Amendment A18

February 28th marks the last day the New England Fishery Management Council will accept comments on amendment A18 scoping to address fleet consolidation.  Here is my letter:

To the New England Fisheries Management Council,

 

            I understand that the council has an extremely full plate at the moment, but a no-action vote on A18 will only postpone actions that will inevitably be needed to save this industry.  I oppose the no-action vote on A18 because fleet diversity will and is changing the historic New England groundfish fleet and its communities forever.  The longer we wait to address these problems the harder they will be to fix.  I have been working in the industry for 12 years as a stern-man and a captain and the dream of one day owning a fishing boat is becoming a pipe dream.  I don’t want a 100’ boat.  I don’t want 2 million pounds of fish to catch.  I want to do what fishermen have been doing for generations: work a small boat; employ one or two local people; support local infrastructure; supply the freshest product in a sustainable manner. 

            Consolidation, as we are seeing right now with GOM cod, will not solve the sustainability problems that sector management aimed to do.  It’s costing the industry jobs while depleting the fish populations at an alarming rate.  And try as they might, no fisherman in the northeast believes that claiming the 2008 stock surveys were wrong is a valid explanation as to why our most recent stock survey was so dire. 

            As far as actions, there are many ideas floating around…and most of them seem to be focused on one issue: stop offshore boats from catching inshore fish.  The western GOM is just a thumbprint on the map of George’s bank and cannot handle the fishing power that it is currently faced with.  Many of these large vessels acquired their GOM allocations through the process of consolidation.  It seems to me that this increase in inshore fishing power is not the goal of allocations in the first place.  Some baseline requirements must be put in place to protect this fragile broad-stock area.  Look at the successes of the past in the GOM. 

            Also, with the demand for allocation at an all-time high, prices are making it impossible for the next generation of fishermen to get their foot in the door.  So much of this allocation has been tied up in various permit banks to be leased, why couldn’t there be requirements for permit banks to return allocation to the fishermen’s hands once the initial costs have been covered and a set profit made?  This re-sale of allocation would be available to fishermen who meet a set list of requirements (i.e. Owner/operator; new entrant; etc.) and would allow the permit banks to continue to operate while giving fishermen an opportunity to catch ‘their own’ fish.  The current system has created a first in the industry: people making a profit from fish that they did not catch.  These leasing costs are killing the day-boat fleet who cannot absorb the extra expenses given the volatility of fish prices.  That is not what being a fisherman is supposed to be about. 

            Actions taken to confront the current issues in this industry will shape the face of the New England groundfishery for years to come.  We will all have our fingerprints on the results.  Our legacy should not be to increase profits for the ‘winners’ under the guise of environmentally conscious action.  I only hope that the quiet voices of the many can defeat the loud voices of the few. 

Yeah, I got a little corny at the end.  Sue me.  If you think you can do better, feel free: groundfish.amendment18@noaa.gov

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