Last evening, I was contacted by a well known for-hire industry person on a situation that is brewing within the NEFMC as it concerns the"
1- re-opening and/or
2- re-drawing the current boundary lines of the closed areas
Also he noted that these proposals are for:
- Area 1 & 2 on GEORGES BANKS and is gaining traction
- Cashes proper will remain closed, but the rest of Cashes Closed area along with the WGOM (Western Gulf of Maine) could be an issue
I did know a little on this ongoing situation from Captain Tim Tower, from the previous week and what was going on behind the scenes, but I did take a look back on what Captain Tim wrote on BUNNY CLARK - FISHING UPDATES
and I DID NOT FULLY REALIZE THE SENSE OF URGENCY ON THIS ISSUE until I heard from this other noted stakeholder last night.
It is serious, and the direct implications to rebuilding GOMaine and Georges Bank cod fisheries, along with Atlantic Halibut and other groundfish stocks would be impacted.
Let me pass along from Captain Tim who penned these words and thoughtson this issue.
We have another situation developing in the fishery management scene off New England.
In 2012, the New England Fishery Management Council put a draft forward to the National Marine Fisheries Service (NMFS) called the Ombibus Habitat Amendment (OHA). Their proposal sought to open up parts of the closed areas to commercial fishing.
At the same time we were just realizing that the Catch Share/sectors system of management had caused the devastating loss of the cod spawning stock biomass.
Since NMFS looks at Council decisions and decides whether these decisions become regulatory law in the fishery and since, at the time, the fishery didn't look healthy enough, they put the OHA on hold. The chart below is the proposition that the Council forwarded to NMFS for approval in 2012.
In the chart above, all of the areas in orange are the areas closed to commercial fishing.
Areas 1 & 2 on Georges Bank are off limits to recreational angling, always have been.
Under the Council's proposal in 2012, had the NMFS accepted the Council's desires, starting fiscal fishing year 2013 (starting May 1), the areas in the clear orange would have been open to commercial fishing activities targeting groundfish.
These areas also hold aggregations of spawning cod, haddock, pollock and hake and well as other minor species that anglers don't target. Most of these spawning populations of fish are safe from anglers because they are too deep, areas that don't allow angling or restricted from catching too many fish because of existing regulations.
Thankfully, the wisdom of the NMFS was right on target in 2013 and the OHA was brought back to the Council for revision.
Now, in November of 2017,
The NMFS has received another proposal from the Council with a similar chart called the OHA2 seen below. The areas that I circled in green and bordered by hash marks are the original closed areas as seen in orange in the previous chart. As of this writing, they still remain closed.
Expected to be more acceptable because it closes other areas to commercial fishing (areas that are no longer fished commercially), it still has the same flaws that I found in the 2012 edition.
It still opens up the most productive haddock spawning areas on Georges Bank.
Those areas also contain large populations of cod, which, if you have been paying attention, are continued to be over-fished (this coming from the NMFS) in the Gulf of Maine and Georges Bank. And it opens up the eastern area of the Western Gulf of Maine (WGOM) closed area, noted as an area for spawning pollock and hake and a migratory runway for cod headed for spawning areas near shore in the Gulf of Maine (GOM).
The question from me is, with the fishery in such a state, why would you open areas that are known spawning areas with the largest quantities of groundfish found off New England?
The obvious answer;
Fishermen want to catch more fish.
And the Council's members are largely commercial fishermen. In fact, the guy who made the initial motion to open the closed areas for this proposal was Jimmy Odlin (ME) who's family has five large groundfish draggers who fish Georges Bank on a regular basis and who, historically, has fished the backside of the WGOM with great success. Jimmy is a great person, an excellent fisherman but does not hold a Council seat anymore. I don't fault him for what he wanted. But I don't seriously believe that opening the closed areas to further decrease the groundfish population and increase habitat destruction is a good idea. It is not.
Since the closed area rule was implemented in the 90's, the fish have gotten used to the safety of the closed areas.
They have grown, flourished, spawned and spilled out into the open areas to be enjoyed by everyone.
This is evidenced by the return of the haddock in the GOM, the Council's best success story. Opening these areas up will undermine the time it's taken to bring all this back. We have shown time and time again that we can't manage the open areas. These closed areas will become open areas.
Closed Areas 1 & 2 on Georges Bank are the reason we now enjoy a seemingly healthy new population of haddock in the GOM. The haddock populations aren't nearly as healthy as they were when I was a kid; the average size of the fish is too small to make these spawning fish.
Anyone who would doubt this is either dreaming in color, has a conflict of interest or doesn't understand population dynamics. If the haddock were only found on Georges Bank at a time when there were none in the GOM, where did the haddock that are found in the GOM come from? Iceland? I don't think so. The populations built to such levels in Areas 1 & 2 that they spilled out into the open areas.
The closed areas were crafted by a NEFMC (Council) who understood the situation at a time when the population of all groundfish was so much more healthy than it is today.
At that time there were plenty of groundfish outside the newly closed areas, enough that the Council at that time thought we would be all set. This was before the invention of the Catch Share System (which is 8/9 years old at this point) that destroyed the spawning stock biomass of cod in the GOM, the big reason the recreational angler can't keep cod today. We don't have the populations of groundfish today to go back to the way it was before the areas were closed. We just don't! You would have to be blind not to see this. Take a look back!
What you can do:
The NMFS is seeking comments on the OHA2 proposal.
Please comment! Tell the NMFS that we need the protections afforded by the original closed areas.
- We can't afford to lose the haddock again.
- We can't afford to drop the cod population down any further.
- We can't afford to ruin the ecology in areas that are meant for spawning. &
- We certainly don't want more regulations because the groundfish populations are dropping.
- We just don't want to take that much of a gamble. Over 70% of the closed areas will be open to commercial exploitation under this proposal.
You can comment in one of three ways.
You can write our Regional Discriminator, John Bullard, directly at John Bullard, Regional Administrator, Greater Atlantic Regional Fisheries Office, 55 Great Republic Drive, Gloucester, MA 01930, send Mr. Bullard an email at email@example.com or you can enter the comment portal set up NMFS for comments on this particular proposal.
Comments will not be accepted after December 5, 2017.
You can tell them:
Please keep the WGOM and the Georges Bank Areas 1 & 2 closed to commercial fish, they way they are today.
- Why is the OHA2 proposal a good idea when the recreational angler still can't keep cod and opening these areas with increase cod landings?
- When the closed areas were studied, the group doing the research agreed that leaving the closed areas as they were would be more beneficial than opening them but the Council voted to push the OHA and the OHA2 forward.
- The cod is overfished and experiencing overfishing in both the GOM and the Georges Bank area.
- The closed areas have increased the haddock populations in the GOM. Indeed, access to haddock in the near shore areas of New England is enjoyed now because of the Georges Bank closures. The closed areas did what they were supposed to do with the haddock. The haddock populations built up in the closed areas of Georges Bank and spilled out into the Gulf of Maine and Canadian waters.
- We are starting to see other species like the barndoor skate, on the endangered species list, increase in population. One would think the closed areas had something to do with that.
- We just can't take the chance of reducing the populations of all groundfish or preventing successful spawning and reproduction by opening up these closed areas.
- We still haven't seen the groundfish come back in areas where, historically, they were present in the 1970's and beyond. Like seeing the pollock south of Cape Cod or the haddock and cod in near shore Maine. Do we really even know what a healthy population of groundfish is anymore? It certainly isn't as healthy as when the Council was first formed.
- The average size of the groundfish in all species is down. This also points to an unhealthy spawning stock biomass in all groundfish species. That alone should indicate a population problem. Should we really be satisfied enough with this to allow more commercial fishing in the closed areas?
Thank you in advance. By helping me here you will help all of New England to maintain a healthy groundfish population that everyone can enjoy.
He wrote the following day:
I did spend a fair amount of time on the OHA2 proposal.
If any of you have any questions on how to comment, I would gladly help you with this.
My email address is firstname.lastname@example.org .
I think this is really important to the fishery as a whole, more importantly to the recreational angler.
As one of my more knowledgeable friends commented; "If that new proposal passes, I don't want to hear anything about [cod] bag limits [for the recreational angler]."
And he's certainly right.
Why would you not allow the recreational angler to keep cod and yet open the best cod areas to dragging. It makes no sense. Consider this;
The mortality rate for cod using rod and reel is 15%, it's 85% for mobile gear on average unless you make a very short tow. Even then, it's very high. And the only reason you would be making a short tow would be to catch cod!
The next day:
I had a few emails from people who responded to the call on the OHA2 proposal (see the November 26 entry). Thank you very much.
Two were very well written. I also received a nice email from John Bullard, the Regional Administrator of the New England office of the National Marine Fisheries Service thanking me for my involvement and concern about the fishery.
I did spend some time answering emails from patrons asking questions about the OHA2 (see the November 26 entry) proposal.
It shows that anglers are concerned and interested. I don't care if you agree or disagree with me on the OHA2 proposal. But if you feel strongly either way you should make your feelings or knowledge count by writing a comment to John Bullard or in the portal as outlined above in the November 26 entry.
The simple fact remains, if we don't have fish, we don't have a fishery. And as far as I can tell, the closed areas are the glue that holds this fishery together.
I will admit that I should have been on top of this, but now I will and hopefully those fishermen who do fish for groundfish in New England waters will do so...