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
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.