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MLA Update: February 2016

MLA Directors Meeting Summary The MLA Directors met on January 6 in Belfast. Matt Jacobson, Maine Lobster Marketing Collaborative director, updated the Board on the Collaborative’s accomplishments and its goals for 2016. “Ninety percent of Maine lobster sold nationally goes to restaurants. But we are only on the menu four percent of the time. Lobster of any kind is on the menu just 17% of the time,” Jacobson told the MLA. “How can we change that?” The Collaborative’s response has been to focus on upscale casual restaurants where chefs develop flavors and styles that can become mainstream. In 2015, the Collaborative brought chefs, restaurateurs and food journalists together with Maine lobstermen and lobster at hosted events in New York City and Chicago. At those gatherings many chefs ordered lobster on the spot. MLMC will build on this success in 2016 by further connecting Maine lobstermen to the culinary worlds in New York, Atlanta and Washington, D.C. Jacobson views lobstermen as shareholders in his organization’s efforts to promote Maine lobster. The Collaborative will hold media trainings for lobstermen during the Maine Fishermen’s Forum and schedule other trainings with groups like the MLA. Lobstermen will be invited to take part in the Collaborative’s 2016 presentations. The Collaborative will produce a quarterly report card to measure the results of its work and provide accountability to the industry, in addition to its annual meeting which is held during the Maine Fishermen’s Forum. The MLA briefly discussed the effects of El Nino this year, specifically the warm ocean temperatures. The lobster industry must remain vigilant in tracking these changing ocean conditions and prepare for potential impacts on the lobster market. The MLA board highlighted the need to focus on the best quality and handing practices since we can’t control the weather. Ocean observation data in 2015 show temperatures returning to 10-year averages or cooler, but then jumping to the 10-year highs in December and January. If the strong El Nino continues, this could translate into very warm spring ocean water temperatures reminiscent of 2012. Kristan Porter told the board that there will be a session at the Forum on Thursday afternoon with fishermen from Alaska, Australia and other parts of the world discussing their observations of changes in their areas. The MLA Board discussed plans for the MLA Annual meeting on Friday, March 4 at 9 a.m. at the Samoset Resort in Rockport. Jean Lavallée is confirmed as the keynote to speaker. He will speak about how the biology of the lobster dictates its quality and is affected during handling. NOAA is seeking industry input on a hydrographic survey of inshore Penobscot Bay in 2016 using the Ferdinand Hassler. Previous surveys resulted in gear conflicts with lobstermen in southern Maine. NOAA is seeking feedback on the area proposed for survey and when the survey should or should not take place. MLA Directors said that a survey this close to shore would only be viable during the winter months. The MLA discussed LD 1503 which proposes several key changes to Maine’s lobster licensing and entry system. . The overarching sentiment expressed by MLA Directors and members was that this bill undermines the power of the zones with no guarantee that the waiting lists will shrink faster. The MLA does not support taking power away from the zones. Further, the zones already have the authority to do what is proposed, so the Legislature should not force all zones to use licenses as the basis for the exit ratio. Every zone is different; they have different priorities, different amounts of fishing pressure, crowding and economics. Many believe that the current system is doing its job, and in time there will be more movement from the waiting list. Overall the MLA supported the idea of expanding opportunities for students, but there was much debate over the details of the proposal. Maine needs to provide opportunities to keep young people in Maine; we need good jobs and a reason for them to live in their communities. Is 23 the right age? Should it be younger? Is it fair to expand opportunities for students when the problem lies with the waiting list? Should students be required to have a diploma or GED? There are many successful lobstermen who don’t have those. Should the provision to be a student be waived altogether? Some believe we should create incentives for fishermen to be well educated. Many raised concerns over letting an additional 53 students into the zones if the provision were implemented retroactively. The MLA Board worried that these two provisions could actually result in increased effort in the fishery, which is not acceptable. There were strong concerns that using licenses as currency will increase effort on the water as latent licenses may be replaced with active licenses. Students are already getting in, and also a lot of latency that has been activated by the commercial lobster license holders. Others worry that so many lobstermen have survived lean times in the past. If lobster stocks take a downturn, or if the offshore fishery dries up and that effort moves back inshore, younger people will not make it if we continue to bring more lobstermen into the fishery. Others fear that this scenario would set Maine up for future trap reductions. It seems like a risky proposition, given that scientists have predicted there could be a downturn in the fishery based on lobster settlement. Maine’s lobster fishery is one of the most sustainable fisheries in the world. We’ve gotten many things right and have a lot to lose if we make the wrong changes. There is inevitably pressure to access the fishery during times of success and profitability. Comparable fisheries around the world are either closed or there is a high cost of entry into the fishery. Maine’s lobster fishery is successful because of our conservation practices, stewardship and co-management through the zones. The public hearing for LD 1503 is Feb 10 at 10 a.m. MLA Directors met on February 3 for a workshop to further discuss the bill.

Lobster Advisory Council The LAC met on January 19 to discuss LD 1503 and vote on its proposals. The LAC voted unanimously to oppose changing the currency for exit ratios to licenses. The LAC supports the status quo which allows zones the option to base exit ratios on licenses or tags. The LAC voted unanimously to support expanding the student license program, so that students would have to complete the Apprentice Program before they turn 23 (rather than 18 which is currently in place) in order to obtain a commercial license without going on the waiting list. The LAC voted only on this provision and did not vote on the other proposals to the student license (such as starting before age 18, the requirement to have a HS diploma or GED, or whether or not this provision should be implemented retroactively). The LAC unanimously supported changes to the Island Limited Entry program so that Apprentices who wish to participate in an island’s program do not need to apprentice in the zone where the island is located. The LAC did not vote on the proposal to change the support required in an island referendum from 2/3 to a majority. The majority of the LAC did not support the creation of a Limited Class II commercial lobster license (vote 8:2).The LAC unanimously supported the changes to allow a lobstermen to purchase up to the maximum number of trap tags the license holder purchased in any previous year. The LAC also discussed creating a new requirement for Apprentices on the waiting list to renew their spot on the list annually. Lobster exports to China NOAA Fisheries Office of International Affairs and Seafood Inspection has updated key lobster industry members, including the MLA, on an emerging trade issue with China. China has been reviewing the inspection standards for much of the food it imports. The Chinese visited the U.S. during last summer to review NOAA’s Seafood Inspection program and, specifically, lobster. NOAA reports that the Chinese did not voice any concern over the controls in place regarding the export of lobster at that time. However, in early December, 2015, NOAA received a report from the Chinese that they have concerns and plan to test all shipments of live lobster arriving in China. Since testing could take five to seven days, this could result in high losses of live shipments. NOAA has responded by implementing an annual monitoring program for lobster. Testing would take place on a quarterly basis so that the Chinese would not need to test shipments of live lobster arriving in China. The Chinese are expected to visit Canada in April to look at similar issues with lobster exports. Therefore, NOAA is proposing that this testing program be implemented in the U.S. and Canada so that both fisheries operate under the same export standards.

Maine to implement Jonah crab plan


Is your ghost gear still fishing? How long do your lobster traps continue to fish after you lose gear? According to researchers at the Virginia Institute of Marine Sciences (VIMS) and the Massachusetts Division of Marine Fisheries, longer than you might think! Research has shown the ferrous hog rings that are not exposed to air corrode very slowly, while those that are hauled regularly (and exposed to the air) degrade very quickly. Ghost gear retrieval projects have found ghost panels still intact in lobster gear that had been lost for at least five years. The Massachusetts study found that ghost panels did not fail after two full years on the bottom. Discussions are underway to explore more effective methods to incorporate ghost panels into lobster traps.

MLA Comments on ASMFC Herring Plan In November, the ASMFC Atlantic Herring Section approved the Public Hearing Document for Draft Amendment 3 to the Interstate Fishery Management Plan (FMP) for Atlantic Herring. The draft amendment recognized that the herring stock has rebuilt since the 1990’s. There is now a broad range of age classes with older and larger fish when compared to the stock during overfished conditions. The amendment was initiated to strengthen spawning protections in Area 1A (inshore Gulf of Maine) and address concerns raised by the commercial fishing industry. The Public Hearing Document proposes 1) alternatives to the spawning monitoring program (protocol, default start dates, area boundaries, and length of the closure period); 2) removing the fixed gear set‐aside rollover provision; and 3) requiring a vessel’s fish hold to be emptied before leaving on a fishing trip. MLA comments: The Maine Lobstermen’s Association (MLA) is providing comments on the proposals under consideration in the Draft Amendment 3 to the Atlantic Herring IFMP document. MLA is Maine’s oldest and largest fishing industry organization whose mission is to advocate for a sustainable lobster resource and the fishermen and communities that depend on it. Maine’s lobster industry is worth well over a billion dollars and our coastal economy depends on its success. In 2014, Maine’s 5,000 lobstermen landed nearly 125 million pounds for the third year in a row, valued at more than $450 million. Maine lobster accounted for nearly 80% of the value of all seafood landed in Maine and is by far our state’s most valuable fishery. While official statistics are not yet available for 2015, industry feedback has indicated that the 2015 has been another strong and profitable year for Maine lobstermen. Maine lobstermen are the primary consumers of Atlantic herring. Fresh herring continues to be the preferred bait choice of most Maine lobstermen and many depend solely on herring to bait their lobster traps. Lobstermen need bait to fish, therefore the MLA has a strong, vested interest and sustaining the herring stock and herring fishery over the long‐term. The MLA supports the premise of Draft Amendment 3—we want to see effective measures in place to protect the spawning stock to help ensure the long‐term sustainability of the herring resource and fishery. As noted in the public hearing document, the herring stock has rebuilt since the 1990’s and there is now a broad range of age classes with older and larger fish when compared to the stock during overfished conditions. Therefore, it appears that the existing management plan has been effective and there is no pressing need to make changes unless they further improve the health of the herring stock in a manner that does not negatively impact the harvest of the resource and a steady bait supply. The ASMFC’s work to manage the herring fishery significantly and directly impacts Maine’s lobster fishery. For example, during the 2015 fishing season, the bait supply experienced many interruptions, which cost the lobster fishery time and money. The second trimester Area 1A fishery had been predicted to last through September but was closed abruptly on August 28; the third trimester 1A fishery barely lasted one month closing in early November; the Area 3 fishery was closed on October 22; and the inshore spawning closures were in place coast‐wide from August 15 to November 4. The impacts of these combined factors on Maine’s lobster fishery included a short‐term lack of bait for some lobstermen resulting in time out of the fishery. Most of these lobstermen had to scramble to find alternate bait sources in order to resume fishing. And most lobstermen along the Maine coast experienced spikes in the price of bait due to the unexpected lack of supply. Spawning herring need to be protected to ensure the continued sustainability of the fishery. The MLA has long supported spawning protections, particularly the earlier program that included a 20% tolerance. This approach worked well for Maine and allowed for strong protections of spawning herring with the least interruption to the fishery. It is important to consider how all of the management requirements combine to affect the herring fleet’s ability to catch fish during the period when demand for bait is highest. It has been challenging under the current management structure to keep a steady supply of herring landings during the late summer and fall months. With regard to the specific proposals in draft Amendment 3, the MLA does not feel that we have enough information to confidently support one proposed option over another. The MLA would support the option that has the least interruption to the commercial fishery (4 week closures versus 6 week closures) if it provides adequate protection for the fish. To ensure the least interruption of the bait supply, the MLA would support a four week closure with sampling during the last week of the closure to determine if it should be extended for an additional two weeks. Under this scenario, the samples should be obtained in a timely manner so that the closure remains in place without interruption. The MLA does support the additional flexibility proposed in several of the options to obtain fish samples from outside the commercial fishery to provide flexibility and help ensure that adequate samples are obtained if the herring fleet is not operating in a particular area. The MLA did not see any justification in the document to change the spawning area boundaries. Finally, the MLA is concerned about the reported dumping of unsold herring at sea if there is a bottle neck in the supply chain when the fish are landed. The demand for fresh herring is very strong in the Maine lobster industry and there is a strong market for every single herring that is landed. The MLA supports implementing provisions to prevent the dumping of fish, and requiring an empty fish hold prior to trip departure could address this issue. However, it is important to engage the herring fleet directly in this discussion as they are the ones involved in the harvest and sale of those fish and may be able to provide alternate solutions to address this issue. Overall, the herring stock has rebuilt and is stable. We applaud the Commission for seeking out options to further improve the overall health of the herring fishery. Given the lobster industry’s strong dependence on the Atlantic herring fishery for our bait supply, please carefully consider the implications of further interrupting the herring fishery since this will greatly impact the Maine lobster fishery during the late summer and fall months. Thank you for your consideration of these comments. Sincerely, Patrice McCarron


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