From Union Leader: NH fishermen say new rule sounds death knell for industry
PORTSMOUTH —The new regional administrator
for the National Marine Fisheries Service, John Bullard, heard more than
two hours of comment from local fishermen Wednesday about federal
regulations that threaten to eliminate the local industry.
most recent crisis to challenge ground fishermen in New Hampshire is a
closure planned for October and November as a result of a report that
showed fishermen were not in compliance with regulations to deter harbor
But fishermen have argued that the data is flawed,
and instead of fighting the closure entirely, have asked for it to be
moved to February and March, when more harbor porpoises have
historically been taken and the economic impact would not be as severe.
Josh Weirsma is the Sector 11 and 12 manager, which covers all of New Hampshire’s commercial ground fishermen.
has estimated that the direct impact to fishermen from the closure is
about $1 million, with an additional impact of $2.5 million on related
industries, including businesses like Yankee Co-Op in Seabrook. He said
the months of October and November are when 50 percent of the state’s 20
gillnet fishermen make most of their profit. The rest of the year, they
are fishing to keep up on costs.
Weirsma said the fleet was
deemed 40 percent “pinger” compliant, but there were severe issues with
how NFMS arrived at that number.
He developed what he believes is
a more accurate analysis and submitted it to NMFS, but despite three
requests, he has yet to receive a response.
“What is the
objective of the agency? Is it to protect harbor porpoises or is it to
maximize the punishment for the industry,” Weirsma said. He said if the
objective is to protect harbor porpoises, then based on the agency’s own
admission, it would not matter if the fishery was closed in February
and March or now, but the economic consequence to fishermen for closing
now is much higher.
New fisheries chief
has only been on the job for five weeks, but Weirsma said he already
passed up an opportunity to build social capital with fishermen by
declining to adjust the penalty.
Bullard has made it a goal to
try and rebuild a trust with fishermen that has been badly damaged by
the current administration at the National Oceanic and Atmospheric
He was at the Urban Forestry Center on Wednesday
evening to hold one of what he expects to be many listening sessions
with fishermen throughout the regional industry.
previously worked for the National Oceanic and Atmospheric
Administration, which oversees NMFS, in the mid-90s, and part of his job
at the time was to deal with what was then a crisis in ground fish.
I am learning in my first five weeks on the job is that this situation
seems a lot worse than it was in the 90s,” Bullard said. “And I don’t
think there are any easy decisions in front of us. Harbor porpoises or
any other decisions.”
He said every decision they make at NMFS, they are going to try and keep in mind that people are hanging on by their fingertips.
‘You are killing us’
One of those people is Rye fisherman Jay Driscoll, who brought evidence to show the challenges fishermen are facing.
handed Bullard three pingers used to deter harbor porpoises from
fishing nets, and asked him to try and figure out which one was not
working, which Bullard was unable to do.
Driscoll said there are
guns used in the industry to “ping” at the devices and make sure they
are operating correctly, a resource that could be provided by NMFS to
help fishermen be compliant.
“There is no reason why observers or
anyone else cannot come down before (October) 1st and make sure every
one of those things is working … with your help we can get harbor
porpoise (by-catch) down to zero level,” Driscoll said. “We don’t have
the tools to fix this; you guys do.”
He said the consequence of the closure for him is not being able to pay his mortgage or keep a roof over his children’s heads.
“I’d rather you throw me in jail than put this consequence on me right now,” Driscoll said. “You are killing us.”
Cod catch cuts
said the major issue is the compounding effect of the closure coupled
with proposed cuts in Gulf of Maine cod catch allotments for the next
year of 75 percent, and additional large cuts proposed in other major
“We can’t even really look forward to next year because this is kind of our major crisis right now,” Weirsma said.
fisherman Erik Anderson argued that the harbor porpoise plan was put in
place in 2007, before the whole management structure of the fishing
industry changed, a structure he says is now equipped to handle the
responsibility of making sure all boats are compliant.
the New England Fisheries Management Council made a unanimous decision
to have this issue remedied, and 12 members of the regional
congressional delegation, including all four members of the New
Hampshire delegation, signed a joint letter to Congress asking them to
reconsider the consequence closure.
“There is a fishing community
here and there’s not many left of us and the consequence of this
closure for this gear type, for the gillnet fishermen, it is the death
knell,” Anderson said.
He said closing the fishery is also going
to do nothing to reduce the mortality rate of fish, as other gear types,
including mobile gear fishermen, will move into the territory.
said he and others in the fishery are meeting again with Bullard next
week, which may be there last opportunity to convince him to reconsider