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  • MLCA

Meeting Roundup: October 2012

MLA Directors Meeting September 4, Belfast, ME -- The MLA Board of Directors reviewed and approved the Financial Report, new membership brochure, and Buy ME Lobster stickers which will be distributed to MLA members. Members then discussed the Coast Guard voluntary dockside safety exams which become mandatory for all fishing vessels operating beyond the 3 mile line as of October 16. Those with a current decal are in compliance until the decal expires. Dockside exams are free of charge and the safety requirements are the same as those which have been in effect for the past 20 years. Directors commented that it will be nearly impossible for the Coast Guard to get all vessels inspected by the deadline. And the October deadline will force most vessels to be due for re-inspection when these decals expire in two years. It was suggested that the Coast Guard consider exempting any vessel which has been boarded in the last year from the October 16th deadline. Many changes are underway in bait management. NEFMC must implement court-ordered changes in the herring management plan through Amendment 5, which is currently being developed. NEFMC completed a new benchmark stock assessment for herring and determined that the resource is not overfished and overfishing is not occurring. NEFMC will meet to set the 2013-2015 specifications on acceptable catch by management area. ASMFC is moving forward with a new menhaden plan to end overfishing and includes a range of harvest reductions from 0 to 50% of current harvest levels. The recent stock assessment indicated that the stock is experiencing overfishing but may not be overfished depending upon the reference points chosen. The plan looks at a broad range of potential harvest reductions and allocation scenarios beyond the historical allocations and traditional quotas. ASMFC is accepting comments until November 16. The herring acoustic survey conducted by GMRI in partnership with MLA runs for ten weeks, from September through November. Ten lobster vessels are using acoustic equipment to measure the relative abundance of inshore herring stocks. The NEFMC Groundfish Committee has recommended opening the year-round groundfish closed areas to groundfishing. The MLA submitted written comments stating strong concern over the impacts on groundfish stocks and gear conflicts with lobstermen, particularly in the areas around Jeffrey’s Ledge. The directors expressed strong concern about opening up groundfish closed areas. The MLA is a founding member of a new group called the American Origin Products Association, established to advocate for recognition and protection of products which are strongly linked to a geographic region. Other members include Idaho potatoes, Napa Valley wine, Kona Coffee, Georgia peaches, Vermont maple syrup, and others. Bob Baines provided an update on the Lobster Advisory Council’s efforts to establish a new marketing entity for Maine lobster. The LAC voted to move forward with a bill to the Legislature to raise $3 million toward marketing and building demand for Maine Lobster. The bill is still being drafted and will be shared with the LAC and zone councils; , additional opportunity to comment will happen through the Legislature’s public comment process. This proposal appears to have broad industry support. The MLA Directors voted unanimously to support the LAC’s proposal. Bob then provided an update on two LAC subcommittee meetings to discuss potential harvester reforms aimed at improving harvester profitability and product quality. The first meeting held in August included a large group of harvesters, dealers and processors; the second meeting included a small group of harvesters and DMR staff. The groups discussed a variety of options ranging from trap reductions (seasonal or year-round), days out of the fishery and other measures. The Board acknowledged the gravity of the present situation and the need to create more financial stability for harvesters. There was also consensus among members that the strong early catch remains a concern and landing of dead and weak lobsters should be addressed. However, it was noted that the situation varies significantly by area of the coast. Most lobstermen fishing in areas east of Vinalhaven and Deer Isle are experiencing very strong landings and remain profitable based on volume. Lobstermen fishing in areas west of Casco Bay have seen more stable prices but land less lobster than other areas of the state. Any proposal must consider regional differences in the fishery and any controversial proposal for harvester reforms could jeopardize the marketing proposal. The Board reached consensus on the need to improve the industry and developed a list of goals to guide any proposals for harvester reform. Goals of harvester reform: The lobster industry is in crisis and doing nothing is not an option. Action must be taken in a timely manner. We want to improve profitability of harvesters by looking at ways to control cost and improve the value of the product. We want to maintain a 100+ million pound fishery. We want to reduce our dependence on Canadian processors. We want to maintain a future for the younger generations of lobstermen. We want to improve the quality of the product we land meaning reduced mortality, improved shippability and better meat content. As we consider solutions, everything is on the table. Any changes implemented must sunset if they have not improved the profitability of lobstermen and quality of product landed.

NEFMC Herring Committee and ASMFC Herring Section September 20 – Warwick, RI – The NEFMC and ASMFC held a joint Herring Committee and Section meeting to discuss several herring management issues including development of recommendations for the quota available during the 2013 to 2015 fishing seasons. Council and NMFS staff provided an update on the court order concerning Amendment 4. Herring specifications will be dealt with by the end of this year, separate from the river herring bycatch issues. The bycatch issues will be dealt with through a Framework adjustment to Amendment 5, which has not yet been adopted by the Council. Jon Deroba, lead assessment scientist for Atlantic Herring from the Northeast Fisheries Science Center, presented the results of the 2012 Atlantic Herring Benchmark Stock Assessment. This assessment concluded that the stock is rebuilt – the stock is not overfished and overfishing is not occurring. The assessment included significant changes from previous assessments. This assessment incorporated four new data approaches: 1) US catch data were separated into fixed and mobile gears during 1964-2011; 2) a new method was developed to determine natural mortality; 3) selectivity was estimated for any survey with age composition data; and 4) maturity at age varied through time in the 2012 assessment. The three main sources of scientific uncertainty regarding Atlantic herring from this assessment included the estimate of the 2008 year class which is the largest ever recorded, methods for determining natural mortality, and the Biological Reference Points (BRPs). To move forward, the members adopted the SSC’s recommendation to land a constant catch of 114,000 metric tons during the three year period. The SSC determined an Acceptable Biological Catch (ABC) of 114,000 mt would not result in an overfished stock and that it was not likely to lead to overfishing. After a long debate, the members voted to deduct 6,200 mt of herring to account for management uncertainty and to potential landings from the New Brunswick weir fishery. This produced an Annual Catch Limit (ACL) of 107,800 mt, a nearly 17,000 mt increase over the current ACL. The NEFMC will consider these recommendation at its September meeting and develop options to allocate the ACL by management area. New area-by-area catch limits will not be in place at the start of the 2013 herring fishing season. The previous catch limits will remain in place while the details of the new annual catch limits are finalized.

ASFMC herring days out meeting September 20 – Warwick, RI – The ASFMC met to discuss management of landing days for the Area 1A herring fishery. It reaffirmed that Area 1A fishery would be allowed 7 landing days through the end of September, given the rate of landings and spawning closures. The Section also voted to allow the fishery to continue with 7 landing days beginning October 1, when midwater trawl vessels are allowed to operate in Area 1A. Model predictions, though highly uncertain, indicate that the herring quota may be landed by mid-October under this scenario.

Zone Council meetings Zone councils B and F met in late September. At the Zone B meeting, Togue Brawn and John Hathaway, Shucks Maine Lobster, gave an update on the Marine Stewardship Council certification process. The discussion among members was generally favorable. Peter Jones, a former Vinalhaven lobster dealer, addressed the council about finding tools to deal with fluctuations in lobster prices in the future. He urged the members to think about these options even if the price gets better. Sarah Cotnoir, DMR, spoke about the LAC subcommittee on marketing and profitability meeting held in Camden earlier this summer. Council members reviewed some of the alternatives brought up at that meeting at length, particularly those related to marketing. Sarah also reminded members that Area 1A letters are due to NMFS by November 1 and that the Northern shrimp public hearings were coming up in early October. She also said that one additional lobster license was going to the Cranberry Islands through the island limited entry program. Zone F also discussed the MSC certification process; members were generally in favor of it. Concerning the marketing and profitability subcommmitte’s findings, one zone F fishermen said that lobstermen in his area would be agreeable to fishing fewer traps in order to keep expenses down provided that such a change would have a one year sunset provision. Members also discussed at length the recent NOAA finding that sea surface temperatures were unusually high this past summer. Sarah Cotnoir reminded members that the Area 1A letters are due on November 1. She was asked to provide information on who DMR had selected as trap tag manufacturer for the next meeting.


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