votes expanded the scope of the amendment by requiring that inshore area protections be included in the mix. Now, we need to use our policy creativity and keep up the pressure on the council to enact workable solutions.