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Meeting Roundup: September 2012

Atlantic States Marine Fisheries Commission August 7-9, Virginia -- The ASMFC Atlantic Herring Section approved Addendum V to Amendment 2 to the Atlantic Herring Management Plan, which addresses spawning regulations. Specifically, the Section approved a change that specifies when closures are triggered based on the percent of stage III – V spawn herring that are greater than or equal to 23 centimeters. The Addendum will replace all spawning regulations in previous management documents to provide a single, clear document for states to use. The Section also received the results of the latest benchmark assessment for Atlantic herring, conducted by the Northeast Regional Stock Assessment Workshop, which determined the stock is not overfished and overfishing is not occurring. Spawning stock biomass in 2011 is estimated at 518,000 metric tons (mt), well above the threshold and target of 78,500 mt and 157,000 mt, respectively. The latest assessment is different than previous assessments because it examined predator consumption on Atlantic herring biomass and productivity. The Section will meet jointly with the New England Fishery Management Council on September 20 to set specifications for the 2013-2016 fishing seasons. The ASMFC American Lobster Board has approved Addendum XVIII to Amendment 3 to the American Lobster Management Plan. The Addendum establishes a consolidation program for LCMAs 2 and 3 (Southern New England and offshore waters, respectively) to address latent effort by reducing the overall number of traps allocated. The Addendum’s implementation is contingent upon NOAA’s implementation of transferability and trap reduction rules for federal waters. LCMA 2 trap allocation will be reduced by 25% in year one and then by 5% for the following five years, ultimately reducing total traps allocated by 50%. Trap allocation reductions will start from the initial (2007) permit allocation for state-only permit holders and, for federal permit holders, from the final allocations established by NOAA Fisheries. LCMA 3 trap allocations will be reduced each year by 5% each year for five years, totaling 25%. Trap allocation will be reduced from the current (2012) permit trap allocation. In addition, any other allocation obtained by the permit holder subsequent to the initial allocation would also be cut for both areas. The Addendum responded to the depleted condition of the Southern New England (SNE) lobster resource with an initial goal of reducing qualified trap allocation by at least 25% over a five to ten year period. For trap limits to be effective, latent effort first must be addressed to prevent this effort from coming back into the fishery as the stock grows and catch rates increase. Since the scope of the SNE resource encompasses all or part of six of the seven LCMAs established by Amendment 3, additional addenda will be developed to address effort reductions in the remaining LCMAs. The Board will continue to work with industry and NOAA Fisheries to develop a viable transferability program to address industry’s needs for flexibility. The ASMFC’s Shad and River Herring Board met to review the recent NEFMC actions taken to monitor and reduce alosine bycatch, the recent petition to list river herring on the federal Endangered Species list, and discuss a potential river herring bycatch fishery proposal by Rhode Island. In June, the NEFMC selected its preferred alternatives in Amendment 5 to the Atlantic Herring Fisheries Management Plan. The Council voted to recommend approval of a bycatch avoidance program developed by the Sustainable Fisheries Coalition, the School of Marine Science and Technology, and the Massachusetts Division of Marine Fisheries. Additionally, the Council recommended approval of 100% observer coverage on Category A and B federally permitted Atlantic herring vessels. The Amendment will be submitted to NOAA Fisheries for final approval in September. The Board briefly discussed the August 2011 petition to list river herring on the Endangered Species List. The proposed rule from NOAA Fisheries is pending. The Commission’s Atlantic Menhaden Management Board selected the options to be included in Draft Amendment 2 to the Atlantic Menhaden Management Plan. Among the options approved for public comment are harvest reduction options from 0-50% for 2013. The Board approved the Draft Amendment for public comment contingent upon an additional round of review by Board members and final review and approval by a subcommittee of the Board. Release of the document for public comment is slated for early September, followed by an extensive public comment period and state hearings. The Board’s intent is to take final action on the Amendment this year for implementation in 2013. The Board was also presented the findings of the 2012 stock assessment update, which included the addition of data for 2009 – 2011 to the assessment model. The Technical Committee believes the stock is experiencing overfishing, but is not overfished based on the current reference points used to assess the stock.

Lobster Advisory Council, Profitability and Lobster Quality Committee August 1, Camden – The Lobster Advisory Committee formed a committee to discuss profitability and lobster quality. The meeting attracted a group of more than 40 harvesters, dealers and processors to discuss potential changes on the harvester side of the industry. LAC Chair, Bob Baines, opened the meeting with a discussion of the summer season which has been marked by tie-ups, record landings and high shrinkage. He stated the Committee’s goal is to identify structural changes for the lobster industry which would lead to long-term solutions to improve the profitability of the industry and product quality. Commissioner Keliher stated that these discussions are not about supply and demand – those are taken care of by the market. DMR’s Senior Lobster Biologist, Carl Wilson, stated that the timing and abundance of lobster caught in Maine this season was “somewhat predictable” based on the environmental conditions such as the lack of winter and the abundance of lobster. The early shed was the result of a lack of cooling of deeper waters over the winter putting the season about 4-6 weeks ahead. There is likely to be a pronounced second shed this fall which has the effect of “speeding the conveyor belt” and therefore, the industry won’t catch those lobsters in the spring. Landings from January to June typically average 9 million pounds; this year Maine doubled that. The lack of winter last year could be an anomaly. If Maine has a “normal” winter, the lobster molt should return to normal -- there is typically a 4 week window for the molt. He noted that if the industry is struggling with profits at historic high levels, things could get much worse if landings ever took a turn towards historic levels. A review of landings data showed that the historic average for lobster landings was just 20 million pounds. Recent lobster landings of more than 105 million pounds are driven by landings in Zones A through D, with zones E through G landing far less. Once the shed hits one area of the Maine coast, the shed is on in all areas of the coast within a few weeks. Wilson stated that the biggest potential financial gains for the harvester sector are in the summer when there is a lot of product close to shore. The industry could spend a lot less money to land the same amount of lobster. He stated that there will be a biological consequence if the industry is not profitable because profitability provides a biological buffer. If the resource declines, the lack of profits will hurt the biology of the resource as fishermen fish harder to try to stay ahead. The DMR compiled a list of many suggestions for harvester reforms received from the industry for the purposes of discussion. The ideas included delaying the issuance of tags, fishing seasons, rolling closures or landings reductions, seasonal or year-round gauge changes, landing females only during summer months, taking additional days out of the fishery, seasonal or year-round trap reductions, quotas, capping trap tags, transferring trap tags, price negotiations, incorporating best management practices to improve handling, and status quo. There was also discussion of having a sunset on any ideas that might be put forward. The meeting broke out into smaller groups which discussed the list of suggestions for changes in the industry. The large group reconvened to discuss the outcome. There was widespread agreement over the need to improve industry profitability and product quality, however, there was little consensus on how to achieve that. There were some who supported minor changes such as taking an additional day, such as Sunday, out of the fishery; making crab vents illegal; fishing curfews; or temporarily increasing the gauge during the summer months. Others supported more structural changes to the fishery such as significant trap limits, either seasonally or year-round. It was argued that for trap limits to be effective in impacting catch and quality of product, they would need to be significant. Such changes would force lobstermen to strategically fish each trap in order to maximize success. Despite the lack of consensus on which ideas should move forward, there was a strong sense that something should be done to ensure that we leave a profitable fishery for the next generations of lobstermen. A summary of this discussion will be brought to the LAC.

Lobster Advisory Council August 16, Augusta The meeting began with a short discussion of the status of the status of moving Maine lobsters to Canada following the protests held by fishermen at processors around the Northumberland Strait at the beginning of August. Commissioner Pat Keliher explained that since the injunction filed by four processors in the region product has moved smoothly. The majority of the meeting was devoted to the discussion and follow up from the August 1 special LAC meeting held in Camden on Lobster profitability and quality. Bob Baines, LAC chair, explained that the LAC has the responsibility to move the conversation forward. Keliher ensured the audience that the conversation has nothing to do with the reduction of the lobster harvest, but focuses on profitability. The goal, he explained, should be to ensure that we are landing lobsters at a time that we can ensure a quality product – understanding that there are many definitions of “quality”. While a few fishermen in attendance identified a lack of willingness to make changes and to develop new regulations to guide the fishery into a more profitable place, the majority of those who spoke up favored doing something. One identified the fact that the lobster industry is critical part of the state’s coastal economy, and that after the tourism industry the lobster industry is all that’s left. Several fishermen identified with a real need to increase the quality of the lobsters landed and improve handling practices. The LAC nominated Bob Baines, Gerry Cushman, John Drouin, Elliot Thomas, Jon Carter and Dana Rice to serve as members of the subcommittee; they also plan to add representatives from the Maine Lobstermen’s Association and the Downeast Lobstermen’s Association in addition to dealers and processors. The LAC briefly discussed Project Maine Lobster, the proposal that would eliminate the existing Maine Lobster Promotion Council and replace it with a new, robust marketing entity with a roughly $3 million annual budget. Members of the LAC unanimously voted to charge DMR to craft a bill reflecting the change. Additional information will be available through outreach meetings in the fall. Meetings had not been scheduled at the time that this publication went to print. Togue Braun provided a brief summary of the status of the Marine Stewardship Council (MSC) and explained that the Maine lobster industry has passed assessment and certified sustainable by MSC with limited conditions. The action plan will be submitted to Moody Marine (the third party reviewer for Maine’s MSC application), and the report will go out to public comment for 30 days. Moody will submit its final report, including all of the public comments. Stakeholders will have an additional 15 days to challenge. MSC will conduct additional internal review. Official MSC status could arrive to Maine’s lobster industry by early 2013. The next LAC meeting has not been set.

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