Selected tags: New England Sectors

New England Groundfish Sectors: Things to Look for 2 1/2 Weeks In

Julie Wormser, New England and Mid-Atlantic Regional Director for EDF Oceans program.

Julie Wormser, New England and Mid-Atlantic Regional Director for EDF Oceans program.

New England groundfish sectors, a kind of a catch share management system, are entering their third week of operation.  It’s far too early to pass judgment, but here’s what we’re watching for: 

1) The ability of individual fishermen to maximize their profits and minimize their costs, and

2) The total 2010 harvest of groundfish compared to annual catch limits (ACLs).

An article from SeafoodNews.com that we cited last week discussed these two measures, but was criticized for comparing the first week of landings versus last year’s harvest.  However, since fishermen fishing under sectors no longer have any time constraints to their harvests, weekly landings are not a meaningful measure of success or failure

More important and interesting were the article’s insights into fishermen’s ability to selectively harvest strong stocks and avoid weak stocks, and fishermen’s ability to maximize catch-per-unit-effort (CPUE) by landing all legal species that they catch rather than being required to dump good fish overboard.

A key way fishermen are successfully avoiding weak stocks is through their knowledge of fish behavior and life cycles and through the use of conservation gear such as the Ruhle trawl.

Using this gear, one fisherman in the Rhode Island sector reported landing 8,500 lbs of haddock and only 120 lbs of cod and 140 lbs of yellowtail on a one-day trip to Georges Bank.  That’s a strong stock/weak stock ratio of between 60 and 70 to one.  He said it was the best day of fishing he had had in years. 

Another vessel fishing on Georges Bank, as reported in the SeafoodNews.com article, reported a strong stock to weak stock harvesting ratio of 140:1 haddock to yellowtail and 25:1 haddock to Georges Bank cod. 

Finally, the SeafoodNews.com article reported a six-figure harvest in one trip by one New Bedford sector vessel; we have heard about several others of the same magnitude.

Unquestionably the fact that sectors are being implemented at a time of low catch limits is causing a great deal of stress for a significant number of groundfish fishermen.  It is all the more impressive and hopeful to see these kinds of conservation and business benefits emerging so soon under the new system.

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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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