Sunday, May 21, 2017
WORSE THAN DOING NOTHING AT ALL
On May 10, the Atlantic States Marine Fisheries Commission announced that its American Lobster Management Board had adopted Addendum XXV to Amendment 3 to the American Lobster Fishery Management Plan, which is intended to increase egg production in the southern New England lobster stock by 5%.
It was a far smaller cut than the Management Board had originally contemplated. The original draft of Addendum XXV, which was sent out for public comment after ASMFC’s February meeting, stated that
“The Southern New England (SNE) lobster stock is at record low abundance and is experiencing recruitment failure. The poor stock condition is the result of environmental factors, such as warming waters, and continued fishing mortality. As an initial management response, the American Lobster Management Board initiated this Draft Addendum to consider increasing egg production in SNE by 20% to 60%. This addendum focuses on increasing egg production so that, if environmental conditions become favorable, the SNE stock can benefit from a strong recruitment year. [emphasis added].”
Given that original 20% to 60% goal, a mere 5% increase in egg production appears trivial. It appears even more trivial in light of a 2010 recommendation by ASMFC’s American Lobster Technical Committee of a 5-year moratorium on harvest, which recommendation was subsequently endorsed by 2 out of 3 members of a peer-review panel (the third panel member recommended a harvest reduction of no less than 50%).
ASMFC never imposed such a moratorium, and took no other action to substantially reduce the fishing mortality rate experienced by southern New England lobster. Addendum XXV was ASMFC’s feeble response to a 2015 benchmark stock assessment which found that
“the inshore portion of the SNE stock has clearly collapsed…It is believed the offshore area of SNE depends on nearshore settlement as a source of recruits. Therefore, the offshore is also in jeopardy and the Technical Committee and Review Panel believe the stock has little chance of recovery unless fishing effort is curtailed…Hence, by any reasonable standard, it is necessary to protect the offshore component of the stock until increased recruitment can be preserved. [emphasis added]”
At the August 2015 meeting of the Management Board, Dr. John Hoenig, Chair of the panel who peer-reviewed the benchmark assessment, explained why there was still reason to take action in an effort to preserve the southern New England stock.
“Climate change is not uniform., so you have on average warmer temperatures. That doesn’t mean that every year is going to be warm. My personal feeling—and I think it can be substantiated—is that it seems Southern New England is more sporadic recruitment.
“When you get a year with good temperatures, you might get some decent settlement, but it won’t be every year because the trend is to get too warm. That is why what I was saying is you can get some good recruitment if you get a good year or a year that is not favorable to all the causes of mortality provided you have some spawners left.
“If you eliminate all the spawners, then even if you have a cool year or good year conditions, without the spawners you won’t get the recruitment.”
G. Ritchie White, the Governor’s Appointee from of New Hampshire, asked
“Dr. Hoenig, the technical committee has recommended to us for a number of years a moratorium in Southern New England. My question to you is do you see anything short of that that would have the ability to potentially save what stock is left?”
Dr. Hoenig replied
“Speaking personally, I don’t see anything short of that,”
although he noted that the peer review committee did not discuss that specific question.
Despite such clear scientific consensus, the American Lobster Management Board responded with a mere 5% increase in egg production.
And even that was too much for many lobstermen. CBS New York reports that lobstermen believe that the modest reduction in landings required to achieve such increase in egg production would be a “death blow” to the Long Island Sound lobster fishery. They quote one, George Doll of Northport, NY, who complained that
“You’re sacrificing the lobstermen for the lobsters. They get paid to manage the fisheries and are doing it at our expense.”
Such opinions were reflected in the public comments received on the original Draft Addendum XXV.
The vast majority of lobstermen just shrugged off the scientific advice, and opposed any harvest reductions at all.
Such opposition was expressed by groups such as the Atlantic Offshore Lobstermen’s Association, Massachusetts Lobstermen’s Association, the Area 3 Lobster Conservation Management Team and the Lobster Conservation Management Team for Lobster Conservation Management Area 5. Both the Rhode Island Lobstermen’s Association and the New Jersey Council of Diving Clubs also expressed qualified support for the status quo, but stated that they could accept regulations leading to a 20% increase in egg production under certain circumstances.
Elected representatives from several states expressed their concern with Addendum XXV’s impact on the lobster industry.
Faced with such opposition, the Management Board wasn’t willing to follow the scientific advice either. Instead of taking meaningful action to increase egg production, it made a cosmetic gesture, adopting a 5% increase in egg production that will exist on paper, but will be extremely difficult to detect in the real world.
In doing so, they not only wasted what might be their last opportunity to prevent the collapse of the offshore lobster population, they also voted to waste the time of the various regional lobster management teams—five separate lobster management areas, and thus five separate regional management teams, will have to meet to determine the appropriate regional management measures—and of the state fishery management agencies that will have to go through a long regulatory process to adopt the management measure that are ultimately chosen.
And it will be a waste of time; a 5% increase in egg production will have no more real-world impact on the lobster stock than doing nothing at all.
When the stock is in such perilous shape that leading scientists say that only a moratorium has any chance of turning things around, the proposed 5% increase in egg production isn’t even a good-faith effort to get something done. It is more akin to farce.
Once again, southern New England lobster has demonstrated the weakness of ASMFC’s management approach. The best available science can be ignored, and there is no requirement to rebuild even those stocks that have teetered over the edge of collapse. At ASMFC, fishing stocks into oblivion is a legally acceptable thing to do, however morally detestable it might be.
And that is why it is so important to keep the conservation and management provisions of the Magnuson-Stevens Fishery Conservation and Management Act strong and intact.
Although they won’t protect southern New England lobster, which are managed by the states, Magnuson-Stevens will protect hundreds of other fish stocks that, without those provision, might well follow southern New England lobster down the road to perdition.