Fishermen Speak Out,
Fleet Diversity Matters
by Brett Tolley
In the British Colombia Halibut ITQ fishery after 13 years 80% of the Total Allowable Catch was being leased out.
For the first time ever fishermen from Maine, New Hampshire, Massachusetts, Rhode Island and New York formally submitted video testimony during September’s New England Fisheries Management Council (NEFMC) meeting. Fisher-men urged the Council to address consolidation and make fleet diversity a priority. Since then the Council has voted to prioritize fleet diversity and in January, took its first action.
Excessive consolidation is not only hurting communities through job loss and collapsing shoreside infrastructure, it’s also undermining stock rebuilding efforts that have taken years. In their video testimonies, fishermen stated that fleet diversity matters and consolidation in fact is wiping out fleet diversity. Currently the portion of the fleet most impacted by consolidation is small and mid-size vessels. Fishermen urged the Council to pay attention to this issue. Here is what Naz Sanfilippo, fishermen from Gloucester, Massachusetts and Ed Snell, fishermen from Portland, Maine, said in their testimonies.
“We’re conservationists, we don’t want to catch the last fish. I have my son aboard this boat and we go out to support the family. That’s being threatened right now. That link, where my father handed it to me and I handed it to him, its ready to break. The effort is still going to be there, somebody will catch the fish. Who will it be? Is it corporate America or the small family business? I think the right decision needs to be made because once corporate America grabs onto these small allocations you’re going to ruin a way of life that’s been around for 400 years.”
– Naz Sanfilippo, Gloucester, MA fisherman
“It’s a problem when the most sustainable methods seem to be the ones targeted the most and impacted the most by rules. It’s my feeling that fisheries managers should be legislating in such a way that rewards sustainability.” – Ed Snell, Portland, ME fisherman
Fishermen who spoke out against consolidation were not alone. A concerned public which cares about healthy oceans and where their fish come from also took action. A Change.org online petition calling for the NEFMC to prevent excessive fleet consolidation had over 1,100 signatures.
In January, the Council responded with its first action. At the meeting fishermen from around New England urged the Council to keep the fleet diversity amendment moving forward. In opposition to the urgency stated by many fishermen in their public testimonies, some representatives of fisheries organizations told the Council that fleet diversity was a non-issue and in fact, that uncontrolled consolidation is good. These arguments proved unconvincing and were not enough to sway the Council. The fishermen calling for action to address consolidation prevailed.
During January’s meeting, Council member David Goethel made a motion to set a ‘Control Date’ to establish accumulation limits in the groundfish fishery. The motion passed 9:4. Fishermen stated that consolidation is a serious problem, fleet diversity matters, and that the Council needs to address the issue. Here is what some said:
“..Fishermen like me in coastal communities are getting squeezed out of the fishery. Uncontrolled consolidation will lead to a fleet with no diversity and will also remove the most sustainable fishermen... Right now uncontrolled consolidation is a threat to fleet diversity, and once we lose portions of the fleet it will be much harder to bring them back.”
– Billy Chapralis, 40-year fisherman from Cape Cod, MA.
“Right now, I am seeing nearly everyone in NH lease their quota to MA and ME. What does that say about our fishing fleet if no one in the state will be groundfishing until May 1? What does this say about our infrastructure and what about our crew? And let me be clear, the leasing in not happening because we don’t want to fish. It’s because we can't fish... Most of us are less than 50 ft. in length. If nothing changes you will see an entire state be consolidated out of the New England groundfish fishery. That is not fleet diversity.”
– Carolyn Eastman, Owner of small fishing business and fish market in Seabrook, NH. Board member of NH Sector. Husband is 30-year commercial fisherman.
“Under ‘Days at Sea’ I had an option to lease affordably for my size vessel. Now I'm competing with any size vessel on allocation that’s in demand... (Un)Affordable leasing is detrimental to my future in the fisheries. I urge you to act on the issue for myself and others like me.”
–Brian Pearce, 20-year fisherman from Portland, ME.
Achieving Fleet Diversity
While the Council has taken its first action to address fleet diversity, this is only the beginning. Accumulation limits are only one out of many tools that can help New England achieve fleet diversity. Catch share fisheries from around the country have successfully used a variety of safeguards, such as quota set-asides, that invest in fishing communities and allow affordable access for new entrants, transferability policies that foster an affordable fishery, and policy incentives that encourage and support owner-operators. These are just a few of many viable options.
If the Council is serious about fleet diversity than it must explore these additional safeguards. A recent report titled “The Elephant in the Room: The Hidden Costs of Leasing Individual Transferable Fishing Quotas” shows that leasing consolidation has hurt communities as well as fleet diversity. In the British Colombia halibut ITQ fishery, 80% of the Total Allowable Catch was being leased out after 13 years of management. The report argues that catch share fisheries with goals related to fleet diversity require regulation in the design of transferability rules.
Continued input from the fishing community will be essential to ensure that safeguards for New England are designed right. Safeguards must allow the flexibility to adapt to a changing biological, economical, and regulatory environment, while at the same time controlling consolidation. They must also ensure that consolidation does not disenfranchise important components of the fleet such as rural port infrastructure, owner/operators, and smaller-scale businesses.
The Council staff created a draft scoping document that lays out the overview for addressing fleet diversity. The report states that three permit owners currently control over 41% of George’s Bank winter flounder. The report also states that three entities own 25 % of one other stock and 10-20 % of eleven other stocks. This type of consolidation is exactly what many fishermen have warned about. The draft scoping document is available on the NEFMC website. Now is the time to weigh in.
A Vision for Fleet Diversity
Five years ago the Northwest Atlantic Marine Alliance (NAMA) spearheaded the Fleet Visioning Project (FVP). As an honest disclaimer, I work for NAMA but did not when the FVP was conducted. Over two years, 250 stakeholders from throughout New England came together for one purpose: to create a consensus-based vision for the New England fishery.
FVP stakeholders included fishermen from all different geographical areas, gear types, and boat sizes. Participants also included scientists, non-profits, recreational fishermen, family members, shoreside industry, and community members. The result was a 90-page report that can be broken down into one goal: “A diverse, economically viable, and environmentally sustainable fleet that is managed through a participatory governance structure.” Even though the FVP was conducted five years ago, it remains the most authentic voice of the New England fishing community as its conclusions were echoed by at least two more recent studies of the region’s fishing fleet.
Ecological Implications for Fleet Diversity
Loss of ﬂeet diversity and excessive consolidation threaten conservation goals. They also threaten our access to healthful local food from the ocean and our local economies. As communities that care about healthy fish stocks and the health of the ecosystem, we must ensure that the diversity and scales of the ﬁsheries are well matched to the diversity and scales of the ecosystem. This means that variety in the fishing fleet must support diversity in the fish and ecosystem.
One of the biggest challenges to successful quota-based management such as sectors is the scale and accuracy of the science determining annual catch limits. In the absence of perfect science, having a diverse fleet will make it more likely that fishing can adjust to fluctuations in stocks and other critical information discovered as new science becomes available.
The Council staff will continue work on the scoping document and in June will present a report on the extent of fleet consolidation in the groundfish fishery. Council members will discuss what consolidation looks like, whether or not they believe consolidation is a problem, and if so, how to address it.
We have seen the impacts of consolidation happen with farms in our land-based food system. We can’t let it happen with fisheries and our marine-based food system. We must learn from our mistakes; right now New England can lead the way towards a new future.
Fishermen and community members who care about fleet diversity need to lead the discussion as the Council explores its course of action. Join us and the many others who believe Who Fishes Matters! Visit namanet.org and take action.
Video testimonies can be watched online: http://namanet.org/who-fishes-matters-video-testimonies