Late last night I got back from a whirlwind two day trip to DC with a group of commercial and sport fisherman, concerned citizens and environmentalists to try to educate our Senators and Congress about the issue of observer coverage or the lack of it on our fishing fleets. Some folks may not even know what I am talking about, so in a nutshell, to be able to know what the boats are catching and throwing back, we need to have impartial “observers” on the boats that target our common fish resources. The lack of accurate data is the problem with fisheries management, so the more data, the better managed a fishery can be.
These observers are required by our fishing laws and are paid for through NOAA and NMFS. Most boats that target groundfish that have the potential to impact other non- targeted species are required to at random, to take these observers aboard fishing trips. The ratio of “observed” versus non-observed trips has in the past, been set at 5% of the totals trips. Congress has recently increased the budget to cover at least 10% of these trips. Any increase is good.
There is however a loophole that will negatively affect us all. There are huge midwater “pair” trawlers that target herring, mackerel and other schooling fish, that have been exempted from this observer coverage requirement because when the fishery started a few years ago, they lobbied themselves as a “clean” fishery, with no bycatch. We now know that this is absolutely not the case! We had with us on the DC trip a 30-year veteran of the herring fishery that started out with a purse seine and has had to grow into this pair trawling method to stay in business. He told stories of bycatch of everything from small cod to full-grown whales and the damages continually being done. He told of an increasingly declining herring population that our stripers and other valuable resources depend upon for food. Are we AGAIN overfishing the herring as the Russian and other factory boats did off our coasts in the 60’s and 70’s? It sure seems so. What we want is the NMFS and NOAA to also require the observer coverage on these mid water pair trawler boats in the same manner as any other longliner, dragger, tub trawler, or jigger. If their fishery is so “clean” they will have lost nothing. However, if it is not, we will have taken steps to prevent damages to the valuable groundfish and recreational fisheries and other natural resources we are trying so hard to protect.
Bruce & Miss Jillian