Fleet Diversity Update, December 8, 2011

Fleet Diversity Amendment 18 Process From Recent New England Fishery Management Council-related Meetings

One thing leads to another (or not), and a rocky trajectory relative to the life of groundfish Amendment 18 – the fleet diversity amendment – has been playing out in the past two months.

Summary: where we stand with Amendment 18

Three meetings held by the New England Fisheries Management Council in October and November demonstrated the push and pull against and for this amendment, even before scoping to determine which questions and alternatives to include in the amendment has been initiated. The summaries of each meeting are detailed below, but here briefly is where we stand with Amendment 18 and related issues:

  • Sector Workshop revealed a split in the fishing community between:
    • those who received a larger quota allocation (because they were the biggest harvesters in the recent past so got the most allocation) and have had the means to accumulate even more quota. They wish sector management to proceed without measures to conserve fleet diversity (i.e. no Amendment 18, please) and without any changes except the ones that will make their lives easier and their fishing even more successful, including opening all closed areas; and
    • those who have had a hard time staying afloat because their initial allocations were too low and the cost of buying additional quota too high. Some have abandoned fishing in favor of leasing out the little quota they have.
  • The rift described above has led to an increased call for dividing the fleet into inshore and offshore components that are managed differently so the smaller inshore boats can survive and fish more consistent with inshore ecology.
  • The Workshop revealed that monitoring costs and redundant monitoring are a hardship for all but are hardest on the small boat fleet and will become impossible if/when government funding does not cover a good portion of the cost. Some statistical assessment has been done that shows only a fraction of the at-sea monitoring currently required would be equally effective and it was widely agreed that shore-side monitoring is duplicative of dealer reporting.
  • The Science Center report showed that transfer of quota is occurring freely within and between sectors and is leading to consolidation both within sectors and across the fleet.
  • The allocation formula and the resulting allocations have clearly caused problems for small boat fishermen and fishermen who chose not to fish when stocks were severely depleted, but there is no call yet for revisiting that.
  • The Groundfish Committee recommended a list of four priorities for 2012, in no particular order of preference; and included in that list was the development of Amendment 18 to address fleet diversity and allocation caps.
  • The full Council voted against that recommendation, with only three members supporting it; and replaced it with a list of five priorities in order of urgency, with Amendment 18 at the bottom (in discussion, it was agreed that council staff would not be able to address more than four priorities in the ensuing year).
  • A stop-gap measure was approved to keep Amendment 18 alive with potential staff assistance from NOAA Fisheries; and assurances were given that the scoping process would be completed since much of the preliminary work has been done. If it is successful and well designed and scientifically defensible measures are incorporated into the alternatives, we are confident Amendment 18 can move forward in a timely manner and make a difference by safeguarding the diverse character of the New England fishing fleet and the ecosystem that supports it.
  • Concerns were raised when the new Council Chair refused to allow public comments as the groundfish priorities motions were discussed; and only after votes had been taken were public statements permitted. Will this affect how we participate in Amendment 18 discussions in the future?
  • The Scoping Meetings for Amendment 18 – we’re informed there will be 9 held from Maine to New Jersey – will be convened in late January to early February. We will all be working together to impact the scoping process and develop effective alternatives for the amendment.

Background

First let’s step back a moment to the question that seems responsible for the ebb and flow of this amendment – what is meant by “fleet diversity” and whom does it benefit? The answer is at once simple and complex. The simple answer is that it means the character of the fleet relative to boat size, gear type and size, and composition of catch: a diverse fleet includes a broad spectrum of all these characteristics, while a non-diverse or monotypic fleet would include only fishing vessels concentrated within a narrow range of each of these parameters. E.g., a diverse fleet includes big boats and small boats, trip boats and day boats, and seasonal diversity of catch. The more complicated trick is to arrange fleet diversity to match the ecosystem and thereby enhance long-term sustainability of fisheries. The complexities of how to measure diversity and how to best execute the groundfishery to maintain diversity are beginning to reveal themselves and will continue to be part of the discussion as Amendment 18 moves forward.

The new sector management has quickly led to 20% of the boats controlling 80% of the revenues thus putting fleet diversity at risk. An amendment to protect diversity, if framed well, should benefit the vast majority of the New England fishing fleet and prevent consolidation into a small monotypic fleet. But most importantly we believe fleet diversity will be beneficial to the fish stocks and the marine ecosystem.

The Sector “Lessons Learned” Workshop, October 25-6, 2011

After a year of fighting to keep fleet diversity on the Council table the Council voted unanimously to make Amendment 18 (seen by some as the accumulation cap amendment and others as the fleet diversity amendment) a priority for the year 2011. In September the Council voted to move the Amendment 18 scoping document forward. But there was still a lot riding on the Sector Workshop held late in October, when, it was hoped, details would emerge that would indicate the best direction for Amendment 18 to take for effective improvements in sector management. But controversy as well as clarity emerged. The Council’s report of the workshop can be viewed on the council’s website among the documents for the November Council meeting.

NMFS and Science Center Presentations

Presentations were made by NMFS (National Marine Fisheries Service or NOAA Fisheries) and the Northeast Fisheries Science Center on certain fully digested outcomes of the first year of sector management. The Summary Report of the Workshop states these are available on the Council website. The NMFS report summarized, without details (due to “proprietary information”), the combined sector year-end reports. The Science Center analysis provided various views of the effects of the first year of sector management on different parts of the fleet by assessing their performance. On the whole the large boats (>50 feet) fared better under sectors in terms of averaged revenue per day spent fishing (for owners, as crew data were not included). Consolidation was demonstrated by increased concentration of revenue in fewer vessels from all species landed and from just groundfish. While there has been a steady decrease in numbers of boats each year for the past four years, the greatest decrease occurred in 2010. The overall consolidation trends combined with the trends in revenue distribution by size category lead to the conclusion that revenues are consolidating in favor of the larger vessels. Similarly, analysis of allocated and caught quota by vessel size category showed that a greater proportion of quota belonging to small boats (under 50’ and overwhelmingly by those under 30’) was left uncaught or was leased out. Statements from fishermen in this category made it clear that that this was happening despite their desire to keep fishing – it was simply not financially feasible when it cost more to lease additional quota needed in order to fish efficiently than could be made from selling the fish caught.

Sector Panels

Several panels were convened to discuss the outcomes and the experiences of those participating in sectors. Views were presented on Long Term Visioning; Monitoring; ACE Trading and Quota Transfer/Usage Rules; Data Management; and Continuing Effort Controls that Hamper Fishing Operations. There was general agreement that reductions in monitoring would help and would still accomplish the goals, and that the government should continue to support the cost of monitoring. There were split views on the success of sectors and the viability of fishing over the year. The Workshop Report presents a useful summary of all these panels.

Audience comments

Comments were invited from any audience members who had direct experience in sectors during the year. Again different opinions were voiced. The majority were larger boat owners, mostly representing sectors centered in Portland and Gloucester, who voiced approval of the system that was working in their favor. They argued strongly for what they termed “stability,” meaning no change except what they recommend in the way of sector streamlining and opening closed areas and reduced monitoring. A few even went so far as to say if there are big winners and big losers, so be it, but don’t now come in and make changes that will change who wins and who loses. In other words, stability apparently means management that allows the continuation of consolidation with reduced fleet diversity and does whatever necessary to enable those who have profited from sector management to catch even more. Those who have been in the position of buying and accumulating quota expressed confidence that the new system will work well if left alone for a few years. They say they have sacrificed already, have positioned themselves by purchasing boats and quota, and they naturally don’t want to be punished by changes that would reduce the value of those decisions.

A clearly spoken view from small boat fishermen (who were in the minority in the audience) claimed devastating financial impacts and unfavorable allocations that forced them to spend nearly as much or more for additional allocation that would make their fishing viable than they made from fishing, or else they had to decide to not fish at all. They sighted consolidation that was driving many of their fellow small boat fishermen out of business, and made it clear that leaving the system as is will mean the end of the once vibrant small boat fleet. These fishermen generally agreed that closed areas should stay closed in order for recovery of the stocks to continue. (There was little mention of what was good for the fish stocks by anyone else.) They argued for preserving fleet diversity, and, in the end, several called for a modification of sector management that would split the fleet into two parts, inshore and offshore, with different provisions for each.

The smallest minority of all were a couple of fishermen who are successful under the current sector system but who also sympathize with the small boat fishermen and want to see improvements to sector management that would preserve fleet diversity without punishing those who have been successful.

Groundfish Committee, November 2, 2011

Shortly after the Sector Workshop, in early November, the Groundfish Committee met. After a failed attempt by a few members to de-prioritize Amendment 18 by moving it to the bottom of a long list, the Committee as a whole voted to keep it one of four top priorities, to be addressed in no particular order:

  • Continue Amendment 18 to consider fleet diversity and accumulation caps.
  • Coordinate action on the Habitat Omnibus Amendment to include possible modifications of the Groundfish closed areas.
  • Prepare framework action to adjust sector rules based on lessons learned from Oct 2011 Sector Workshop, including determination of why OY is not being caught and the development of measures to attempt to achieve OY, and review 10 percent quota rollover provision in response to the Regional Administrator’s letter of June 20, 2011.
  • Prepare framework to respond to new assessment information for 9 stocks.

New England Fishery Management Council meeting, November 15-17, 2011

The Sector Workshop Report and the Groundfish Committee 2012 priority recommendations were carried forth to the full Council meeting in mid-November. Here the Groundfish Priorities were rehashed with a different outcome. The meeting report summarizes the discussion and outcome as follows:

“The New England Fishery Management Council, meeting for the last time in 2011, discussed and approved its list of management priorities for 2012. Not surprisingly, the priorities to address groundfish issues were discussed at length and remain controversial among a number of fishermen and their representatives who attended the Newport meeting, as well as several Council members.

“Their concerns centered on a Council vote approving the placement of Amendment 18 to the Northeast Multispecies (Groundfish) Fishery Management Plan at the bottom of a list of five groundfish issues to be addressed in 2012. However, it is the Council’s intention to move forward with scoping for Amendment 18.

“Despite that decision, a related motion also was approved, this one in a 9-yes, 6-no, 1-abstention vote: consistent with 1.) “NOAA’s catch share policy to ‘support the design, implementation, and monitoring of catch share programs’ to ensure these programs have the highest likelihood of success; and 2.) NOAA Fisheries’ commitment to work with the Council to address the problem of individual permit holders acquiring excessive control of fishing privileges (Amendment 16 final rule), the Council requests that the agency provide leadership, technical assistance, and funding to reduce administrative and organizational impediments in the development of Amendment 18 dealing with fleet diversity and consolidation issues.

The other approved groundfish management priorities covered the following issues:

  • Coordinated action on the Habitat Omnibus Amendment to include possible modifications to the groundfish closed areas;
  • A framework adjustment to modify sector rules based on the lessons learned from the October 2011 Sector Workshop, including a determination about why optimum yield is not being achieved and the development of measures to potentially accomplish that result, and possible changes to the ten percent quota rollover provision as well as a number of other sector issues;
  • A framework adjustment to respond to new assessment information for nine of the stocks in the groundfish complex; and,
  • The development of options to move unused ACE, or annual catch entitlements, between the scallop and groundfish fleets, and between commercial and recreational fleets.”

As currently planned, Amendment 18 will address the fleet diversity and allocation limits and will be the subject of scoping hearings to be convened in late January or February. The request for NOAA assistance will be forwarded to the agency.

This is an opportunity to get sector management (New England’s catch shares) right, not by gutting them but by improving them with measures that will guarantee that New England continues to support a diverse fishing fleet that is compatible with the ecosystem and thereby enables the restoration of diverse and abundant fish stocks across the region’s marine waters.

New Council Chair = new protocol for public participation or shutting out public input?

The Council Report adequately represents the controversy among council members but fails to mention the controversy between the Chair and the audience. During this discussion, the Council Chair decided to institute a new protocol for public participation in the discussion -- in essence, no participation allowed during the council deliberations on motions. He later justified this on the grounds that the public had had a formal time to present views as part of the Council meeting agenda the previous day. That, however, failed to acknowledge that there is no way the public can present comments on motions before those motions are made unless they have back-door knowledge that such motions will be made (which would imply politicization of the process). Either way, this prohibits participation by the public in the debate over proposals that will impact fishermen and their communities.

After passage of priorities reordered so that Amendment 18 was so far down on the list that it could not possibly be addressed within the year, the other motion mentioned in the report above was made (put forward by David Pierce) that would allow NMFS to help enable continuation of the Amendment process. It was about to go down in defeat when the outrage of one council member reversed the outcome and it passed. When David Goethel pointed out that failure to address consolidation of the groundfish fleet would mean the certain demise of the entire small boat fleet, the audience expressed their support the only way permitted – with applause. Suddenly, the motion was supported by a majority of Council members. And it was followed by an assurance from the Chair that the scoping process for Amendment 18, which was already in motion, would continue as planned, since most of the staff work had been completed.

The Chair then opened the floor to public comment on the motions after they had been voted on. Two speakers took the opportunity to object to the new process that did not allow public comment while the discussion on motions remained open. For the record, the only three Council Members (# to be confirmed in Council motions report not yet posted) who voted to keep the original proposed priorities list, with Amendment 18 in a group of four that would be addressed in 2012, were David Goethel (fisherman from New Hampshire), David Pierce (state government representative from Massachusetts), and Pat Kurkul (Regional Administrator, NMFS). Now it is in a more precarious position at the bottom of a list of five, but for now we are assured that the scoping process for the fleet diversity amendment is still alive, and we intend to see that it stays that way by encouraging the constructive participation of fishermen, the public, local food advocates and fishing communities.

Your participation

While the policy of not allowing public comment during discussion of some or all motions in Council meetings has been challenged and may or may not be continued by the Chair, until it is resolved, written comments to the Council both before and after Council meetings are even more critical than ever. We encourage you all to write.

We also encourage fishermen to participate proactively and responsibly in the scoping process for Amendment 18. NAMA and our fellow collaborators will be working hard to facilitate your participation. This is your opportunity to improve sector management so that it works with our New England fishing communities, levels the playing field, and is sensitive to the distributions of fish stocks and compatible with their ecosystem. We have our work cut out for us. But it’s important work, for the future of New England’s fish and fishing communities. We also know other fishing communities are watching what will happen here in New England, so the precedence we set here around ensuring fleet diversity will be important to fishermen and the ocean everywhere.