Saturday, August 3, 2013

Fishing Industry Won't Stop Until Every Fish is Taken...


Despite recommendations by 94 scientists asking for a 50% harvest reduction, they still want more...

By: Josh Bollinger

EASTON — A recently organized group, the Harvesters Land and Sea Coalition, is calling for the withdrawal of regulations put into effect in June by the Maryland Department of Natural Resources on the total allowable catch of menhaden, alleging that DNR didn't follow proper procedure for promulgating the regulations.
"We've tried and tried and tried to work with DNR, and the reason this coalition was started is we can't do anything else," Bob Newberry, spokesman for the coalition, said.
The regulations came after the Atlantic States Marine Fisheries Commission menhaden board decided in December 2012 that states need to reduce their coast-wide menhaden harvest by 20 percent based on a stock assessment from 2009 through 2011.
Lynn Fegley, deputy director for the fisheries service at DNR, said after the decision was made by ASMFC, every state controlled by the commission had to take the results of the December 2012 meeting and each decide how to meet the 20 percent reduction plan.
The regulations DNR established put a 5.12 million-pound menhaden quota for Maryland with a bycatch allowance after the quota is met.
The bycatch allowance was set at 6,000 pounds per bycatch landing licensee and 12,000 per vessel with two licensees on it.
As of June 28, watermen in the Bay have been catching menhaden under the bycatch allowance.
The coalition, which was recently organized and is made up of independent watermen and farmers, is growing in membership quickly, according to Newberry. It is accusing DNR of not following proper procedure for promulgating a fishery management plan (FMP) on menhaden.
To implement a FMP, federal law requires the use of best available science, and both federal and state law require consideration of social and economic impacts on small business.
The coalition alleges that there is no peer-reviewed scientific study using the best available science that establishes the Atlantic menhaden in the Bay are in need of conservation or are overfished.
Officials from both DNR and the ASMFC said the 2009 to 2011 stock assessment is the best available science.
"We always use the best scientific data that we have," Toni Kerns, director of the Interstate Fisheries Management Program at ASMFC, said.
But, Kerns said, there was "noise" in the 2009 to 2011 stock assessment.
She said the stock assessment committee, from looking at the stock assessment, believed that menhaden were being overfished along the whole coast, but was "hesitant" to say by precisely how much they were being overfished.
So Kerns said the ASMFC initiated a new, benchmark stock assessment of menhaden to "explore other sources of information to try to get at what's causing that level of uncertainty" that will be peer reviewed in December 2014.
Kerns also said DNR wouldn't have to do its own stock assessment study to promulgate the regulations.
"When we do this assessment, this stock is one stock. These fish migrate in and out of the Bay. They don't behave individually, like the section of the Bay is not separate from those fish who are out in the coast," she said. "You have to assess them as a whole and not individual segments of the water body."
Newberry said the regulations are causing strain on watermen economically and could put them out of business, specifically pound netters in Dorchester County whose primary catch, and the way they make a living, is menhaden.
According to a letter the coalition sent to the DNR, when the bycatch limits are in play, the most a waterman can harvest on a single day is 240 boxes of menhaden. At current market rates, 240 boxes sell for roughly $1,500. It costs about $600 in fuel and labor for a waterman to untie his boats, travel to his pound nets and harvest that quantity of menhaden in a day. Also, boat payments, boat maintenance, equipment, equipment maintenance, taxes and regulatory fees must be paid.
The letter also states the regulations will drive up the price of the menhaden used by crabbers as bait, therefore driving up the price of Maryland blue crabs.
"We have nothing left to lose. They're (DNR) getting ready to put a $250 million dollar a year business right out the window," Newberry said. "Every other avenue has been explored in trying to get DNR to listen to the watermen of the state of Maryland, and this latest thing with the menhaden was the biggest kick in the face. These guys are putting us out of business."
The coalition alleges there hasn't been an economic impact study on how the regulations will affect Maryland. Kerns said ASMFC isn't required to do an economic impact study, but Newberry said DNR would be required to under law.
"In my career of managing fisheries, I don't think we have to do a specific economic study in order to promulgate a regulation. We do have to provide some estimate of economic impact. I believe we did," Fegley said.
The DNR economic estimate acknowledges there will be an economic impact including decreases in commercial industry and seafood dealer revenue, increases in commercial expenditures and reduction of menhaden availability.
"Every single state from Maine to Florida ... also had to take a 20 percent reduction. So every single state that catches menhaden has to do the same things, and in fisheries management, it's our responsibility to manage fishery sustainability — that is our job — and when scientists tell us that fishing pressure is too high, you have to bring it down," Fegley said. "Maryland is not the only one carrying this burden."
Furthermore, Fegley said, where the social and economic pieces fit into that is figuring out how to bring harvest numbers down in a way that potentially can mitigate economic impact to fishing communities.
Even so, the coalition argues that the regulations are unfair to Maryland watermen, saying that Maryland watermen only account for less than 2 percent of both the Bay and the coastal catch from 2007 to 2011, which isn't enough to make a significant impact on menhaden population, while Omega Protein, a Virginia company that harvests menhaden for fish oil supplements, cosmetics, paint, livestock feed, fertilizer supplement and pet food, catches the majority.
In 2011, Maryland watermen caught 6,777,209 pounds of menhaden, all for bait fishing, Virginia watermen caught 30,917,419 pounds for bait fishing and Omega Protein caught 383,600,400 pounds, according to numbers from Amendment 2 to the Interstate Fishery Management Plan for Atlantic Menhaden prepared by ASMFC.
Fegley and Kerns both said the DNR needed to comply with the 20 percent harvest reduction set by the ASMFC because if DNR didn't, the ASMFC could shut the fishery down, as the commission has jurisdiction over all state waters and their coastal bays.
As far as the allegation of DNR illegally promulgating regulations, Fegley said DNR "absolutely" went through the process legally, but Newberry and the coalition maintain the opposite stance.
The letter the coalition sent is one of many received by DNR during the regulation's public comment period. For instance, Fegley said another letter, signed by 94 people citing scientific studies, called for the menhaden harvest to be reduced by 50 percent.
A DNR spokesperson said the department's lawyers will look at the letter submitted by the coalition and will notify the department if it took any illegal action in promulgating the regulations.
Fegley said the current menhaden regulations are only for 2013, and regulations will be reassessed and likely change for 2014, though she didn't know how the regulations would change.
I'd like to thank Shawn Kimbro of Chesapeake Light Tackle for posting this article.


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