It’s Complicated wcontinued from Homepage

“We set out a process that attempted and, I think, succeeded in weighing many criteria and many alternatives, with ways to score all those alternatives. Ultimately it’s important to select a preferred alternative and keep the process moving along.” – John Bullard, NMFS Fishermen’s Voice file photo

According to a NEFMC press release, NEFMC considered:

• Short-term impacts on the ABC;

• Impacts on the herring resource;

• Impacts on non-target (bycatch) species and essential fish habitat;

• Impacts on predator species and predator fisheries, including tuna and spiny dogfish;

• Impacts on protected species, including marine mammals and birds with the highest percentage of herring in their diets;

• Impacts on ecotourism;

• Impacts on the herring fishery, including impacts on the lobster fishery, which relies on herring for bait.

In her presentation to NEFMC, fishery analyst Deirdre Boelke said the range of options for the control rule—based on a variety resource and economic metrics, operating models, possible outcomes, scientific uncertainties, and assessment biases—has been narrowed from over 5,000 to the 10 currently on the table. The primary focus, she said, has been on accounting for herring’s role in the ecosystem and to address the biological and ecological requirements of the herring resource.

“It’s complicated,” she said. “There are a lot of elements to this process.”

NEFMC member David Pierce said the question is how to strike a balance between the needs of the herring industry and the lobster fishery that depends on herring as bait, with the importance of herring as forage.

Pierce proposed that NEFMC select Alternative 4A. Alternative 4 comes with six options, 4A through 4F, which generally maintain higher herring biomass but provide less yield, with lower maximum fishing mortality rates, as compared to taking no action. According to the draft, control rules that incorporate parameters that reduce and/or eliminate fishing mortality when biomass falls below certain thresholds more explicitly account for the special ecosystem status of herring as important forage. Pierce said the action would balance fishing industry needs with forage needs.

“It’s a motion that provides us with a conservative management approach,” he said. “It provides a short-term loss of yield to the fishery, but it’s also robust to a range of stock conditions.”

One commenter said he supported the motion, at least to go out to public comment.

“I believe that something has to come out of this process,” he said. He said that it appears the lobster industry has been making do with inadequate supplies of herring, for bait, over the past couple of years, and seems to be doing all right with alternative baits. “So I wouldn’t let bait drive it. It’s important that we have a healthy stock.”

“I don’t support this. I don’t believe people around the table understand the document.” – Mary Beth Tooley, government and regulatory affairs for the O’Hara Corporation in Rockland Fishermen’s Voice file photo

“I don’t support this,” said Mary Beth Tooley, who coordinates government and regulatory affairs for the O’Hara Corporation in Rockland. “The primary reason is that I don’t believe people around the table understand the document. So the best outcome is no preferred alternative, and have a real discussion about what it means over the long-term.” Decreases in bait supply would exacerbate “a crisis for the last few years in the Gulf of Maine” around the lack of bait, she said. “Our customers have been on rationed bait and the impact on them has been great.” To keep lobstermen in bait, she said, O’Hara this year bought more frozen fish, from around the world, than any year before. “If we take less herring and replace it with something else – that’s of significant concern.”

But Erica Fuller, an attorney with Earthjustice, supported picking a preferred alternative. She said her organization favored Alternative 2, which is designed to maintain lower rates of fishing mortality and higher levels of forage fish biomass, compared to more conventional approaches that generally allow higher maximum fishing mortality rates and fishery cutoffs at lower biomass levels. “It sets a target, threshold, and cut-off that ranks highest among all operating models,” Fuller said. “It has the least probability of the stock becoming overfished and that it will be subjected to overfishing.”

Another speaker said it was important for NEFMC to pick a preferred alternative before sending the document out for public comment. “It’s helpful for the public to understand which way the council is leaning,” he said.

But Meghan Lapp of Seafreeze Ltd. in North Kingstown, R.I., said NEFMC should wait to choose a preferred alternative until it has hard numbers on the impacts to the fishery of each alternative , broken down by area. She and other advocated for sending the matter back to NEFMC’s herring committee for further analysis.

Maine’s representatives on the NEFMC, Department of Marine Resources Commissioner Pat Keliher and NEFMC’s Vice Chairman Terry Stockwell, agreed that it would be appropriate to send the matter back to the committee.

“The committee was like a deer in the headlights,” said Keliher. “It’s a very complex document.” Keliher also noted that, regarding the amount and different types of bait coming into the Gulf of Maine, biosecurity should also be part of the conversation.

“I’d be comfortable with trying again at the committee level and not go out to public hearing with a preferred alternative that the committee hasn’t had a chance to fully discuss,” said Stockwell.

But Greater Atlantic Regional Administrator John Bullard said he favored Pierce’s motion. “We set out a process that attempted and, I think, succeeded in weighing many criteria and many alternatives, with ways to score all those alternatives,” said Bullard. Ultimately, he said, it’s important to select a preferred alternative and keep the process moving along.

“We need to move forward,” agreed NEFMC member John Pappalardo. “The council needs to stick with the timeline.” Sending the options back to the committee, then returning again to the council, will only result in the same debate, and it will stall discussion on the other half of Amendment 8, which is to address localized depletion of the herring resource.

Ultimately, the motion failed 7-9 with one abstention.

Nies noted that not choosing a preferred alternative could have cascading effects. One of the goals of Amendment 8 is to have a control rule in place to use for setting specifications for 2019. He said it would also affect localized depletion analyses and control rule analyses.

“I’m concerned about cascading effects,” said Pappalardo, who moved that NEFMC should decline to select a preferred alternative and instead immediately bring the document out to the public.

“If we’re going to get this out the door to be used ahead of the next benchmark, we have to move this ahead and let the pieces fall where they may,” agreed Stockwell. “It’s time to move on.”

Pierce also agreed. “I’d rather see the staff and PDT [plan development team] work on the localized depletion part of this amendment,” he said.

Pappalardo’s motion passed 16-0 with 1 abstention.

According to NEFMC’s press release, alternatives to address localized depletion, which is also called “user conflict,” will be discussed during NEFMC’s Dec. 5-7 meeting in Newport, R.I. Hearings on Amendment 8 are tentatively planned for spring 2018.

For more information, visit nefmc.org or contact Boelke at (978) 465-0492, ext. 105, dboelke@nefmc.org.

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