Northern Gulf of Maine Measure Keeps Scallop Boats Fishing

by Laurie Schreiber

NEWPORT, R.I.—At its Dec. 7 meeting, the New England Fishery Management Council (NEFMC) voted to set the total allowable catch (TAC) for the Northern Gulf of Maine (NGOM) Management Area at 200,000 pounds for the 2018 fishing year and 135,000 pounds for 2019 as a default.

NEFMC also voted to split the TAC between the limited access and general category components of the fishery, with the first 70,000 pounds of the TAC going to the general category fishery and the remainder split 50/50 between limited access and general category boats.

NEFMC stipulated that the limited access portion of the TAC would be available for research set-aside compensation fishing only. Priority will be given to research set-aside projects that involve research in the Northern Gulf of Maine area.

The decision came in response to requests from NGOM general category fishermen, who said they were shut down far shy of their quota in 2016 and 2017.

NEFMC received correspondence signed by several dozen fishermen on the matter. A Nov. 24 letter read, “We have been waiting a very long time for the NGOM to rebuild. Last year, we were shut down almost 30,000 pounds shy of our TAC in an attempt to preserve a viable biomass on Stellwagen. Survey data show there wasn’t as much left there as many of us had hoped. We believe the 70K base with a 50/50 split is fair and reasonable given the history of the scallop fishing in the Gulf of Maine. We also believe it gives us the best chance to have a sustainable fishery in 2018 and in subsequent years as we work to craft a long-term NGOM solution.”

The letter asked that NEFMC also act to ensure regulations are in place by April 1 as a “hard, enforceable” NGOM TAC. “How the LA fleet chooses to distribute their portion of the TAC is ultimately up to them, as long as there are bulletproof measures in place by April 1 to ensure that allocation is not exceeded,” the letter said.

A letter from Togue Brawn of Downeast Dayboat in Portland made the same request:

“Last year, the Gen Cat fleet was shut down almost 30,000 pounds shy of their TAC while Limited Access vessels were allowed to remove more than 1.5 million pounds from the NGOM. Survey data from this spring confirm what we’d feared: the large biomass on Stellwagen that might have gone on to speed the rebuilding of the NGOM was greatly reduced.” Brawn’s letter continued, “With the exception of the past two years, which no one should wish to repeat, the Gen Cat Fleet has historically harvested the majority of scallops in the Gulf of Maine.”

Speaking at the NEFMC meeting, Brawn said, “The issue is important to lot a of folks. We’ve been working on this a long time. Nobody wants to see repeat of what happened in 2016 and 2017. We want a viable fishery for all gear types.”

NEFMC noted that the split is a short-term solution and is not intended to be permanent.

According to NEFMC, the Atlantic sea scallop fishery consists of two primary fleets—the Limited Access and the Limited Access General Category fleets.

The LA fleet is managed with days-at-sea – a number of days that can be fished per year – and an access area rotation program. NEFMC established the rotation program to promote optimal yield in the fishery. Under the rotation program, NEFMC closes areas with large concentrations of fast-growing, small scallops before the scallops are exposed to fishing. When the areas are open for access, vessels are allocated a number of trips with corresponding trip limits that they may use.

The LAGC boats fish under Individual Fishing Quotas. Although IFQ vessels are allocated a number of fleet-wide trips into the scallop access areas, most of the scallop fishing by LAGC IFQ vessels occurs in open areas.

The scallop fishery operates year-round. The fishing year for management measures is March 1 to Feb. 28.

NEFMC’s decision regarding Northern Gulf of Maine fishing came as part of its development of Framework 29 to its scallop management plan. According to the draft framework’s problem statement, “Recent high landings and unknown biomass in the NGOM scallop management area underscore the critical need to initiate surveys and develop additional tools to better manage the area and fully understand the total removals from the management area.”

NEFMC considered three alternatives to address the NGOM situation. In addition to the alternative described above, there was a no-action alternative, which have set the NGOM TAC for the 2018-2019 fishing year at 95,000 pounds for general category vessels and would have allowed limited access vessels to operate in the area using days at sea until the general category fleet was projected to harvest its TAC, at which point the area would close to all scallop fishing. There would have been no NGOM TAC specified for FY2019. The no-action alternative would have been consistent with default measures set through Framework 28.

A third alternative would have set the NGOM TAC at zero pounds for fishing years 2018 and 2019, closing scallop fishing in federal waters there all together.

Other measures under Framework 29 include 2018 fishing year specifications and 2019 default specifications elsewhere in the fishery.

A final rule is expected later this winter or early spring.