Proposed exemption good for Cape fishermen
Written by Doug Fraser | www.capecodtimes.com
Miss Fitz captain John Out unloads dogfish at the Chatham Fish Pier in 2013. Photo Credit: Merrily Cassidy/Cape Cod Times file
'At-Sea Monitors' wouldn't be required for nearly all skate, dogfish trips
CHATHAM — When a fisherman is getting just pennies to the pound for fish, paying an additional $710 for someone to ride along and count each one can really cut into the bottom line.
“We couldn’t afford the $700,” said Chatham fisherman Jan Margeson. “It would have put you into a negative day.”
Margeson and other Cape Cod fishermen who pursue relatively low value species like skate and dogfish argue they use nets with such a large mesh that almost all other species simply swim right through and escape.
The observers they are occasionally required to carry are intended to double check the amounts of groundfish, like cod, haddock and flounder they are catching along with dogfish and skates. But Cape fishermen say they don’t catch any of the groundfish and feel the observers, known as “At-Sea Monitors,” are unnecessary and expensive.
Newly proposed regulations released for public comment this week confirm what Cape fishermen have been saying for years, by granting them an exemption to the requirement to carry the monitors on nearly all their fishing trips for skate and dogfish, which became the dominant species landed in Cape ports after the decline of groundfish, especially cod, in recent years.
“That was the culmination of a multi-year effort on our part to draw attention to the fact that ... we were not catching or discarding them, and yet we were being required to carry fishery observers on a large proportion of our trips,” said Claire Fitz-Gerald, the manager of the Chatham-based Georges Bank Fixed Gear Sector.
The National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration Fisheries will accept comments until April 5 on the proposed rule, known as Framework 55, to the multi-species management plan. It contains a number of adjustments including: a 62 percent cut in the allowable catch of Georges Bank cod; big cuts to the quota for many flounder stocks; but also increased catches for 11 of the 20 groundfish species, including a 30 percent bump up for Gulf of Maine cod, and 130 and 150 percent respectively in quotas over last year for Gulf of Maine and Georges Bank haddock.
The proposed rule also attempts to mitigate the expense of fisheries observers after NOAA said it no longer had the money in its budget for them. This will be the first year groundfish fishermen will be paying for At-Sea Monitors.
The New England Fishery Management Council, which formulated the new rules, proposed focusing observer coverage on species that really need them, where stocks are low and the data is poor. They also used a new formula for calculating the amount of trips that must be covered to get good data. Combined with the new exemptions granted to the large mesh fishermen like the Cape’s dogfish and skate fleet, the percentage of trips required to carry observers dropped from 24 to 14 percent.
Environmentalists worry reducing the number of observed trips is the wrong direction for a fishery struggling to rebuild stocks, some of which are at historic low population levels. Gib Brogan, fisheries campaign manager for Oceana, is concerned there may be more opportunities for cheating and lower quality fisheries data when there are fewer independent eyes observing the fishery.
“You drive differently when there’s a state trooper behind you, than when you don’t,” he said. “There’s not a whole lot of room to make mistakes with these fish stocks.”
Brogan, however, said the large mesh exemption for the Cape fleet demonstrates that having quality data from observed trips could also benefit fishermen.
NOAA has the option of altering parts of the plan if they feel it doesn’t meet the requirements of the Magnuson-Stevens Act, the federal law that governs fishing.
“We are hopeful the fisheries service (NOAA) will take its responsibility seriously and put in measures that are more useful and proven than what the (New England) council came up with,” Brogan said.
— Follow Doug Fraser on Twitter:@dougfrasercct