Ad Hoc Mixed Trawl Management Committee
Nils E. Stolpe
(Printed in the December, 1991 Issue of COMMERCIAL FISHERIES NEWS)
This article, written back in 1991, discusses some of the problems inherent in the fisheries-by-fisheries management strategy that still predominates in the federal fisheries management establishment today. While I reported at the time (somewhat overconfidently, I'm afraid) that the Mid-Atlantic Fisheries Management Council was attempting to address some of the problems inherent in this type of management through a Mixed Trawl Committee, that attempt was unsuccessful. 

To anyone at all familiar with the process, it's obvious that what passes for fisheries management today is really "fishermen management" (more accurately commercial fishermen management). The reason for this is fairly obvious. When everything that impacts on a fish stock is considered, (commercial) fishing pressure is the only thing that the managers have proven themselves in the least bit capable of controlling.

This has resulted in the assumption that fishermen who harvest a particular stock can be managed as if they were the fish that are supposedly being managed - in isolation and not affected by extraneous factors.  Thus we have a fluke management plan that assumes that commercial fishermen who land fluke are - or will be - only concerned with catching fluke, that scallop fishermen should only catch scallops, groundfish fishermen only groundfish and a seemingly endless litany of geographic, gear, possession and landing restrictions and prohibitions all designed to make the administration and enforcement of FMP's focused on a single species effective.

However, fishermen can't be treated in FMP's as if they operated "in a vacuum", at least if their well-being is of any concern to the managers.  Anyone with the slightest knowledge of the commercial fishing industry is aware that the ability to adapt to changing short term or long term conditions - whether they are environmental, social or economic - is vital to success in many of our commercial fisheries.  (This isn't to say that  fisheries that are based on a high degree of specialization - scallop, menhaden, sea clam, etc. - can't be successful as well).  A large part of our industry in the Mid-Atlantic and New England has developed around the ability to switch from one species to another during the sea-son (or even during the same trip).  This style of fishing, which has evolved over generations, is in balance with the changing resource base, with fluctuating market conditions, and with the way of life of those who either participate in or depend upon it.  The participants - many of them third or forth or fifth generation fishermen - aren't as interested in getting rich as they are in supporting their families well and in passing on a tradition-rich heritage to their children.

This traditional mixed trawl fishery and the way of life it supports is being threatened by a management regime intent on forcing fishermen into easy-to-manage, convenient-to-enforce categories. The ultimate management plan, at least according to the philosophy of this regime, would mandate a restricted number of transponder equipped boats allowed to catch limited (by trip or season) amounts of regulated sizes of one particular species of fish during specific times using approved gear and offloading only in limited (monitored) ports and only during specified landing windows (and in the best of all possible worlds from the manager's perspective, paying for the privilege as well).  All with a total disregard for the impact on the lives and the livelihoods of the fishermen being managed or on the stocks supposedly benefitting from this management. I couldn't imagine anyone seriously suggesting that, because bank robberies are a growing problem and because tax revenues available for police departments are shrinking, we should restrict the location of banks to those areas that can be easily policed and restrict the hours that they are allowed to be open to those times when adequate police protection was conveniently available. But this type of control is exercised routinely in fisheries (fishermen?) management, and it is exercised with concern for nothing other than the demonstration of a reduction in the number of a particular species taken by commercial fishermen. 
Fortunately the Mid-Atlantic Council in forming an ad hoc Mixed Trawl Fishery Management Committee has taken an important first step in recognizing that it might be possible to manage fishermen effectively without totally disrupting their way of life, a way of life that has evolved over generations and that is a vital component of the character of many coastal communities.  This mixed trawl fishery, having developed in the Mid-Atlantic and New England in one of the most highly urbanized, used and abused sections of coastline in the U.S., proves that commercial fishing can successfully coexist with competing and in many instances antagonistic uses while at the same time providing significant year-round economic activity and preserving an irreplaceable part of our cultural heritage. From any perspective that recognizes values above and beyond those necessitated by the declining budgets, public scrutiny, imprecise "science" and political pressures that are presently driving the National Marine Fisheries Service's policy towards commercial fishing, this is a part of our culture that, like so many other traditional fisheries, should be a beneficiary rather than a casualty of public policy.  Every com-mercial fisherman owes a debt of gratitude to the Mid-Atlantic Council and its Chairman, Axel Carlson, for recognizing this.

The task that this ad hoc committee is facing is certainly going to be more formidable than the creation of a typical plan or plan amendment. But at the same time it should direct management effort in what might be far more appropriate and more productive directions. For example, the current amendment to the Fluke FMP would force a fisherman to decide to concentrate on fluke before he left the dock, regardless of the availability of other species once he started fishing, regardless of the price of these alternative species, regardless of how few and far between the fluke were, in fact, regardless of everything except the ease with which a regulation allowing only one net  on board can be enforced.  Is as much as possible being done for the fluke stocks when a fisherman is put in the position of having to fish for them exclusively on a trip?  It's doubtful. More than that, it's not how a lot of our fishermen have worked in the past and it's definitely not how they should be forced to work in the future.  There have been "shortages" in fish stocks before, but there have always been other fisheries available as safety valves to take the pressure of those stocks.  The present management trend is removing these op-tions, wiring closed the safety valves, and concentrating the pressure (fishing and political) on species that would very likely be better off without it.

Our mixed trawl fishery is there because it works.  It allows commercial fishermen to make a living, to support their families and to pump millions of dollars into the economy in the shadow of the World Trade Center.  Having proven capable of adapting to many of the pressures that are driving the federal fisheries bureaucracy today, it is capable of surviving the current "crisis" as well. Beyond that, I hope that we can demonstrate that management, whether of fisheries or fishermen, can be accomplished cooperatively, can be accomplished effectively, can take advantage of the knowledge, skill and experience of the fishermen and can meet the legislative and admin-istrative requirements of the management establishment while at the same time preserving the economic and ecological viability and the character of the fishery being managed. We are looking forward to working closely with the ad hoc mixed trawl fishery committee and hope that somewhere down the line we can look back on this effort as one of the first that recognized the validity in managing the fishery, the fishermen and the fish.

 The first committee meeting is on November 14 and we will keep you apprised of our progress as we proceed. 

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