Little fish, big problems
Friday,30 September,2011 15:04:40
Herring was a hot topic in New England yesterday.
First, the New England Fishery Management Council approved a draft of Amendment 5 to the herring fishery management plan that includes an alternative requiring at-sea observers for every boat on every trip in the midwater trawl fleet.
Ostensibly, the goal is to reduce the midwater fleet's bycatch of groundfish and river herring. From my perspective, the mere speculation that one fleet is damaging other fisheries is not enough to put the smack down on that fleet and ask them to pay for it, to boot.
If the federal government (by way of the council) sees fit to put observers on every boat and every trip, then so be it. Perhaps the data collected would be worth the trouble. But the federal government ought to pony up the dough to pay for the extra oversight.
However, the real question in my mind is why the midwater fleet is taking so much heat? They are being blamed for damage to groundfish spawning areas and scooping up Gulf of Maine river herring as bycatch.
I attended a presentation at the Gulf of Maine Research Institute last night that addressed the river herring bycatch part of the problem. Mike Armstrong from the Massachusetts Division of Marine Fisheries, last night's speaker, has been studying East Coast river herring for five years.
What he and fellow researchers have discovered is that the decline in river herring was sparked many years before the midwater fleet began fishing and in fact has no single smoking gun.
A long list of contributing factors includes, dams, waterfront development, human and animal predation (including species we now protect, like cormorants and seals), water withdrawals, deteriorating habitat and water quality, and yes, bycatch.
Bycatch is one of the multitude of problems contributing to a very long-term decline in river herring. And as Armstrong points out, we ought to be applying the same common-sense approach to solving problems associated with fishing as we apply to the problems associated with development.
We are not going to try to end housing development, so why are we toying with the idea of dealing a crippling blow to the midwater fleet?
Bycatch is not destroying river herring. No one thing is. Our approach should be to limit destructive influences from all contributing factors without the goal of shutting down successful American businesses.
We ought to turn our focus away from the midwater fleet and toward the river herring. Creating an environment in which the herring can thrive is more worthwhile than creating an environment in which an entire fleet cannot.
River herring will survive, as recent upticks in their population have shown. But the midwater fleet may not. A fair warning to those who cheer that possibility: Next time, it might be your livelihood on the chopping block.
On the level
Friday,16 September,2011 11:18:16
A study led by researcher Elena Finkbeiner, completed during her doctoral studies at Duke University and published in the November issue of the journal Biological Conservation, reveals confusing results on sea turtle interactions and bycatch rates in U.S. fisheries.
According to an Associated Press story, "This is one of the key messages — there's a lot of inconsistency in how the different fisheries are managed," said Elizabeth Wilson, senior manager for marine wildlife for the nonprofit Oceana, which was not involved in the study.
What some call "inconsistencies" I call "successful fishery management." Streamlining an approach to management in fisheries as various as Hawaii's pelagic longline fleet and Northeast scallop trawlers would be yet another a bureaucratic nightmare for fishermen and managers alike.
The big headline, of course, is that 4,600 sea turtles are killed annually in the U.S. fishing industry. Before you get up in arms, take note that sea turtle bycatch deaths fell 90 percent between 1990 and 2007.
It seems to me, we are succeeding in significantly reducing bycatch without putting undue strain on struggling fishermen. We are doing that by focusing on fisheries individually, a tactic the study criticizes.
I'm a strong proponent of improving gear and reducing bycatch, but let's go at it fishery by fishery if we want to continue a high rate of success.
Data, not fantasy
Monday,12 September,2011 08:17:08
I read a National Geographic piece by Lee Crockett this week (Overfishing 101: It Ain't Over Till It's Over) in which he warns against our inclination to proclaim an end to overfishing in the United States, as the latest NMFS data does not remove every species it studied from its "overfished" and "experiencing overfishing" lists.
I will try not to get too sidetracked in the semantics of the NMFS listings, which allow species to be called overfished — even when they've never been targeted by fishermen (in short, glossing over other factors that influence marine species) — for the sake of brevity.
We certainly don't have a perfect fishery management system or a miraculous turnaround in every species NMFS monitors annually. I find it hard to accept that perfection is the goal, as I can't imagine it's the goal of any other government agency or industry.
What we have achieved, however, is an industry culture that strives to keep commercial species healthy and improve management year over year. That may not be specific enough for some, but it is working. We may not have ended overfishing, but we most certainly have put a stake through the heart of the trends that led to it in the first place. We have turned the ship around.
With our course set on improving fishery management, data and gear, we have established an effective management system. If we choose to ignore common sense and good data and instead focus on a mythical perfect balance, we will all lose access to our national resource — commercial, recreational and charter.
No one can say what "balance" means in a world that is constantly changing of its own accord. We can only speculate on what is out of balance.
The trap of "best available science" is essentially a loophole that leaves all the onus on the fleets, whether or not they are to blame.
We have Magnuson mandates that specify rebuilding time lines. But where is the mandate that we must have current data on species in order to rectify their perceived condition?
The true critical step in improving fishery management is improving data and expanding the lines of communication between fishermen and regulators, not simply relying on whatever information we have because that's all Magnuson requires us to do.
Danger remains fishing's middle name
Sunday,4 September,2011 15:43:01
As Labor Day approaches, all of us here at National Fisherman salute the dedicated and hard-working men and women who make the fishing industry great. The guess from here is that although you richly deserve a day off to relax, more than a few of you will be on the water setting gear to provide the rest of the nation with healthy, delicious seafood that will grace Labor Day dinner tables. For that alone, we thank you.
We also thank you for risking your lives while working in the nation’s most dangerous profession. The U.S. Department of Labor's Bureau of Labor Statistics confirms it.
The bureau assesses the risk of a fatal occupational injury by all workers or a group of workers in a particular occupation, such as fishing. The formula is hours-based, measuring fatal injury risk per standardized length of exposure. It’s used to compute a fatal injury rate per 100,000 full-time equivalent workers.
In 2010, the fatal work injury rate for fishermen was calculated at 116; it was the highest rate of all U.S. professions. The next highest fatal work injury rate belonged to loggers, whose rate was 91.9. The fatal injury rate for all workers was 3.5.
Fishing was the most dangerous occupation in 2009, too, when the fatal injury rate was 200. Logging again came in second, with a rate of 61.8, and the all-worker fatal injury rate was 3.3.
As sobering as the bureau’s statistics are, there’s encouraging news to glean from them, too. For one, we can see that the fatality rate for fishermen declined in 2010, from 200 in 2009 to 116. And, according to the bureau, fishing-related deaths shrank from 56 in 2009 to 29 in 2010.
Make no mistake: even one fishing related death is too many for our tastes, and we would love to see a day when no more names have to be added to plaques at fishermen’s memorials. But we also acknowledge there will be deaths in such an inherently dangerous profession.
Still, we’re heartened by the fact that fishermen are becoming more safety conscious and recognizing the value of keeping emergency gear in good working order, and doing regular drills so that they know how to use them when disaster strikes. And we encourage all of you to take advantage of the Coast Guard's free dockside vessel safety examinations and attend fishing vessel safety seminars in your region. The last thing we want is for any fisherman to end up as a statistic.
Thank you for your time.
Senior Editor, National Fisherman