A failure of fishery management


To the Editor:

Last Thursday at the Marine Fisheries Commission meeting in Kingston, I witnessed the end result of a failure to manage a fishery on the part of the Massachusetts Division of Marine Fisheries.The Massachusetts black sea bass fishery is being changed to a summer fishery, because the DMF has failed to constrain the landings during the spring fishery, which DMF admits it is unable to do. It fails to admit it is mostly due to there being 1,700 hook permits, instead citing the enormous abundance of fish as being the problem. If Mass DMF had limited the permits 10 years ago, as they should have when we were faced with such a miniscule quota, none of what has taken place in recent years with this fishery would have.

This is an absolutely blatant failure to manage our fishery by the DMF, period. Instead of allowing this fishery to remain an open access permit, Mass DMF should have limited entry to only the fishermen who had landings before quotas were imposed on the fishery. Now, faced with their inability to properly or effectively monitor landings, mainly due to so many participants, their solution is to move the fishery to a time when the fish are least abundant and will cost the most to catch, forcing many of its historic participants out of the fishery. Not being able to manage the spring fishery is no excuse for changing the season to the summer. It’s a cop-out. Mass DMF has allowed problems in certain fisheries go on unabated, until they reach a crisis, a crisis that is directly the result of their management.

At the recent public hearing in Buzzards Bay, on February 13, at which the black sea bass fishery was discussed and DMF took comments on proposed regulations changes, almost all the people who spoke said they wanted a limited spring fishery, but if they couldn’t have a spring fishery, that they favored a September 1 opening, instead of the July 1 opening the DMF was proposing.

The proposal that DMF took to public hearing assured that there would be no opportunity for a spring fishery, unless the commission completely rejected the DMF’s proposal and left it status quo, which would have resulted in the 2013 sea bass season looking very much like 2012, perhaps even worse. Faced with either the DMF’s proposal or the fishery remaining as it was last year, the MFC really didn’t have much choice, but it wasn’t a unanimous decision. The vote to approve this year’s sea bass fishery regulations was 4-2.

This switch to the summer for the entirety of the fishery serves only the few who will be able to catch the fish, namely the pot fishermen. It does nothing toward conservation, as many folks would claim. Black sea bass are at an all time high, according to the last year’s trawl survey, and according to the DMF, the abundance is twice as high as the next highest year for the last 35 years, in spite of there having been a spring pre-spawn fishery all this time. A limited spring fishery would have kept many of the folks who need the money the most going this year, now all they have is scup, which are almost worthless and maybe, maybe there might be some squid.

Since we’ve had a quota in place, the DMF created a permit for them and then proceeded to keep selling permits until we reached the point we are at presently, which is a fishery that statistically has many more permits vs.quota than the striped bass fishery. The problem is the number of permits. For years, many fishermen have been asking the DMF to define what is a commercial fisherman in Massachusetts. I think it’s time we started seriously discussing this. There are simply too many commercial permits.

John Rice

Marstons Mills