Ahead of next week's meeting of the New England Fishery Management Council, Senator John Kerry today urged additional specific actions to provide relief to Massachusetts fishermen.
"Fishing is more than a deep part of Massachusetts' culture and history; it's also the foundation of many working people's livelihoods and their families' economic security, supporting more than 77,000 jobs in Massachusetts today," Sen. Kerry wrote in a letter to Colin McAllister Cunningham, Jr., Acting Chairman of the Council. "As I've said repeatedly, I'm not about to let these fishermen's way of life end on my watch. It's up to all of us to make smart decisions in the present to support fishing and guarantee it has a strong future."
Last month, Senator Kerry chaired a hearing in Boston examining the economic state of the Massachusetts' industry. Following that hearing, Kerry sent a letter to National Oceanic and Atmospheric Association (NOAA) Administer Dr. Jane Lubchenco urging detailed, specific actions to keep Massachusetts fishermen in business and ensure the short- and long-term health of this critical local economy.
In today's letter, Kerry outlined several specific actions for the Council to take including:
* meeting in Massachusetts to further discuss the major regulatory issues facing New England fishermen and what improvements can be made to assist small boat fishermen;
* rolling over unused quota above the existing 10 percent limit;
* opening areas off limit to fishing which no longer have relevance under the current Hard TAC management system;
* working with NOAA to develop a system for adjusting errors in allocations to ensure fairness for fishermen;
* working with NOAA to develop a long term at-sea monitoring plan; AND
* working collaboratively with the Science Center and NMFS to help mitigate any negative impacts resulting from the upcoming Gulf of Maine cod assessment.
The full text of the letter is below:
November 9, 2011
Mr. Colin McAllister Cunningham, Jr.
New England Fishery Management Council
50 Water Street, Mill 2
Newburyport, MA 01950
Dear Mr. Cunningham,
As you know, today too many Massachusetts fishermen -- particularly small boat fishermen and related local businesses - are finding it increasingly difficult just to stay in business. Fishing is more than a deep part of Massachusetts' culture and history; it's also the foundation of many working people's livelihoods and their families' economic security, supporting more than 77,000 jobs in Massachusetts today. As I've said repeatedly, I'm not about to let these fishermen's way of life end on my watch. It's up to all of us to make smart decisions in the present to support fishing and guarantee it has a strong future. That's why I am writing to ask for your help in moving the New England Fishery Management Council forward on a number of issues that were discussed during the Senate Commerce Committee field hearing I chaired to review Massachusetts fishery management plans earlier this fall. I very much appreciate your appearance and your testimony at the hearing.
I have followed up with NOAA on our discussions at the hearing, and, in the lead-up to the Council's meeting next week in Newport, I wanted to also follow up with you about the urgency of the New England Fishery Management Council moving forward with some specific steps and actions. I understand that many of these issues are complicated and have been under discussion for many years, but I am confident that addressing each of them is vital. My approach here is to lay out tangible options to help move things forward -- and I cannot emphasize enough that now is a critical moment for action.
First, as I discussed at the hearing, I would like to have a meeting in Massachusetts to bring together all of members of the Council, NOAA, and Massachusetts fishing representatives to further discuss the major regulatory issues facing New England fishermen and the improvements that can be made to assist small boat fishermen. Please let me know when you and the other Council members are available for this meeting.
Second, I would like the Council to support increasing the rollover of unused quota above the existing 10 percent limit. As you know, reports indicate that the available fishery-wide quota is, in most cases, nowhere near fully utilized. For example, only 67 percent of the total allocation of Georges Bank Cod has been caught and only 16.5 percent of Georges Bank Haddock. With the exception of Georges Bank yellowtail, sectors are permitted to carry over up to 10 percent of unused quota for each stock into the next fishing year under Amendment 16.
Earlier this year, along with members of the Massachusetts Congressional delegation, I sent a letter to NOAA asking for an increase in the percentage of unmet quota that can be rolled over into the 2011 fishing year. NOAA has since responded in support of increased rollover and has urged the Council to add the issue to its November agenda. Adding unmet allocations of fishing stocks to the assigned quota for the coming year will allow the Massachusetts fleet to fish within the current fishing year allocations and set reasonable limits for next year to provide the fleet with an opportunity to profit. This action would be greatly appreciated by fishermen across Massachusetts.
Third, it is my understanding that the Council's Habitat Committee is working on an Omnibus Habitat Amendment in conjunction with the Council's Groundfish Committee. It is my hope and expectation that the new Omnibus Habitat Amendment will eliminate some of the areas that are currently off limits to fishing which no longer have relevance under the current Hard TAC management system. Specifically, the removal of Closed Areas 1 and 2 on Georges Bank would aid the offshore fleet and lifting the Western Gulf of Maine Closure is vital to protecting the inshore fleet. Additionally, it is critically important that fishing grounds of economic significance, like Stellwagon Bank, are preserved as historic fishing grounds when considering the expansion of Essential Fish Habitats. In my conversations with Dr. Lubchenco, she has committed to having NOAA examine the feasibility of opening additional nearshore areas and expects NOAA to make a formal proposal to the Council this November. I hope that the Council will work with me to develop recommendations to preserve and increase fishing areas around Massachusetts that are currently off limits to fishing.
Fourth, I have heard from several fishermen who, due to data errors at NOAA, received incorrect allocations to begin the 2010 fishing year. While these mistakes are recognized by the Agency and were corrected for the 2011 fishing year, these fishermen must be compensated for their 2010 loss. When I spoke to NOAA about this issue, I was told that there was no mechanism in place to correct such mistakes. I would like the Council to work with NOAA to develop a system for adjusting errors in allocations to ensure fairness for fishermen. For reference, both the Bureau of Reclamation and the Bureau of Land Management have mechanisms in place to achieve responsive allocation adjustments. While these mechanisms may not be seamlessly applicable to the fishing industry, I feel that it is urgent and essential that a mechanism be put in place to provide compensation for fishermen who have been harmed by improper allocations due to administrative error.
Fifth, after hearing from many fishermen about the inability of the industry to absorb the cost of at-sea monitoring at this time, I worked closely with NOAA to ensure that monitoring will be covered for the 2012 fishing year. While I am grateful for the recent announcement that these costs will not be placed on the industry in 2012, I remain concerned about the lack of a long term monitoring plan. I ask that the Council make the development of a long term monitoring plan a top priority in the upcoming months.
Finally, although we are only in the preliminary stages of the current Gulf of Maine (GOM) cod assessment, I am extremely concerned about the potential impacts of a drastically lowered assessment. I hope that you and the Council members will remain open-minded and work collaboratively with the Science Center and NMFS to help mitigate any negative impacts resulting from the GOM cod assessment.
Once again, thank you for testifying at the fishery field hearing. I hope we can work together to take that discussion and transform it into proactive and tangible steps forward. Thank you in advance for your timely response to the issues outlined in this letter. Given the economic circumstances of our fishing community, time is of the essence.
John F. Kerry