OP / ED
Use It or Lose It?
In February the Fishermen’s Voice editorial referred to a “Use it or lose it” policy on shrimp licenses. The Maine shrimp fishery is, in fact, open. The Maine Department of Marine Resources (DMR) has pointed out that they have been active in keeping it open.
There is however, a use it or lose it policy on scallop permits. If a fisherman decides to not buy a scallop permit one year, he will not be able to get a scallop permit the following season. Some have therefore been paying the license fee whether or not they intend to fish.
That editorial however, was not about shrimp licenses, but it was critical of government fisheries management and policy, and in particular accountability. Regulatory impact on Maine shrimp markets in the 1990s was compounded by federal policies on imported pond-raised shrimp. Management decisions affect fish, and they affect fish businesses.
The Maine DMR cannot be considered in the same light as the feds. The Maine DMR has, with the lobstermen, overseen the best-managed fishery in the nation. The Maine lobster fishery is recognized around the world as a well managed, owner-operated, sustainable fishery.
The DMR has worked toward science-based lobster management, from water quality to computer modeling, in the interests of the industry and Maine lobstermen. While other Maine fisheries are not faring as well, it is not for the reasons that federal policies have failed.
The National Marine Fisheries Service (NMFS) policies are a complex mess driven by economic forces that dwarf a relatively small constituency of fishermen. The stated NMFS policy is to reduce the number boats in the water. Pushing for heavily capitalized, corporate-owned bigger boats, and industrialized fishing while disregarding contemporary habitat science—research that supports small boats, selective gear technology development, owner-operated oversight, and the long-term social and economic health of a 400-year-old New England industry—is the NMFS response to the fisheries crisis.
Accountability is to their agenda, but not to fishermen, or the Magnuson Stevens Act on social and economic impacts. Who moves Congress to move the Department of Commerce, NOAA, and NMFS? Not the owner/operators of 60’ boats.
Government employees always leave the fisheries management table relatively secure. The effect of their management decisions does not directly impact their paychecks, their mortgages, their families, or their retirements, the same way they can impact fishermen and the industry.