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
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
Boston Harbor Lobstermen’s Cooperative
Cape Cod Commercial Hook
Commercial Anglers’ Association
General Category Tuna Association
Gloucester Fishermen's Wives
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
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
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
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
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
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
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
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
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
(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
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.
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
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
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
- Best available science - means unbiased information from
all sources based on data that:
- integrates current data that has been collected within a reasonable time
- 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
- must be consistent with information that is available from all other
The following New Requirements for Management Plans are
- 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
- 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
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.
MASSACHUSETTS FISHERMEN'S PARTNERSHIP
Alexander Ferent, President
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