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Bruce Gibbs, Chatham, MA. Lobsterman and scallop fisherman with 30 years of meetings under his belt. In response to the councils’ choice of control date and statement on history Gibbs said, “Don’t play into the hands of another corporation. Don’t do this. Fishermen's Voice photo
PORTLAND – The New England Fishery Management Council agreed to establish a separate scallop management area in the northern Gulf of Maine.

The decision was made, during NEFMC’s June 19-21 meeting in Portland, with an eye toward maintaining the historical character of the diverse fleet, made up of some full-time and many part-time and seasonal participants. The goal of Amendment 11 to the Scallop Fishery Management Plan is to control capacity and mortality in the general category fishery, an open-access segment of the fishery that was created when limited access was implemented in 1994. Open access means any vessel that wants to apply for a permit can; there are no specific qualifications. The main control on mortality has been a daily possession limit of 400 pounds.

However, since 1999, there has been considerable growth in fishing effort and landings by GC vessels, due to resource recovery and higher scallop prices. NEFMC considered that, without additional controls on GC vessels, there was a potential that overfishing might start to occur.

NEFMC selected limited entry and a hard total allowable catch as its primary control mechanism. With limited entry, NEFMC considered a number of qualification criteria based on fishing and landings history. These included the alternatives favored by the oversight committee, which would give permits to vessels that landed at least 1,000 pounds in one year during the period of March 1, 1994 and Nov. 1, 2004. The committee also favored allocating five percent of the resource to the GC fleet, with each permit receiving an individual transferable quota. The rest of the resource would be available to larger limited access boats that operate offshore.

The figure of five percent was chosen because it is the percentage landed by the GC fleet in 2004, when NEFMC first met to deal with the scallop amendment and now set as the control date.To make the system more economically viable for some, NEFMC considered forms of permit stacking. The oversight committee recommended stacking up to 60,000 pounds or 150 trips on one vessel.

National Marine Fisheries Service’s Pat Kurkul said, and some council members agreed, that the qualification period was too long and the catch figure too low, and would result in allowing too many people in the fishery, with low individual quotas given the proposed five percent allocation. Kurkul said NMFS prefers a catch qualification of 5,000 pounds and a window from March 1, 2000 to Nov. 1, 2004.

“We consider the qualification criteria to be far too liberal,” Kurkul said, adding the criteria hurt more recent participants and those most recently dependent on the resource. Other council members said the goal of the GC fishery, principally a small-boat fleet, is to maintain access for traditionally dependent on scallops, even if the resource has not been sufficient to make trips in recent years.

Fishermen deplored the prospect that many of them will be excluded. They also didn’t like the five percent allocation, given that the GC fleet has caught at least twice that much since 2004.

“I don’t like to see anyone get beaten up, but we’re putting a lot of rules and regs on people who don’t deserve it,” said fisherman Bruce Gibbs of Chatham, Mass. “I really feel that we’re creating another monster.” Most GC fishermen are owner-operators, Gibbs said. “If you had owner-operator, you’d eliminate the whole problem,” he said, adding, “You’re beating the little guy out of existence.”Gibbs said permit stacking would put small boats out of business. “Here we go – more corporate America, more money buying the stock out there that belongs to all of us,” he said. “Meanwhile, the poor people will starve to death as the rich get richer.”

For Maine fishermen, the main concern centered on the nearshore resource and the ability of small-boat fishermen to keep on fishing. Maine fishermen have not been scallop fishing because the inshore waters have been fished out for a few years. Without a separate management area, they said, A11 would only cut out the small-boat fleet. There is some thought that scallops in the northern GOM area may be a separate stock.

The separate rules for the northern Gulf of Maine will allow small-boat fishermen from coastal communities to fish on inshore scallop beds in federal waters, but at a reduced level of access of 200 pounds of scallops per trip. In turn, permit qualifications for the area would be less restrictive and participants would operate under a separate fixed total allowable catch for the area.

“This is a placeholder for the future,” said council member and Maine Department of Marine Resources representative Terry Stockwell.Kurkul said the northern GOM plan satisfies NMFS concerns regarding conservation, administration, and enforcement. There was support regarding the GOM area’s potential for helping fishermen who don’t qualify under new A11 rules to fish elsewhere, but also considerable concern that the GOM area would attract far more fishermen than the area could support.

Council member David Simpson said that, with a trip limit of 200 pounds, there would be little incentive for fishermen to relocate. Stockwell agreed.“I don’t feel threatened that we’re going to have a large number of people come up,” he said. “I agree with Terry,” said Kurkul. “I don’t see the incentive for people to relocate to the Gulf of Maine for a very, very small TAC and 200 pounds.”

But others suggested that, with scallops at $10 per pound, some might see an income of $2,000 per day as better than nothing, if they don’t qualify for the fishery elsewhere. “History says that when there’s economic opportunity, people will take advantage of it,” said council member Tom Hill.

Council member and Maine representative Dana Rice said the poundage limit would take care of a run on the area. In the past, he said, larger limited access boats in a short time wiped out beds that would have supported small, part-time boats far longer.“It isn’t perfect, but I think it’s a step in the right direction, and it can be tweaked as we go forward,” Rice said.

John Stuart, a lobster fisherman and part-time scallop fisherman on Long Island, Maine, said the new rules will put one of his two boats, which is operating inNew York, out of business. “I accept that,” he said. “I knew it was somewhat speculative.”But, Stuart said, the GOM option would at least allow him to keep the boat in business.“I do see this as part of the solution and not part of the problem,” he said.Gary Libby and Glen Libby of the Midcoast Fishermen’s Association in Port Clyde supported the concept.

“This is an avenue to do a little bit of fishing, just a supplement, just a way to stay in business,” said Gary Libby.

“Being that this is a mixed fishery for most of us, one more option could be very helpful,” said Glen Libby.

In the end, NEFMC approved quota management and the separate northern GOM management area. Under the new rules, Amendment 11 is expected to control the number of boats and the amount of fishing allowed by a group of relatively small-scale, inshore boats that now number about 3,000. A11 will not affect the separate GOM area.

The GC fishery operates from Maine to North Carolina, and up to now,anyone could apply for and receive a permit to fish for 400 pounds of scallops per trip. The number of vessels has jumped over the last decade, an increase largely driven by the $9-10 per-pound price that was paid to a vessel for its scallop catch in recent years, as well an abundant inshore scallop resource.

Upon approval by NMFS, Amendment 11 will limit participation by requiring specific qualification criteria before a fishing permit would be issued. To be eligible, a vessel must have had a permit before November 1, 2004 and landed at least 1,000 pounds in any one year during the qualification period selected by the Council (March 1, 2000 - November 1, 2004). The entire GC fleet will be allocated five percent of the expected total allowable scallop catch annually.

Following that process, each vessel will receive its own individual allocation in pounds of scallops, an amount based on the boat’s scallop catch history.Scallops are not overfished and are currently priced at about $6-7 per pound. In 2006, the scallop harvest totaled over 57 million pounds and was worth about $375 million.