NEW BEDFORD – The New England Fisheries Management Board held a scoping meeting Wednesday at the New Bedford Whaling Museum on amending a proposed scallop fisheries management plan.
If implemented, the plan would allow scallopers to rent out portions of their days on a marine license to other boats, causing concern among small-scale fishermen and port business alike.
“She gave birth to a fisherman’s daughter and became a fisherman’s wife,” said Evelyn Sklar at the meeting. “And now I am the mother of a fisherman and the grandmother of a fisherman.
“I hope to die in peace, because this does not belong to the fishing industry.”
The current permit scheme entered into force in 1994 as Amendment 4 to the Scallop Fisheries Management Plan. It was intended to control access to fisheries as well as the equipment used to allow overfishing of the population.
The regulations included restrictions on equipment, duration of the fishing trip, and catches. In particular, they have created limited access areas where fishing will be monitored and restricted based on scallop populations.
These areas will be alternately opened and closed based on the health of Atlantic scallop populations, which the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration of Science and Technology Bureau of Fisheries estimated to be 20,087 metric tons in 1994, the lowest point in the past 30 years.
Tonnage caught reached its lowest point in 1998, when fishermen brought in 5,564 metric tons of Atlantic scallops.
However, the limited access program appears to have the desired effect. According to a 2020 assessment by the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA), 147,073 metric tons of Atlantic scallops are available — still healthy but below their 2017 high of 193,441 metric tons.
Who will get new stations?:What you need to know about the return of the South Coast Railroad
In terms of catches, fishermen caught 27,647 metric tons, the second highest total since 1964 (the highest was nearly 29,000 metric tons in 2004).
This amounted to just over $438 million in scallops caught on guided flights in 2020.
Marky opposes rental permit
A permit-rental scheme now under discussion would allow scallops to charter fishing days under their licenses to other scallops rather than go out to sea themselves.
“This practice has traditionally been adopted by vertically integrated businesses that are often owned by out-of-state stakeholders,” Representative Christopher Markey said in a letter sent to Governor Charlie Baker, expressing concern. “Lawmakers have concerns that the best interest of New Bedford’s fishing fleet, which has been built primarily of small, family-owned businesses, is not served by this practice.”
Among the local representatives who signed the letter were State Representatives William M. Strauss, Antonio F.D. Cabral, Christopher Hendricks, and Paul Schmid.
Feelings were in line with the vast majority of the more than 200 scallops on display at the Whaling Museum on Wednesday.
“I’m against that,” said Paul Wexler, owner of Six Scallop Ships based in New Bedford. “My three reasons are crew, community, and resources.
“If I can stay home and watch cartoons with my kids, you can bet I will,” he continued, arguing that lower flights would hurt crew wage rates, making them actually pay for the lease.
He also referred to an earlier licensing scheme for land-based fishing (including flounder, cod and haddock) that allowed fishing boats to organize into self-selecting sectors with an allotted gross tonnage.
Ready for seafood? Here are some must-try clam huts on SouthCoast
The argument for its implementation and through a subsequent court battle, was that it created greater flexibility in hunting and allowed for a more efficient system with a smaller fleet size and space for the relocation of species.
The resulting consolidation of the demersal fleet, following the decision of the First Court of Appeal that allowed the reorganization, hurt the local fishermen.
When did unification happen? [in the groundfish fleet]dried up the community around it,” Wexler said.
“When the merger with the Gragers happened, they were forced out of business,” said Justin Melo, the captain of the Temptress. “I can see the same thing happening.
“The people who are in favor of leasing… are the big companies that deal with the sea for the table [merchants] And try to cut out as many middlemen as possible.”
Escalopers campaign in favor of leasing license
Although vastly outnumbered, many in favor of introductory leasing also made their case, which revolved largely around free-market-based arguments.
“We think we can improve flexibility,” said George Lapointe, a Maine resident who said he represents Scallopers Campaign, an organization that favors rental permits.
He said the program as they wish to implement it will be voluntary and that participating ships will commit to “do no harm” to scallops.
Great Shoes to Fill:Profile Tavern hopes to become a Freetown institution like The Nephews
“Go back to Maine!” said one sarcastically loudly. LaPointe also left the microphone.
The Scallopers campaign has an address in Washington, D.C. listed on its website.
Jack Morris owns five scallop ships and is listed as Director of Ship Operations at the New England Marine.
“For me, we need some kind of flexibility,” said a Matabuste resident. “Having the flexibility to take some of these old boats out of the fishery.
“I don’t see it affecting me [scallop] resources because there are a limited number of licenses.” And in terms of the environment, I don’t see anything happening there either. … There are a lot of boat owners who want flexibility.”
However, Tyler Miranda, another boat captain, responded by saying that the old boats also serve a purpose in the local fishing economy and generate business for some of the businesses located ashore.
“[Arguments about removing older boats] “It has nothing to do with sustainability,” he said. “Those broken boats provide welder and mechanic jobs.”
Michael Amarante, owner of Shoreside Marine Electrical Services Inc. In Fairhaven, he supported this argument.
“I’ve seen this show before,” he said. “When I opened this business 22 years ago, I was [serviced] 17 bass boat… I now have three.
“[Fishing] He continued, “It’s not a business. This is a business on the ground.”
According to the Massachusetts Secretary of State’s website, the company was incorporated on March 10, 2003.
Miranda summarized the arguments of the majority of those present.
“I don’t want to be a Walmart fisherman,” he said. “I think the voice of the hunter should be heard.”
The meeting at the Whaling Museum was the second of seven in-person survey meetings to be held by the NEFMC and the first of two meetings identified at the museum.
There will also be two online scoping meetings.
The next meeting is scheduled to take place at the Whaling Museum on May 25 at 4 p.m.
The board said it expects to make a decision on the permit scheme in September.
For more information and to provide written feedback, visit the NEFMC website.