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May 2, 2002 

Testimony of Massachusetts Fishermen's Partnership on Reauthorization Provisions of The Magnuson-Stevens Fishery Conservation and Management Act Before the House Subcommittee on Fisheries

My name is Alexander Ferent, and I am President of the Massachusetts Fishermen's Partnership. The Massachusetts Fishermen's Partnership (MFP) submits the following written testimony for the record on reauthorization of the Magnuson-Stevens Act by the House of Representatives Fisheries & Oceans Subcommittee.

The Massachusetts Fishermen's Partnership (MFP) is an umbrella organization of 16 commercial fishing associations representing all gear and geographic sectors of the Massachusetts fishing industry. The MFP is sponsor of the Fishing Partnership Health Plan, which provides comprehensive healthcare coverage for almost 1700 members in the fishing community.

The Massachusetts Fishermen’s Partnership (MFP) has engaged in a lengthy consultation with all segments of the Massachusetts fishing industry on Magnuson-Stevens Act reauthorization. The enclosed comments therefore represent a very lengthy study of the issues by our fishing industry. MFP membership includes:

Boston Harbor Lobstermen’s Cooperative
Cape Cod Commercial Hook Fishermen’s Association
Commercial Anglers’ Association
General Category Tuna Association
Gloucester Fishermen's Wives Association
Gloucester Fishermen's Association
Gulf of Maine Fishermen’s Alliance
Marshfield Commercial Fishermen's Association
Massachusetts Commercial Fishermen's Association
Massachusetts Inshore Commercial Ground Fishermen's Association
Massachusetts Lobstermen’s Association
New Bedford Seafood Coalition
New England Fish Exchange
Pigeon Cove Fishermen’s Co-Op
Plymouth Lobstermen's Association
South Shore Lobstermen’s Association

Overfishing & Maximum Sustainable Yield

The Sustainable Fisheries Act (SFA) requirement that all fisheries must be managed to their Maximum Sustainable Yield (MSY) on a continuing basis has resulted in an order by a federal judge that has brought Northeast inshore fisheries to a complete standstill. The fishing industry is severely curtailed while NOAA Fisheries stock assessments show strong recovery by most species. The fact that there is no biological crisis in New England fish stocks has little bearing on an interpretation of the statute’s requirement that overfishing defined by a maximum standard be ended as soon as "practicable," and as soon as practicable appears to be immediately according to Federal District Court Judge Gladys Kessler.

The time has come for a new approach to defining overfishing and overfished stocks that management can use to rebuild fish stocks while simultaneously providing for the protections promised to fishing communities by National Standard 8.

Maximum Sustainable Yield should be replaced by Sustainable Yield
Maximum Sustainable Yield (MSY) has utterly failed as a management concept in New England and must be replaced by a new concept. Since when has any system in the natural world or the civilized world maintained a "maximum" on a continuing basis over 20 years or more? The notion of managing to a "maximum" standard is not only unreasonable and contrary to cycles or changes in nature but, most importantly; it makes it impossible to manage sustainable fisheries.
It is more important to assess the stability of a stock or complex of stocks together than to define overfishing or an overfished stock by some guesstimate of a maximum. Developing better mathematical models to improve our understanding of fish populations may be a helpful exercise, but the most important factor is the determination as to whether or not the population is stable, growing, or decreasing.
We propose the concept of "Sustainable Yield" or "SY" to replace Maximum Sustainable Yield (MSY). Sustainable Yield (SY) is a range of fishing that allows a stock or multispecies complex to remain stable or to grow.

The numerical definition or theoretical re-definition of Biomass at maximum sustainable yield (Bmsy) has become particularly troubling in New England. Biomass at maximum sustainable yield (Bmsy) figures are being proposed that appear to suggest future harvesting levels that may not be sustainable. In the short-term severe restrictions are needed to attempt rebuilding to the theoretical and historically undocumented targets. Managing to an historically defined Sustainable Yield (SY) is a better and more practical way.

The statute should establish clear guidelines as to how Biomass at sustainable yield (Bsy) is established. For example, a stock or an overall complex of interrelated stocks may be considered to be at Bsy if their numbers do not decline over two or more consecutive years. Theoretical Bsy figures that are not supported by the historic record should not be permitted and should be prohibited by the statute.

If Biomass at maximum sustainable yield (Bmsy) is retained as a method of analysis, then it is critical that theoretical Bmsy figures that are not supported by the historic record should not be permitted in a regulatory context and should be prohibited as a regulatory tool by the statute.

Redefining Overfished Stocks and Overfishing

In the very least a stock should not be defined as overfished unless it falls below a reasonable percentage threshold of its historic biomass. The National Marine Fisheries Service (NMFS) stated in its Status of the New England Fishery Resources 2001:

"A stock is considered to be overfished if biomass falls below the Minimum Stock Size Threshold (MSST, or Bthreshold); usually ˝ the stock biomass level that can produce MSY (BMSY)."

In stocks where there is insufficient historic data to define a biomass that will support a sustainable yield (Bsy), then the presumption of a target number should be prohibited by the statute. Rather, the agency should be required to assess the present abundance and define a baseline of such a stock’s status and measure annually whether the stock is stable, increasing, or decreasing. Such a stock that is not decreasing should not be classified as "overfished" and an "overfishing" designation should not be assigned.

If the statute continues to require that stocks be rebuilt by a specific deadline, then the language of the statute must be absolutely clear in directing that regulations may allow fishing to continue provided the stock will be rebuilt by the specified deadline.

It would be preferable if overfishing were simply defined as a rate of fishing that clearly causes a decreasing population level of a stock or multispecies complex. The statute should not permit a condition of overfishing to be designated if the stock is growing. In the very least, it is ludicrous to restrict fishermen to the point of bankruptcy when fish stocks are growing as is presently occurring under federal court order in New England.

We also maintain that the statute should require distinguishing stocks that are overfished as a result of fishing from stocks that are in decline from factors other than fishing. This is very important, especially in cases where species are not fished at all. The statute should clearly prohibit designating a stock as "overfished" if the stock is not being fished at all.

Social and Community Factors

The lack of a routine collection of social and economic data is possibly the single most serious failure of fisheries management. Attempting to manage people and industries without information about those people and industries makes the fair allocation of resources and the promotion of the best interests of the nation effectively impossible. Reauthorization must provide clear strategic guidelines and meaningful funding specifically to address this problem. Until Congress addresses this issue in a serious way, fisheries management failures will continue and escalating lawsuits will likely occur.

Systematic collection and use of socio-economic data should become an integral part of the management design process. This requires that necessary and sufficient funding be appropriated to employ specialized and experienced personnel to collect scientifically valid and timely information from fishery users and manage a socio-economic database that is routinely updated. The best available socio-economic data from all sources should be collected in a comprehensive and demonstrably useful framework that can be applied to measure and understand social and economic impacts of proposed regulations on fishing-reliant populations and communities. As such this information should be incorporated and considered in the Social Impact Assessment (SIA) for each proposed regulation, and Fishery Management Plan (FMP) framework adjustments should not be exempt from this requirement. At least two policy level positions should be created in each region, one for a social science and the other for an economist professional who are trained in socio-cultural analysis with the same influence in the agency as the senior natural science authority. Collaborative research funding should also be made available to link agency and council social scientists with community-based entities to assist in the collection of better social science information on a continuing basis.

Ecosystem Management

We strongly agree with the strategy of moving towards ecosystem approaches to fisheries management. Single species management is impractical. It is vital that all factors of ecosystem be researched and considered, including the social and cultural aspects of human ecology. People are a part of the ecosystem. Ignorance of the human dimensions leads to management failures. Ecosystem management will allow flexibility to fishing communities that is essential to sustainable communities and sustainable fisheries.

We support developing approaches to collaborative research involving fishermen and scientists working together that will be required before ecosystem management can be effective.


We agree that overcapitalization should be understood and analyzed, but caution that the analysis must include social and community economic components. For example, cumulative impacts of past regulations or changes in the market sometimes cause communities to become more dependent on a narrower number of species. Unused potential effort that results becomes characterized as latent effort or overcapacity. Such potential effort should not be classified as overcapacity. Retaining this type of flexibility in capacity and economic opportunity is very important for fishing communities to remain economically and biologically sustainable.

Any approach to addressing overcapacity must be fundamentally based on the goal of maintaining the viable participation of fishing communities in the fishery and must not be based on the goal of increased profitability. Any means employed either by consolidation, individual quotas, or some other preferable means must be required to protect the predominant single vessel owner-operators who characterize most fisheries, especially our New England fisheries.

Fishermen who have made efforts to conserve species must not be penalized for making such sacrifices. The federal court ruling in the New England groundfish lawsuit Conservation Law Foundation vs. Secretary Evans is a classic case in point where fishermen who deliberately shifted their effort to non-groundfish species to help in rebuilding the stocks have been penalized with far fewer days to fish by the remedy that failed to honor their good-faith sacrifices. Fishermen who voluntarily have fished less are better stewards of our fisheries than fishermen who fished harder or even may have broken some rules to obtain larger catch histories that have resulted in larger quota shares or more days-at-sea. The law must encourage good stewardship of our fisheries by rewarding fishermen who have done the right things over the years and by safeguarding the dependent participation of local communities on sustainable fisheries.

Individual Fishing Quotas

The Massachusetts Fishermen’s Partnership (MFP) remains fundamentally opposed to the creation of individual quota systems (IFQs) in New England because we believe that they are inequitable. They inevitably put the rights of individual small fishermen in competition with corporate greed. The imposition of such quota systems in New England would do irreparable and unnecessary harm to the cultural make-up of the fishing communities of the region.
Studies indicate that there is nothing about ITQs that makes them generate a conservation benefit. In fact some argue that the cost of the quota is an incentive to overfish.

It is not clear how IFQs could work in a multi-species fishery. It is even less clear how IFQs would function in the context of ecosystem management, which is a consensus goal for future fisheries management and the subject of much attention in most proposed drafts to reauthorize the Magnuson-Stevens Act.

The MFP has commented extensively on the matter of "national standards" proposed in S637 "IFQ Act of 2001." This testimony is available on line at http://www.fishermenspartnership.org/ifqs637.htm
While the MFP is not prepared to accept individual quota systems in New England, standards to protect fishermen and communities should require that initial quota allocation be made solely to fishing vessel owners, fishermen, and crew members. Quota may be subsequently acquired by fishing communities consisting of fishing vessel owners, fishermen, and crewmembers or organizations they control. Other persons and processors should not be permitted to own quota shares unless they own fishing vessels that are eligible to do so.
Non-citizen crew with a specified history of fishing on vessels that receive quota share should also be eligible to hold an equitable quota share.

A review panel should be established to evaluate fishery management plans that establish a system for limiting access to a fishery, including individual quota systems, and other limited access systems, with particular attention to

(i) the success of the systems in conserving and managing fisheries;

ii) the costs of implementing and enforcing the systems with a spending cap on enforcement as a percentage of revenue generated;

(iii) the economic effects and social impacts of the systems on local communities.

This review panel should not include anyone who owns quota or in any way profits from a quota system. Under no circumstances should the Review Panel be exempted from conflict of interest laws.

Any IFQ plan must define how it achieves conservation goals and may not be implemented solely as an allocation measure. Finally, any IFQ plan that is proposed must be preceded by a social and community assessment that clearly explains how it achieves conservation goals with less adverse social and community impacts than a non-individual quota based system that can achieve the same conservation goals. As stated previously, the goal of any system must maintain the viable participation of fishing communities in the fishery and must not be based on the goal of increased profitability which leads towards unsustainable practices.

Observer Coverage

We propose that a statistically significant and reasonable percentage of vessels engaged in harvesting an overfished fishery should have observer coverage. The costs of this observer coverage should covered by Congress.


The statute should distinguish between the incidental catch of untargeted species commonly referred to as "bycatch" and fish that must be discarded for regulatory reasons. Bycatch that is not discarded and its mortality is not harmful also must not be confused with bycatch of an overfished species for which management is attempting to reduce fishing mortality. Every effort should be made to reduce regulatory discards and bycatch of overfished species to the extent that is practicable.

We strongly support collaborative research funding to provide industry with the means to test and develop new types of gear to increase flexibility in fisheries management and reduce regulatory discards. This can only work if the authorization specifically funds cooperative research to make it possible.

Essential Fish Habitat

Essential Fish Habitat has been too broadly defined and encompasses most of the ocean.

It makes no sense at all for fishermen to minimize adverse impacts to all Essential Fish Habitat if nothing is done to prevent the adverse impacts of other industries and human activities.

Habitat Areas of Particular Concern should be defined separately as discrete areas that possess particular features and characteristics that are clearly essential to the spawning and early growth of species. Adverse impacts that can be proved to inhibit productivity should be minimized in these discrete areas. It is totally impractical and not necessary to try and minimize impacts on all Essential Fish Habitat.
We do not support separate legislation that attempts to impose limits on mobile fishing gear under the guise of protecting Essential Fish Habitat. Such restrictions on fishing gear should be developed by the Fishery Management Councils established to manage our fisheries and protect fish habitats under the guidelines created by Congress in the Magnuson-Stevens Act.

Fishery Management Councils

Most representatives on the Councils already are not directly employed or receive a majority of their livelihood from the commercial, charter, or recreational fishing community. There is no reason for the Secretary to appoint additional members to the Councils because the Secretary already has a vote on every Council.

Knowledgeable industry members are often able to identify problems with proposed regulations before the whole expensive process is gone through. The industry is sufficiently complex to warrant participation of industry members on the councils. The analogy of industry members on the councils amounting to the fox guarding the henhouse is absurd. Industry members bring a critical expertise that the councils need to function.

The Magnuson-Stevens Act wisely provides the Councils with the authority to both set the goals for management and propose management plans to allocate resources. Only the Councils are capable of considering all National Standards in fulfilling the two functions of setting biological goals and distributing allocations. We object very strongly to any proposal to limit the power of the Fishery Management Councils to set biological goals based on all the National Standards.
We have, however, stated earlier that the Councils desperately need more assistance in assessing the social and economic impacts of past and proposed fishery management measures. Without the personnel and institutional infrastructure to collect and analyze social and community information on a continuing basis, the Councils cannot possess the essential tools they need to fulfill their statutory mandate. The lack of appropriately trained personnel and institutional capacity to fulfill this mandate is a fundamental flaw in existing law that must be corrected.
Improving Fisheries Science

We have already emphasized the importance of continuing to fund and improve collaborative/cooperative research initiatives that bring fishermen and scientists together in research as colleagues. This funding should support the type of approach being developed by the Northeast Consortium, which is to be commended for outreaching research involving the active participation of fishermen. The Saltonstall-Kennedy grant program should be re-designed to support fishing industry generated research AND not fund NMFS enforcement and administration.

Definitions and Requirements for Fishery Management Plans

In addition to definitions for overfishing and sustainable yield (SY) already discussed the MFP has reviewed other current definitions and proposes new definitions to better meet the goals and objectives of the Act:

  • Healthy fish stocks - mean populations of fish species that are biologically stable or growing in abundance and may include fish stocks that have changed their range or migratory patterns.
  • Fishing community - means U.S. vessels, crew, people, and related businesses who earn income as the result of the harvesting or processing of wild fish stocks. This revision defines the people and businesses involved in the fishery rather than the location. Fishing communities are networks of individuals, vessels, processing plants, and other businesses whose income is derived from the harvesting and processing of wild fish stocks, directly and indirectly. In some cases, the communities are clustered in identifiable places, but in other cases, they are widely scattered geographically.

It is important to recognize the diversity of interwoven interests involved in fisheries and to understand the specialized services that support all sectors of the industry. A focus on networks rather than on a place will reveal clusters of fisheries dependent individuals and businesses despite changes that can camouflage such dependency.
Boston provides an example of a fishing-dependent cluster being cloaked by urban growth. Yet the loss of DIRECT access to fresh fish in Boston would impact the economic advantage of the frozen fish sector in the greater Boston area and may result in the loss of that economic sector to the area.

  • Sustainable fishing community - means a fishing community as defined above that maintains sustainable participation in U.S. fisheries and provides for the social, economic, and cultural needs of such community.
  • Best available science - means unbiased information from all sources based on data that:
    - integrates current data that has been collected within a reasonable time frame;
    - must be collected by both government and fishermen working
    together utilizing the same or calibrated equipment and practices;
    must be based on a sufficient statistical sample such that any conclusions drawn are reasonably supported and not mere speculation;
    - must be independently peer-reviewed by scientists not involved in the original research;
    - must be consistent with information that is available from all other reliable sources.

The following New Requirements for Management Plans are recommended:

  • Best Available Science as defined above must be used before a stock can be declared "overfished".
  • All management plans in which fishing mortality is reduced must define causes of declining fish populations:
    - from overfishing
    - from pollution or habitat loss
    - from changes in physical or natural environmental conditions that affect fish stocks
    - from predators
    - from unknown causes

Furthermore, data being used in fisheries management must be mailed out or made available to interested parties no less than 30 working days prior to a meeting where the data will be used to make management decisions.


There must be a separate line item for cooperative research funding each year. This is especially important in fulfilling the goals of moving management towards ecosystem approaches, reducing bycatch, and increasing social-economic assessments.

Finally, the appropriation should specifically fund the creation of adequate institutional capacity to conduct ongoing and routine social and community assessments under all the fishery management councils.
Thank you for the opportunity of adding these comments to the record.

Alexander Ferent, President

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