Georges Bank Yellowtail Flounder Working Group Meeting May 23, 2012
New Bedford, Ma.
Participant and affiliation Affiliation
Sam Rauch Acting Assistant Administrator for Fisheries, Dan Morris Northeast Regional Office, George Darcy Northeast Regional Office, Sue Murphy Northeast Regional Office, Sarah Heil Northeast Regional Office, Peter Christopher Northeast Regional Office, Gene Martin General Counsel Northeast, Chris Legault, Bill Karp Northeast Fisheries Science Center
New England Fishery Management Council
Paul Howard, Deirdre Boelke, Tom Nies, Rip Cunningham, Terry Stockwell, Jim Odlin, Mary Beth Tooley,Rodney Avila
Jackie O’Dell, Vito Giacalone Northeast Seafood Coalition, Maggie Raymond Associated Fisheries of Maine/Sustainable Harvest Sector, Drew Minkiewicz Fishery Survival Fund, Tobey Lees Northeast Fishery Sector XIII, Peter Hughes Scallop Advisory Panel, Eddie Welch Scallop Advisory Panel, Richie Canastra Groundfish Advisory Panel, Bill Wells Scallop Advisory Panel
Peter Shelley Conservation Law Foundation, Gilbert Brogan OCEANA
The meeting opens.
“We formed a joint NOAA Fisheries Service and the New England Fishery Management Council working group and scheduled this meeting in New Bedford, MA, to proactively engage scallop and groundfish fishermen and others in discussions to identify potential solutions to the problem,” said Samuel Rauch, acting assistant administrator, NOAA Fisheries Service. “Only by working together can we find workable solutions that we can all live with.”
“We need to take a hard look at many of the good ideas aired here today and advance workable solutions as quickly as possible,” said C.M. “Rip” Cunningham, chair, New England Fishery Management Council.
And so it begins. The meeting can be heard in its entirety, starting with audio 2.
Wouldn't it figure that they would turn things upside down by mislabeling the audio tapes? Typical NOAA.
The focal point of interest in this article will be questions raised about the Trawl survey issues of the Bigelow.
Listening to Dr Chris Legualts presentation when reviewed while listening to audio 2, and while looking at the science presentation data, explains why there is a smaller allocation, based on data with no understanding as to why the low recruitment is happening.
He does explain how the allocation is divided between the US and Canada, which is also effecting the allowable catch.
Observing the "Retrospective Adjustment" chart, it is noticeable that there is a drop stock when the Bigelow was utilized.
At 50:32, Richie Canastra give a historic retrospect of the volume of yellow tail caught from the beginning of Magnuson 76, up through the present day, including price paid for these fish, and at the end of his commentary questions the the use of roller gear while trawl sampling for yellow tail.
At 1.39:00, Tony Alverenez, New Bedford fisherman, was involved with Albatross 4, NMFS, notes in his six years of involvement saw too many mistakes with the trawl gear, including bad tows, which were never repeated, or corrected. He has collected over forty signatures of experienced Captains in the industry saying they would never use 16" roller gear to catch flounder. Flounder nets have cookie sweep made up of 4 inch discs strung together on chain.
Fisherman Alvernez states some of those Captains use the same net as the Bigelow to NOT catch yellow tails! He also mentions the bottom conditions where the trawl sampling is occurring as good bottom, and to gather the best science available is the right boat, the right gear, and the right people, which will yield the best results.
The Bigelow, and the non fishermen that man it are good people, but inexperienced, he goes on to say. He mentions the net again, and when fisheries were looking for the net to use on the Bigelow, NOAA Fisheries are advised that the net chosen is good in the correct application, but to use it with a two hundred foot research vessel, its not a good match.
Mr. Alverenez mentions a phone discussion with a chief scientist at the survey branch, asking her what they were seeing as far as abundance, more fish, or less fish. She told him it was a complicated question. He then asked yes or no, and her answer was they were using a bigger boat, towing less, bigger net, and they are extrapolating. In other words whatever the boat is catching, they are subtracting. (huh?) They are doing three 20 minute tows in seventy square mile stratum's. I find this to be confusing and troubling.
At 2:00.00 Jim Kendall brings up survey issues. He mentions the one common denominator regarding these results is Bigelow. He also mentions the roller gear, expressingthe concerns of many industry people regarding trawl results of Bigelow, and wonders why the advice that was solicited from the industry has been ignored.
He brought up many many issues that must be addressed in order to get the true results of what exactly is happening out on Georges Bank, and the science of fishing.
At 2:05.00 Russ Brown, Deputy Science and Resource Director of the Northeast Regional Science Center gets invited to address Mr. Kendalls questions by Dr Chris Legualt. He was also the lead scientist fot the ECO SYSTEM SURVEY BRANCH.
He explains why they are using the gear they are using on Bigelow. They went through a six year advisory process which included stake holders to get the right gear for surveys, consulting with industry, the NEFMC, Mid Atlantic FMC, along with key academic stakeholders, (whoever they are), professors who study fish behavior, and fishing gear, and things like that. Things like that? Fishing gear?
The group then decided what the objective would be, including the protocols to be used on the vessel itself.
He goes on to say,"The Center is conducting an ECO SYSTEM SURVEY." "A multi specie survey that is not targeting any single specie, but the objectives of the group was to design a survey to sample a variety of habitats, a variety of species, a variety of sizes within those species, to really get a picture of what the eco system looks like.
"When you design a survey like that, there are a lot of trade offs you need to make in terms of spatially where you sample, the types of gear you're using, etc."
Trade off's? In like not collecting the data needed to sample abundance?
Brown goes on to describe what we already know about the gear, and who designed it. He acknowledges something else we know. The net can be fished with a roller sweep, or a cookie sweep. He describes testing the net with Research Vessel Deleware2, and bringing the net to the flume tank in Newfoundland, along with stakeholders.
R/V Deleware 2 was a close match to Bigelow, which was not in service yet.
There is more if you listen to the audio. I'm too disgusted to write more from Russ Brown, and if you listen, you'll know why.
Brown then asks if has answered the questions and is informed by Jim Kendall, he has not. But he surely has created a bunch of new ones!
He trys to impress the listening fishermen with technical descriptions of how they monitor a net that won't catch flounder. I found this to be almost laughable, but, under the circumstances, it's hard to find comedy, even when it stares you in the face.
Alverenez speaks about the gear manufacturer's concern about the net not being the right net for Bigelow. They also mentioned the right sweep for the right application. He goes on to mention scallopers using the right dredge in the right application for optimum esults in collecting scallop data.
Laura Foley Ramsden of Foley Fish, and a NEFMC member asks if when the gear was designed if it was to take a snap shot of the eco system as a whole, rather than to specifically target yellow tail or cod? Yet the data is used to decide if there is enough of those fish in the ocean for management purposes. " Is that what you're saying,", she asked?
She then exclaims following more bureaucratic bumbling, "Its sort of an Ah ha moment for me."
Ramsden then states it's no wonder there is such a disconnect between what the science says, and what fishermen are seeing in the ocean.
Richie Canastra reads a letter from Mark Phillips, a Georges Bank fisherman for over thirty years.
From Steve Urbons column at soutcoasttoday.com
Seafood auction king Richie Canastra broke through the drone of a five-hour fisheries meeting last week by reading a letter from a friend of his.
Capt. Mark St Phillips of the F/V Illusion was out fishing, because he's a fisherman, so he passed the letter to Richie so he could read it aloud in front of the whole New England Fishery Management Council, which was meeting as a "working group" in New Bedford.
Phillips' words were like sand in the gears of the regulatory apparatus.
What Phillips did was reveal some of his inside knowledge of fishing for yellowtail flounder, some of which is directly at odds with the practices of NOAA. He spilled some trade secrets after 32 years chasing yellowtail. A sample: "We don't catch the big two-pound-plus fish anymore, not because they are not there, but because we are no longer permitted to fish the area where they are found."
Another one: "Yellowtails are very sensitive to the angle of the net, speed of the tow, and the spread of the net over the bottom.
"No other fish is as sensitive to spread as yellowtails. You can put two boats with the same gear together, side by side, and one will catch 200 pounds and the other 2,000 pounds, just by how the gear is set up," he said.
This went on for several minutes, juicy nuggets of a fisherman's knowledge and wisdom, addressing the very issues being dragged out at one fisheries council meeting after another with no end in sight.
The effect was as if the windows in the room had blown open. With the fate of yellowtails, and by extension the fishing industry, on the line, here, obviously, is a man who ought to be at the table in this so-called workshop, but isn't. He wrote in plain terms, covering a lot of ground, and in the process cut the regulators off at the knees.
While Phillips was out fishing, this big group of people was trying to understand, if not defend, corner-cutting fishery research, fishing with the wrong nets in the wrong way in the wrong places and then making life or death rules for the fishing industry.
Fishermen don't seem to have much say in all of this. They don't have advanced degrees or comfortable federal jobs, and most of them don't get grant money from oil-industry-financed environmental groups. By this stage of the game I'm thinking that they're largely patronized and ignored because they pose a threat to people in power with an agenda who don't know as much as fishermen do. So much for respect.
The shiny new federal research vessel Bigelow lies at the center of this argument. For example, fishermen who really know how to fish are consistently pointing out that the too-big Bigelow is using the wrong net, a one-size-fits-all compromise arrangement that isn't designed to target yellowtail.
Government scientists, say the fishermen, deploy the wrong net the wrong way and then trawl too fast, with the yellowtail making their escape. The conclusion is drawn that the yellowtail aren't down there to start with. So we cut quota.
The managers are told this to their faces, and they don't object. They really don't say anything.
"NMFS (National Marine Fisheries Service) scientists don't pay attention to gear," St Phillips told me Tuesday from off Nantucket, where he's fishing for squid. "The doors (of the trawl) don't even touch bottom. The paint doesn't wear off the bottom of the doors."
We are talking about fishing for groundfish, remember. They're on the bottom. So the net should be on the bottom. Does this need to be pointed out in 2012?
At the meeting last week, one person after another targeted the design of the net as a real culprit in stock assessments for yellowtail. Tellingly, no one in a position of authority, including the government scientist, uttered a word of rebuttal. They were silently confirming that what the fishermen were saying is true.
At this point there is no excuse for not having fishermen on the Bigelow as observers, the way government observers ride the fishing boats. We could also send out fishing boats to shadow Bigelow to compare results. We could even hire some of these fishing pros to do the survey work.
It makes perfect sense. It also could hurt somebody's feelings, I'm afraid.
The revelations of Russ Brown and what this survey is about or, better still, not about, is a real eye opener.
Someone has a lot of questions that need to be answered, and it's about time NOAA Fisheries starts answering them.