Thursday, March 11, 2010

Commercial Fishing: Learn How One Recreational Angler Turned His Passion Into Profit

See story at MadMariner:

Commercial Fishing
Learn How One Recreational Angler Turned His Passion Into Profit

I cannot, without diminishing the profession, call myself a commercial fisherman. After all, I have a full-time office job in the city. I don't even live near the water.

Still, every summer I spend one or two weeks on Cape Cod fishing commercially for striped bass. During those weeks I fish early and I fish late, spending most of each day on my little boat. I fish in rain and I fish in fog, near shore and offshore, smooth water and rough.

But instead of eating my catch, I sell it to local fish markets. Others eat it, in restaurants and at dinner parties. I take home only a paycheck. The income offsets the costs and the financial incentive changes the game.

Recreational fishermen might be surprised that Massachusetts, Rhode Island, New York, Delaware, Virginia and North Carolina allow the commercial harvest of striped bass – called rock fish in the mid-Atlantic – in state waters, which extend three miles offshore. In 2008, some 3,200 metric tons of stripers were landed for commercial sale, according to the Atlantic States Marine Fisheries Commission, a group that coordinates state fishery management plans.

Most East Coast states also allow the commercial sale of bluefish. And with a federal permit, offshore anglers can sell larger and more valuable game fish, like bluefin tuna.


I fish commercially for striped bass in the waters around the town of Chatham, on Cape Cod. In Massachusetts, getting a commercial permit is simple. Just download the application from the web site of the state's Division of Marine Fisheries.

If you fish from a small skiff like mine, Massachusetts requires you have a boat permit with a striped bass endorsement. The total cost is $160 for state residents and $320 for out-of-staters. If you fish only from shore – try working the banks of the Cape Cod Canal at night – you'll spend $65 or $160, depending on your residency.

The Bay State's commercial striped bass season opens in mid-July, which usually coincides with the arrival of schools of northbound migrating stripers. In the days preceding the start of the season, Cape Codders talk of stripers incessantly and with the nervous excitement of city goers anticipating a winter blizzard. Fishing is on everyone's mind. And opening day is a hoopla. Everyone with a license is on the water. The ocean is crowded with zigzagging boats jockeying for the best positions. The most devoted guys leave the dock the night before, dropping their lines at the stroke of midnight.

The season ends when the quota – 1.1 million pounds in 2009 – is filled, which can take a few weeks or a few months depending on how fast fish are caught. After the season closes, the state mails catch reports to all commercial permit holders. If you don't complete and return the forms, the state won't grant you a permit next year.

I schedule my fishing weeks for the second half of July, when the crowds are lighter. My boat is an old but solid 20-foot center-console SeaCraft, perfect for working the tidal rips that slice like spindly veins across the shallow waters east and south of Cape Cod. In these rips, striped bass feed on baitfish swept by the tide over the shoals.

Striped bass must be at least 34 inches long to sell in Massachusetts. The state also sets daily catch limits: 30 fish on Tuesdays, Wednesdays and Thursdays and five fish on Sundays. Fishing is prohibited on Mondays, Fridays and Saturdays.


I've tried every method of fishing for stripers. I've trolled buck tails on wire line. I've drifted live eels and golden-sided chubs. I've dragged umbrella rigs, which always return a tangled mess.

Though live bait can work best, I prefer casting plugs into rips. It's a fast, active style of fishing. I motor up-current, cut the engine and cast into the rip's leading edge. I reel at the same speed as the current, keeping the lure nearly stationary in the white water. I prefer white or pink split-back Bomber lures with treble hooks. I use 20-pound monofilament line and Penn spinning reels. Unless bluefish are present, I leave my leaders in the tackle box.

Bass seem to be most active when the sun is low on the horizon and when the tide is running. I like to leave the dock early – between 4 a.m. and 6 a.m. I'll work the morning tide and return to port before noon. Then, lunch and a nap. I'm back offshore for round two in late afternoon, my favorite time to fish. In the evening there is less boat traffic. Often I have the rips to myself.

Fishermen can sell their catch in Massachusetts to any of some 100 dealers, many of them small, retail fish markets. There are at least four dealers in Chatham, one of which stays open at night so fishermen can deliver fish after business hours.

Regional fish auctions dictate prices--so there's no haggling. Just drop off your fish and return a few days later for your check. Prices vary, but expect between $2 and $3.50 per pound for stripers and no more than fifty cents for bluefish.

Fish markets only accept striped bass whole and uncut. Blues, however, must be gutted to drain their oily blood and keep their flesh firm. Gutting is a dirty procedure better undertaken at sea than at the dock. If I've got a load of blues, my crew and I form a three-man assembly line: one man cuts, one man rips, one man rinses.

And nobody likes warm fish, so keep your catch packed on ice from fish box to market. I buy my ice from a decades-old steel trailer parked at the local fish pier. It's the honor system: five bucks per cooler.

I don't make much money selling stripers. Most of the fish I catch aren't big enough to keep. On an average day I'll return with three keepers in the fish box. If the market price is high – say, $3 a pound – I'll earn about $90.

Then subtract expenses. In three hours of fishing my four-stroke Yamaha outboard burns six or seven gallons of fuel. That's about $25 at gas-dock prices. Add $15 for a couple lures. And if you fish with friends (I usually do), you'll want to throw a few bucks to your crew. In the end, I'm lucky to break even.

But some days are better than others.

One morning in 2008 I left the dock early and alone. It was dark and the fog was thick. I navigated on GPS, reaching the offshore tidal rips at dawn. The conditions were perfect. Low visibility. Overcast sky. No wind. No other boats. Sea birds filled the sky.

I cut the engine and cast my lure straight as a bullet into the rip. A bass exploded from the depths, engulfing the plug the moment it splashed down. I brought the fish in fast, gaffing it in the lower lip. The fish was 36 inches long. I lowered it into the fish box and cast again. Another hookup. Another keeper.

That's how it went for hours – one big fish after another, a few over 40 inches long. I fished the whole tide, stopping only to catch my breath or slug coffee from my thermos. And I moved fast, at times working two rods at once. In an hour I had ten keepers – my previous single-day record. An hour later, two dozen fish flopped in the hold. The pace didn't slow. Soon I had thirty fish – roughly 450 pounds. I had reached my daily limit and I headed home with the stereo blasting. I couldn't help but smile. My profits that day: $1400.

Don't get me wrong – I like fishing whether I can sell my catch or not. I just like it more when I can sell it. When I fish commercially, my mindset changes. I feel even more urgency to be on the water, a burning desire to land another 30 monster bass. It's partly the money that drives me, but it's more the satisfaction of knowing my success rests on my skills and my persistence. Try it for yourself. You might find nothing is better than being paid to do what you love more than anything else – if only for a few days.

Jonathan Hemmerdinger is a professional journalist in Washington, D.C., a U.S.C.G. licensed skipper and a former charter-boat captain.

Northeast Summit: Saving Seafood Issues Brief

Northeast Summit: Saving Seafood Issues Brief
Topics include the new skate stock information, industry concerns around sector managment, the accuracy of pollock science, U.S.–Canada transboundary arrangement, whether joining sectors was really voluntary, whether sectors are catch shares, and whether there is appropriate economic analysis of fishing regulations.

by Jonathan Hemmerdinger
Saving Seafood Contributing Writer

New skate stock information emerges
New skate studies indicate that skate catch reductions under the soon-to-be-implemented Amendment 3 are not needed. "More recent information and the errors have led us to understand that those reductions aren't necessary," said Tom Dempsey, a policy analyst with the Cape Cod Commercial Hook Fishermen’s Association. "There is no conservation benefit of these cuts. Harvest at the status quo is acceptable."
It's a critical issue, Dempsey added, because many ground fishermen, now facing possible cuts under sector management, also rely on skate revenue. The new skate regulations, which cut the daily trip limit from 10,000 to 1,900 pounds of skate wings, may result in $9 million of lost revenue, say the group. Most impacted will be the communities of Chatham and New Bedford, Mass., and Point Judith, R.I., where some vessels may see revenue fall up to 50 percent.
In a Feb. 17 letter to regional administrator Patricia Kurkul, CCCHFA said the new regulations will "force hundreds of struggling fishermen out of business while serving absolutely no conservation purpose."
The group requested NMFS "fast track the incorporation of the most recent skate assessment data and set FY2010 total allowable catch and trip limits accordingly."
Julie Wormser of the Environmental Defense said the new information could lead to increases in skate catch. "There are three fisheries in New England in which new data would appear to increase the [annual catch limits], skate, pollock and dogfish," Wormser said in an email. "It looks like skate is on track to have this new data considered by the New England Council at its April meeting … This could increase the 2010 [skate catch] in time for the start of the fishing season."
CCCHFA staffers and fishermen are planning a March 15–16 trip to Washington, D.C., to discuss skate and dogfish concerns with law and policy makers, said Dempsey.
See related: Fishermen: Catch limits go too far, Cape Cod Times

Sectors raise industry concerns
Many fishermen and industry insiders fear that Amendment 16's sector management plan for Northeast multispecies will lead to industry consolidation and lost fishing jobs.
Even Council members concede sectors will likely lead to job loss. In an interview, Thomas Nies, a fishery analyst on the New England Fisheries Management Council, said, "It is completely realistic that there will be fewer fishermen. There isn't any question that will happen. It's an expected outcome."
And the sector program’s requirement that all sector fishing cease once fishermen reach their quota on any of some twenty species may cause sectors to shut in only months, say some.
Vito Giacalone, policy director at Gloucester-based Northeast Seafood Coalition, said fishing rests on the “weakest link”—species with small quotas that act as the “circuit breaker of the system.” Once that species' quota is reached, he said, “the system shuts down.”
Brian Rothschild agreed. "Once you reach your [limit], everybody has to close down," he said.
Pollock are one of several so-called “weakest links," also called "choke stocks," that fishermen fear can cause sector-wide closures.
Carlos Rafael, whose 44 ground fish permits make him one of the largest permit holders in Massachusetts, explained: boats that target gray sole or plaice, he said, also likely haul pollock as bycatch—all three species swim in the same deep ocean water.
But pollock quotas might be lower than sole or plaice quotas—possibly much lower. "If you haul 500 pounds of pollock [but] you only have 50 pounds of quota … you shut down the whole sector," Rafael said.
In his letter to Lubchenco, Frank said he fears job loss from sectors. “Recommendations for severe reductions in catch to ground fish species such as Pollock as well as the restrictive allowable catch of cod and yellowtail would all but ensure that many who rely on this commercial fishery will be forced out,” he wrote.
Frank urged NOAA “do everything within its power” to increase access to fish stocks that are harvested under allowable limits. In addition, he urged the agency to develop a strategy to avoid bycatch—“the needless waste of fish that are simply thrown overboard, with most dying or already dead”—a practice that he said results in the loss of millions of dollars in revenue that could otherwise benefit fishermen.
Frank said he is “generally opposed to sectors” and concerned the plan will leave fishermen in economic distress. “Who will bail them out?” he asked.
Lubchenco responded that while not a “panacea” for every fishery, sector management plans are worthy for consideration. And the plan was originally proposed by members of the ground fish industry, she said. Lubchenco added that two existing sector management plans in New England have proven successful.
As for reducing bycatch, Lubchenco said the agency isn’t relying on sectors alone. But she said the plan’s provisions require sector vessels to land only legal-size fish, which “should help reduce” legal-size discard. “Common pool” vessels—those whose owners chose not to join a sector—are required under Amendment 16 to use selective gear to minimize the catch of overfished stocks, she said.
See related: Sector Management promises benefits, faces obstacles, and raises concerns.

Is pollock science accurate?
In his letter to Lubchenco, Barney Frank said he is concerned about disagreement over the science used in the pollock stock assessment. “The stock could be very abundant,” Frank wrote, and the total allowable catch (TAC) could have been “set too quickly.”
"This is no small matter as this species could trigger the shut down of the entire multispecies fishery."
In her response, Lubchenco said her agency will conduct a “benchmark assessment” of pollock stocks in June 2010. “This will be a complete reexamination of the pollock resource and will be independently reviewed through the New England Fisheries Science Center’s Stock Assessment Review Committee.”
“I agree that, given the importance of stock assessments to the management of our fisheries, it is vital that we involve the industry to hear their concerns, answer their questions and help them understand our science,” Lubchenco wrote.
In a Jan. 29 letter responding to Lubchenco, Frank said the NOAA head had "squandered" the opportunity make changes to pollock and other quota, it was reported.

Agreement or understanding? The U.S.–Canada Transboundary arrangement
Under the Magnuson-Stevens Act, most overfished stocks are required to be rebuilt within ten years. However, the act has an exception for fish stocks “under and international agreement.”
But the U.S. State Department has said the U.S.-Canada fisheries arrangement is an “understanding,” not an agreement. That means tighter restrictions on fishermen.
In his letter to Lubchenco, Frank said the agreement could negatively impact U.S. fishermen. He suggested that the "issues and complications" not be addressed piecemeal, but “rather in comprehensive and strategic fashion.”
“I suggest you form a NOAA task force involving your staff and members of the industry to develop a comprehensive plan for fisheries interactions with Canada,” Frank said. He called on Lubchenco to be directly involved in the discussions.
In her response, Lubchenco said the U.S/Canada management issue is “important” to NOAA and that the agency has been working on the issue with congressional staff and the fishing industry.
In December, Frank and Maine Sen. Olympia J. Snowe (R) each introduced legislature to amend the Magnuson-Stevens Act so that the United States-Canada Transboundary Resource Sharing Understanding is defined as an agreement.

Economic analysis of proposed fishing regulations
In his letter, Barney Frank said all proposed fishing regulations—including the northeast sector management plan—should be accompanied by “readily available and substantive economic analysis.” “This information must be provided in a manner that is both accessible and easily understood by those who are most affected: fishermen, shore side businesses, coastal communities, etc.”
Frank added, “I am concerned that the catch share concept may not be viable for some sector groups.”
Lubchenco responded that economic analysis are “routinely conducted” to inform the Council about the impact of regulatory actions. The analysis, Lubchenco added, “are a requirement of both the Magnuson-Stevens Act and the Regulatory Flexibility Act” and can range from “qualitative discussions to detailed quantitative estimates.”
As for sectors, Lubchenco agreed “that it will be critical to fully understand the economic impact” and that analysis should be shared with “impacted stakeholders.”
Frank’s concerns mirror industry concerns. Most catch-share programs—similar to sector plans—grant fishing rights (in the form of quota) to fishermen. Quota can also be bought and sold.
In the United States, 15 catch-share programs manage species including red snapper in the Gulf of Mexico, sablefish in the Pacific Northwest, and king crab in the Bering Sea, according to a report by the environmental arm of nonprofit Pew Charitable Trusts.
Environmentalists say catch shares align fishermen’s interests with environmental interests (healthy oceans mean more valuable shares, they say),
But the programs add a cost structure to fishing—fishermen must buy (or be granted) shares. That, said Bonnie McCay, chair of the department of human ecology at Rutgers University, can disrupt the traditional career progression of aspiring fishermen. In the past, kids worked their way up from crewmembers to small-boat owner-operators. But catch shares impose a massive cost of entry on fishing because you have to first buy shares. As a result, many kids from poor coastal communities no longer can afford to work for themselves.
The programs can also lead to consolidation of fishing rights under corporations. Linda Behnken, executive director of the Alaska Longline Fishermen's Association in Sitka, Alaska, said the catch-share plan implemented in the Alaska crab fishery in 2004 has caused the loss of virtually all crab jobs in small, rural Alaskan fishing communities. The fleet consolidated, she said, under few owners, some who lived nowhere near the sea.
See related: Sector Management promises benefits, faces obstacles, and raises concerns.

Are sectors really voluntary?
Under questioning from Rep. Frank Pallone (D-N.J.) in a Feb. 24 budget hearing, NOAA Deputy Under Secretary for Oceans and Atmosphere Mary M. Glackin called the sector management plan a voluntary program that most fishermen had chosen to join.
"In the Northeast, in the sector management there, 95 percent of the fishermen, even though it's a voluntary program, have enrolled," Glackin said.
But fishermen call NOAA's claims misleading and they say the agency rigged the system so that the alternative to joining a sector—fishing in the so-called common pool—is not a viable option for most.
In a sector, fishermen are guaranteed a portion of the quota based on their catch history. But the common pool has a common quota, based on all fishermen's catch history. And the common pool is derby-style—fishermen race to fish before the quota is reached.
Giacalone said fishermen with substantial catch histories have no incentive to fish in the common pool, where other fishermen can catch their quota. And once the quota is reached, regardless of who catches it, the common pool closes. "If someone goes fishing before you and catches a large amount … the entire common pool is shut down," Giacalone said.
Because sectors guarantee fishermen at least a portion of the quota, they are the only real option for most fishermen. "When you restrict and limit … the alternatives so that the only thing left is the one that gives you even a half of chance, how voluntary is that?" Giacalone said.
David Goethel, a New Hampshire ground fisherman who joined a sector, agreed. "For most people with any history at all, they will do poorly in a sector but disastrous in the common pool."
Giacalone added that Glackin's comments wrongly imply fishermen "asked to have" sectors. "It looks like NOAA is looking to use industry leaders as scapegoats for creating this," he said. "It makes me feel like I am being thrown under the bus."

Are sectors catch shares?
The Magnuson-Stevens Act defines Limited Access Privilege Programs, of which individual fishing quotas are a type, as programs granting fishermen a share of the total catch, commonly called a catch share. Under most LAPPs the shares act as property that can be bought and sold.
In the 2007 reauthorization of Magnuson-Stevens, a provision spearheaded by Barney Frank was added requiring that Northeast LAPPs be approved by fishermen. "The New England and Gulf Councils may not submit, and the Secretary may not approve or implement, a fishery management plan or amendment that creates an individual fishing quota program … unless such a system … has been approved by more than 2⁄3 of those voting in a referendum among eligible permit holders," said the act.
The Northeast sector management plan, however, was not considered an IFQ program by NOAA. No vote was held.
In a Sept. 2007 letter to Council Executive Director Paul Howard, NOAA Regional Administrator Patricia Kurkul said the agency determined that under the Magnuson reauthorization "an IFQ does not, for the purposes of the referendum requirement, include a sector allocation."
And "sector allocations, as currently implemented by the Northeast Multispecies [Fisheries Management Plan], do not appear to be LAPPs because they do not "involve the allocation of specific quantity of fish or a portion of the TAC," Kurkul said.
But the sector plan acts very much like a LAPP, some say, because it guarantees fishermen a portion of the catch and allows transfer of quota.
"If it walks like a duck, it's a duck," said Brian Rothschild. "People are being allocated the public's resource."
Even NOAA has called sectors catch shares. In a Dec. 11 editorial in the Gloucester Daily Times, NMFS head Jim Balsiger wrote, "One of four new catch share programs expected to start in the next year is the sector program in the northeast groundfishery."
Some in the industry says NOAA's decision not to classify sectors as LAPPs allowed the agency to push through a catch-share style plan without a vote.
"What I [don't] like is that sectors were a way to circumvent the referendum," said Harriet Didrickson, who owns New Bedford Ship Supply and has been involved with the fishing industry most of her life. "If they went to ITQs, they [would need] a referendum" of fishermen, she said.
Rothschild added he thinks NOAA's decision to forgo of referendum contradicts the "intent of Congress, which is that you don't go into a property rights systems in the Northeast without having a referendum," he said. "There is no question that sectors are property rights systems."
But some industry insiders see benefit to the sector plan not being classified as an LAPP.
Vito Giacalone, policy director at Gloucester-based Northeast Seafood Coalition, said because LAPP's involve property rights—fishermen own shares—changes to the plans can be difficult to implement.
"If it was LAPP, [the shares are a] commodity," Giacalone said. "It's hard for council to take [those] away" from fishermen.
That's an important point, Giacalone said, because sector management is brand new and its impact is unknown. Many fishermen fear the plan will cause widespread job loss. Others think the industry will consolidate under corporate ownership.
If such problems arise, the sector management plan could be modified more easily because it's not an LAPP. Improvements could be made without disenfranchising fishermen of property rights.
"[This plan] is a benefit to the fishery [over an LAPP]," he said. "It's more open to management changes if it turns into a problem … the fishery can respond to negative social and economic consequences."
Property rights granted under LAPPs can also attract non-fishing investors, Giacalone said, which could push share prices above levels ordinary fishermen can afford.
That's another reason he thinks sector quota must not be confused with LAPP property ownership. "This may mitigate some of the negative socio-economic effects that many quota share systems have experienced."

Sector Management promises benefits, faces obstacles, and raises concerns.

Sector Management promises benefits, faces obstacles, and raises concerns.

With this story, Saving Seafood begins an in-depth series examining major issues facing the industry that will be discussed in March at a fisheries summit, currently being planned by New Bedford Mayor Scott Lang's Oceans and Fisheries Task Force. The Task Force is chaired by Dean Emeritus Brian Rothschild of the School for Marine Science and Technology at the University of Massachusetts Dartmouth.

The first installment in the series looks at Sector Management, the system of implementing Catch Shares, currently planned to be implemented in the northeast fisheries this spring. Catch Share management is the policy for fisheries management adopted by NOAA under the Obama Administration.

by Jonathan Hemmerdinger

Special to Saving Seafood

NEW BEDFORD, Mass – Feb. 17, 2010 - At a meeting of New Bedford Mayor Scott Lang’s Oceans and Fisheries Council last week, northeast ground fishermen and industry insiders expressed fear about the loss of fishing jobs and fishing revenue after the May 1 implementation of the "sector" management plan approved in January by the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration.

"We are looking at a 50 percent to 75 percent [reduction] in vessels," said Richard Canastra, co-owner of the Whaling City Seafood Display Auction in New Bedford and the Boston Seafood Display Auction, in an earlier interview. "They aren't given us enough fish to fish on."

Thomas Nies, a fishery analyst on the New England Fisheries Management Council, agreed that jobs will likely be lost. "It is completely realistic that there will be fewer fishermen," he said in a phone interview. "There isn't any question that will happen. It's an expected outcome."

Under the plan, Northeast ground fish permit holders—fishermen who target species such as cod, haddock, pollock and flounder—can join fishing cooperatives called sectors and fish under agreed restrictions. Sector fishermen are guaranteed a portion of the total quota based on each member's historical catch.

In New England, fishing sectors have existed on a very limited basis, but the impact on New England fisheries under a widespread implementation are uncertain, said Brian Rothschild, who chairs Mayor Lang’s council and is dean emeritus at the School for Marine Science and Technology at the University of Massachusetts Dartmouth.

"People I speak to don't know if sectors will be economically viable," he said.


Fishermen and others in the industry are concerned with how the sector plan manages quotas.

Mark Grant, a NOAA policy analyst, said the agency manages 20 stocks of fish in three geographic areas: the Gulf of Maine, George’s Bank and Southern New England. But those 20 stocks are composed of only 14 fish species because the agency splits some species into multiple stocks. There is a George’s Bank cod stock, for instance, and a Gulf of Maine cod stock. There are three stocks of yellowtail flounder.

Five species—pollock, white hake, American plaice, witch flounder and redfish—each have only one stock, called an East Coast stock, said Grant. For those species, their stock area footprint covers all three major eastern fishing grounds.

Under the sector plan, sector fishermen must cease all fishing in a geographic area once they reach or exceed the quota on any of the 20 stocks, Grant said. For instance, fishermen who reach their George’s Bank cod quota can no longer fish for anything on George’s Bank.

Likewise, fishermen who reach their quota on pollock—a so-called “choke stock” with a three-area footprint—can no longer fish anywhere on the East Coast, Grant said.

It’s a regulatory framework that Vito Giacalone, policy director at Gloucester-based Northeast Seafood Coalition, said is based on the “weakest link.” He calls the species with the small quotas and wide footprints the “circuit breaker of the system.” Once that quota is reached, he said, “the system shuts down.”

The result, said Richard Canastra, is that entire sectors could be shut down within a matter of months.

Carlos Rafael, whose 44 ground fish permits make him one of the largest permit holders in Massachusetts, explained how the closures might happen. Boats that target gray sole or plaice, he said, will also likely haul pollock as bycatch—all three species swim in the same deep ocean water.

But pollock quotas might be lower than sole or plaice quotas—possibly much lower. As a result, "if you haul 500 pounds of pollock [but] you only have 50 pounds of quota … you shut down the whole sector," Rafael said. And because Pollock is one of the species with a single East Coast stock, fishing shuts down in all three areas.

Rothschild called Rafael's concern legitimate. "Once you reach your [limit], everybody has to close down," he said.


Giacalone said an effective electronic system to track landings and quotas of multiple species is critical to the success of sector management plans.

Unfortunately, those systems largely don't exist, he said. As a result, "the sectors can't respond quickly enough to avoid having to shut down."

Still, Giacalone said he "reluctantly" supports the sector plan because it is better than the other options. "It's the best shot at keeping the most people in the [fishery]," he said.

Nies of NEFMC said there are some possible alternatives to total sector closures, "but it remains to be seen if any of them will get used." One option, he said, is that the Council could possibly permit some fishing to continue but with gear restrictions. For instance, to avoid catching yellowtail flounder, fishermen could be restricted only to long lines.

Another option is for sectors to purchase addition quota from other fishermen. But Nies said fishermen might be reluctant to sell "something they already don't think they have enough of."

"The trade will develop," he said, "but it will take a little time"


In addition to the sector plan, the 2010 fishing year will see a slash in fish quotas from 2009.

Canastra said the 2010 quota for yellowtail flounder was set at 1.2 million pounds, down from 3.5 million pounds in 2009. Overall, ground fish quotas in 2010 will be some 50 percent less than they were in 2009, he said.

Giacalone said Canastra's estimates are largely accurate. But, he said, it's difficult to know exactly because quotas vary by species. For example, pollock quota is down 66 percent this year, he said. And one of two cod quotas was slashed about 50 percent. But the Cape Cod yellowtail flounder quota is nearly unchanged.

Giacalone said the quota reductions result from a federal mandate that overfished stocks be capable of rebuilding within 10 years or less. As a result, he said, "low quotas are not necessarily the result of low stock size." The government can reduce quotas even on stocks that are growing—but perhaps not growing fast enough by federal standards, he said. "It forces you to catch less [even if] the stock is three times larger [than it was a few years ago]"

Congressman Barney Frank (D-Massachusetts), and Senator Olympia Snowe (R-Maine) have called for an independent study of the rebuilding timeline. “Fisheries are an economic engine for our coastal communities, and the Magnuson-Stevens Act includes a commitment to achieve optimum yield from our fisheries while minimizing adverse economic impact. Congressman Frank and I are asking NOAA to fund this study to determine whether the 10-year rebuilding timeline best meets these mandates,” said Senator Snowe. “The rigid and arbitrary 10 year rebuilding timeline was one of my major objections to the Magnuson-Stevens Act, Congressman Frank added.

Canastra said the quota cuts could result in lost fishing jobs and a fleet reduction. This follows the loss of some $250 million in revenue in 2009 as a result of “weakest link” management, according to Canastra.

New Bedford’s Harriet Didrickson, who owns New Bedford Ship Supply and has been involved with the fishing industry most of her life, also fears the sectors will force fishermen out of work. "[It's] another consolidation the fishery," she said. "We are [already] at the high end of unemployment numbers [here] in New Bedford. How far down do they want to drive us?"

Nies of NEFMC noted, however, that the industry has been shrinking for years, even before sector management was widely in use. In 2001, he said, 1,100 ground fish boats were fishing. In 2008 there were 600.

Nies added that sectors aren't a new or particularly radical management scheme. There have been some sectors in New England since 2004 and sectors are also used overseas. And the Pacific whiting fishery is regulated under a sector-like program.

The new sector plan in New England greatly expands sector management, but does so in light of "lessons learned" from other fisheries, Nies said.

Still, there's a feeling among fishermen that government regulators didn't adequately analyze the impact of the sector plan prior to approval.

"There hasn't been enough planning going into this," said Didrickson. "You can't be wrong on this. You have to get it right."

Permit holder Rafael agreed. "What is the government prepared to do if [this] fails? They never had anything ready if something malfunctions, and it will malfunction," he said.

A buyback program, where government or industry either individually or jointly pays fishermen not to fish by purchasing their permits, gear or vessel, is one option to help impacted watermen. But despite some industry support, the sector plan lacks a buyback.

Jimmy Odlin, a ground fish vessel owner and member of the New England Fisheries Management Council, said buybacks can reduce fishing fleets by up to 40 percent to 50 percent. The programs, which have been used in the Alaska pollock, Alaska crab and north Pacific ground fish fisheries, benefit remaining fishermen with greater quota.


Sector plans, say industry experts, are a type of "catch-share," a controversial management programs in which fishermen and fishing entities are guaranteed a fixed share of the yearly quota, which can be caught on a flexible timetable. As with the sector plan, catch-share programs usually allow fishermen to buy and sell quota.

Catch shares are a departure from the fleet-wide quotas and effort controls of the past, when fishermen caught as much fish as possible during allowed time frames, before the season's quota was filled.

In the United States, 15 catch-share programs manage species including red snapper in the Gulf of Mexico, sablefish in the Pacific Northwest, and king crab in the Bering Sea, according to a report by the environmental arm of nonprofit Pew Charitable Trusts.

Some scientists and environmental groups like the Environmental Defense Fund say catch shares eliminate the quota “race” or "derby" and reduce overfishing and bycatch.

But opponents say the programs cost fishing jobs and lead to corporate consolidation of fishing.

For instance, in 2009, the federal government approved a catch-share plan for Northeast small-boat scallop fishermen. Under the plan, scallopers are granted a "share" of the scallop catch, which they can sell to other fishermen.

Tom Dempsey, a policy analyst with the Cape Cod Commercial Hook Fishermen’s Association, said that after the plan was implemented, the Cape Cod scallop fleet consolidated and permits migrated off Cape Cod as wealthier fishermen in bigger ports bought up other's shares. In 2005 there were roughly 120 active scallop permits on Cape Cod, Dempsey said, though not all permit holders fished regularly. Today, there are only 19 permits, he said.

Consolidation isn't unusual under catch share plans.

Linda Behnken is executive director of the Alaska Longline Fishermen's Association in Sitka, Alaska. In 2004, the Alaska crab fishery was converted to a catch share program. Though the plan improved safety—as the race to fill the quota was gone—Behnken said small, rural Alaskan fishing communities lost nearly all of their crab boats and fishing jobs. The fleet consolidated under fewer owners, some of whom lived nowhere near the sea.

And in the mid-Atlantic, the surf clam fleet shrank from 128 to 59 boats under a catch share plan, according to a report by Pew Charitable Trusts. The largest shareholders in that fishery were a bank and an accounting firm.

Bonnie McCay, chair of the department of human ecology at Rutgers University, has studied the social impact of catch share plans. McCay said poorly written plans can turn fishermen from self-employed to seafaring sharecroppers—dependent on far-away owners.

The plans can also disrupt the traditional career progression of aspiring fishermen, she said. In the past, kids worked their way up from crew-members to small-boat owner-operators. But catch shares impose a large cost of entry on fishing because you have to first buy shares. As a result, kids from poor coastal communities can often no longer can afford to work for themselves.

Despite industry concerns, catch shares are gaining momentum. In June 2009, President Obama established the Interagency Ocean Policy Task Force, ordering it to recommend a "national policy that ensures the protection, maintenance and restoration” of the health of ocean.

A few days later, NOAA announced a new Catch Share Task Force to assist the agency “as they consider and implement catch-share management programs." Monica Medina, senior adviser to NOAA administrator Jane Lubchenco, said in a statement, "Transitioning to catch shares is a priority."