Author Archives: Emilie Litsinger

Effective monitoring is critical for the New England groundfish fishery

[Video credit: Archipelago, NMFS and Frank Mirarchi- FV Barbara Peters]

Collecting timely, accurate and complete information from fishing vessels is fundamental to successful fisheries management.  There is an important nexus between the quantity and quality of data collected by monitoring programs that are used for fisheries science and management that makes it more credible to industry and other stakeholders.

EDF continues to work to improve the performance of New England groundfish sectors by supporting the design and implementation of a cost-effective and comprehensive monitoring program that incorporates the use of electronic monitoring (EM).  The current crisis facing the groundfish fishery with low stock abundance and resulting quota cuts, and high uncertainty of stock assessments, highlights the need to produce reliable fisheries information.

Benefits of electronic monitoring:

Monitoring provides a number of benefits to managers, scientists and industry alike.  A well-designed program enables managers to set and monitor annual catch limits (ACLs) and sector quotas – the foundation of the management system.  The information collected provides managers with a better understanding of the effectiveness and impact of management measures on the fleet.  Monitoring programs can also be an early detector of changing environmental conditions, signaling that a shift in stock abundance or other ecosystem change is occurring, providing managers with an opportunity to respond.

A robust monitoring program allows scientists to better account for total catch and characteristics of the catch to reduce uncertainty in the data needed for reliable stock assessments.  With increasing scientific uncertainty of stock status and distrust of stock assessments by the fishing industry and other stakeholders, monitoring is critically important to improving our understanding and increasing confidence in these assessments.

For industry, monitoring increases participation in management and research and moves towards greater co-management of the fishery.  It also allows industry to improve product traceability and marketing.  And it allows industry to track their quota caught in real-time, an essential element to ensure catch limits are not exceeded.

Overcoming challenges:

In New England, there have been numerous challenges to improving the effectiveness of the groundfish sector monitoring program.  The program is costly and relies on incomplete information with too many assumptions that lead to increased uncertainty and bias in science and management, making it hard for fishermen to operate efficiently.

EDF is collaborating with industry, the New England Fishery Management Council (Council), NOAA and other stakeholders to bring the sector monitoring program into the 21st century by approving the use of EM to improve the effectiveness of the program while reducing costs.

Used in conjunction with traditional data collection methods like onboard observers and dockside monitors, these technologies can achieve comprehensive and cost-effective monitoring. Read More »

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EDF Supports Industry Participation in Science

Photo from NOAA/NEMFC invitation

On November 9 the New England groundfish industry will have an opportunity to discuss the state of fishery science with scientists from the National Marine Fisheries Service (NMFS). The workshop in Portsmouth, NH responds to criticism generated by abrupt changes in scientific evaluations of the status of fish stocks that support fishing communities from Maine to New Jersey. The goal of the meeting is to improve assessments by sharing knowledge among fishermen and scientists.

Environmental Defense Fund (EDF) supports greater involvement of fishermen in the stock assessment process and encourages fishermen to work with scientists to ensure that their knowledge and experience add to our understanding of these valuable resources. EDF has developed recommendations aimed at producing the most dependable stock assessments possible. The accumulated knowledge of the fishing industry can contribute to improved stock assessments, and greater industry participation can increase confidence in fishery science.

The first priority is to expand the fleet of potential survey vessels by augmenting surveys by government boats with more extensive surveys using commercial fishing vessels. We believe this is the single most important step that can be taken to improve the reliability of stock assessments and confidence in those assessments. Read More »

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I'll Have the Cod, Please

Being a conscientious seafood lover is difficult today. What is sustainable? What is not? We wrote an op-ed published in the Boston Globe yesterday that we hope will help clarify the right choices to make in order to support both local fishermen and fish stocks. Given the ups and downs of fish populations, what matters most is having a management system in place that puts the fishery on a path to long term stability. Read the op-ed.

 

Posted in Catch Shares, Cod, New England, Seafood| Comments closed

108 New England Fishermen Stand Up for Sector Management

Marking a major shift in the public debate over the groundfish fishery in New England, 108 fishermen from the five coastal New England states — representing all sizes of operations and 178 boats — have submitted a letter  to their Members of Congress saying that a vocal minority in the industry has for too long dominated the debate over Sector management. This letter says that, in fact, there are many fishermen that want their members of Congress to support stability, profitability and flexibility for their fishery, rather than a return to the “chaos” of the previous management approach.

“A few voices calling for the overturn of the entire Sector system have been amplified in the media, and we understand that our elected officials are trying to respond to their constituents’ concerns,” the groups wrote in a letter addressed to “New England’s Senators and Congressmen.”

“Unfortunately,” the letter states, this has led to a series of increasingly dangerous proposals that truly put the future of our businesses and fisheries at risk. Perhaps too many of us in the active industry have been too busy making the new system work to consistently weigh in. This letter is our attempt to rectify that situation.”

The letter was signed by 108 fishermen affiliated with the Associated Fisheries of Maine; Cape Cod Commercial Hook Fishermen’s Association; Midcoast Fishermen’s Association; Northeast Seafood Coalition; and Rhode Island Commercial Fishermen’s Association. Read More »

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One Year of Sector Management in New England Fisheries

Emilie Litsinger, EDF Oceans NE Groundfish Project Manager

Emilie Litsinger, EDF Oceans NE Groundfish Project Manager

A report by the National Marine Fisheries Service (NMFS) released Wednesday highlights results of the first year of the groundfish sector management program in New England. The dramatic management shift appears to be helping the fishery turn the corner to a more economically and environmentally sustainable fishery.

With the first full year of operation under sectors now complete, results of the program’s performance are encouraging. Sector fishermen stayed within their allowed catch levels, groundfish revenues were essentially stable, overall revenues were up, fishermen received higher prices for fish, and  the amount of wasted fish dumped overboard was substantially reduced.

The report highlights a number of continuing trends. For example, the number of active groundfish vessels has been declining for over a decade.  The eight percent decline in the 2010 fishing year was similar to the decline from 2007 to 2009. Read More »

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New England Catch Share Fishermen Serving Up Fresh, Traceable Fish Directly to Restaurants

Stuffed Flounder © 2010 Eliza Adam

A group of fishermen in Rhode Island who helped establish the groundfish and fluke catch share fishery management programs are now able to go back to the days when fishermen sold their fish directly to restaurants versus solely through wholesalers.  Selling directly increases the prices fishermen can get for their catch and also means customers are eating the freshest fish.

Chef John Vestal from New Rivers in Providence, Rhode Island who is a customer of the new fishermen’s distribution company Wild Rhody told The New York Times, “I have been buying all the seafood for the restaurant for over a decade, and what I saw amazed me. The fish was the absolutely most beautiful, fresh, cleanest seafood I had ever seen.”

In a recent article in The Providence Journal, fisherman Chris Brown described why it was difficult to sell directly under the old fishing derby system before the switch to catch shares: “’Used to be, years ago, they would say, ‘the season is open, go,' Brown said. ‘There was a race to fish. We wouldn't have been able to do something like this. Now we can fish to the prompts of the market.’” Read More »

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EDF Agrees with 8 New England Senators, We Should Focus on Refinements to Enhance the Groundfish Sector Management Program

Emilie Litsinger, EDF Oceans NE Groundfish Project Manager

Emilie Litsinger, EDF Oceans NE Groundfish Project Manager

This week senators from Maine, New Hampshire, Massachusetts and Rhode Island sent a letter to Eric Schwaab, National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA) Assistant Administrator for Fisheries, proposing several refinements to enhance the New England groundfish sector management program.  EDF agrees that we need to be adaptive and sectors – as with all fisheries management tools — need to be refined as experience is gathered and evaluated.  With more than a year of operation under sectors now complete, results of the program’s performance show signs of progress that the fishery has started to turn the corner to a more ecologically and economically stable fishery.

EDF agrees with the senators and is very focused on improving the at-sea monitoring program so that is more reliable, comprehensive, and cost effective.  At-sea monitoring costs need to be reduced and the use and electronic monitoring systems need to be approved.  EDF commissioned Northern Economics Inc to conduct an independent 3rd party review of the current sector monitoring program to compare the program with similar programs on the Pacific Coast and in Alaska to make recommendations for improving the design and reducing the costs of the program.  Read More »

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New England Sectors Will Ultimately Serve the Fishermen and the Fisheries Better

New England is going through a sea change this month. Fishermen who catch groundfish (cod, haddock, flounder) are shifting away from decades of failed management, which has led to the decline of fish populations and the loss of thousands of jobs. On May 1st, a type of catch share called sectors began for the groundfish fishery.

There are numerous benefits to fishermen who operate under sectors, as compared to traditional fishery management systems, such as a Days-at-Sea program:

  • Now fishermen have the freedom to decide how, when and where to fish.
  • Fishermen can keep a higher percentage of the fish they catch and are no longer legally forced to discard large amounts of economically valuable fish.
  • For the first time in decades, fishermen have the flexibility to create and follow an actual business plan.
  • For the first time, now fishermen can cooperate and time their landings so that they get a higher price for their fish and avoid market gluts.
  • The days of dangerous “derby-style” fishing are over. Fishermen don’t have to race the clock anymore and can develop innovative ways to avoid bycatch and fish more selectively.
  • Under sectors, fishermen are allowed to fish in portions of the Gulf of Maine Rolling Closure Areas and Georges Bank Seasonal Closure Area which were previously completely off limits to them.
  • Under sectors, fishermen no longer have to worry about “cod jail,” when they had to wait out the clock on the other side of the demarcation line to land their fish.

The transition to catch shares, particularly timed with new MSA requirements of annual catch limits and accountability measures will be challenging for many in New England’s fishing industry. Yet catch shares are an improvement from the alternative — the old days-at-sea system –which is broadly agreed to be broken.  This new system of management will take some getting used to but ultimately will serve the fishermen and the fisheries better.

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