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John Bullard's Listening Session Highlights

When John Bullard became NOAA Fisheries Service's Northeast Regional Administrator on Aug. 6, 2012, he immediately hit the road to meet his constituents.  Between August and February, he held more than 20 meetings and public listening sessions with fishermen and other stakeholders in 17 ports from Ellsworth, ME to Manteo, NC. He wanted to hear answers to two questions:  What are the top concerns for the fisheries, and what does success look like for the fisheries? John received significant feedback from approximately 550 fishermen and others on a variety of topics.  Below are the main themes he heard across the Northeast region. 

Vision of the fishery

There is a need to consider catch composition, vessel size, and ownership structure, and how each should be determined.

>  To avoid further fleet consolidation, fishermen should be allowed to fish for a variety of species and to keep all that they catch.  And,

>  Large vessels are depleting inshore stocks in the Gulf of Maine and should be limited in their abilities to fish in nearshore waters

Science, research

>  Fishermen believe NOAA Fisheries science is flawed, particularly when it comes to surveys and stock assessments.

>  Fishermen need to be more engaged in the science that underlies regulatory decision-making.

>  NOAA Fisheries needs to better explain how survey and other data are incorporated into stock assessments.

>  Fishermen believe scientific models are outdated.

>  There is a need to engage fisheries scientists and fishermen in plain language dialogues.

>  External reviews of government science are needed.

>  The research vessel Henry B. Bigelow samples too far offshore and does not use appropriate gear to produce reliable results.

>  Surveys should be undertaken by a fleet of NEAMAP fishing vessels and fishermen.  It is the best way to bring credibility to the science and buy-in from fishermen.  (NEAMAP stands for Northeast Area Monitoring and Assessment Program, a cooperative state/federal data collection program.)  And,

>  More funding is needed for cooperative research.

Ecosystem, climate change

>  Changing environmental conditions are producing unusual fish migration patterns and displacing fishing effort, a situation that needs to be considered in future regulations.

>  Predator/prey interactions need greater attention in the regulatory arena.  Dogfish and seals are of particular concern.

>  Natural cycles of distribution and abundance should be considered in fishery management decision-making.

>  There is a need to move away from single-species management to ecosystem management to reduce predators and increase valuable stocks.

>  There is a need to protect food sources and habitats to foster healthy fish populations.  And,

>  NOAA Fisheries should employ an ecosystem-based approach that includes people as a factor in the accurate evaluation of the ocean environment.

Lower costs

>  There is a dire need to reduce costs – observers, assumed discards, quota shares – for fishermen.

>  Fishermen simply cannot afford to pay for at-sea monitors in 2013.  And,

>  Funding is needed for the equipment required to implement electronic monitoring.

Increase revenues

>  There is a need to open some closed areas, such as Closed Area II, to provide access to more abundant and healthier stocks.

>  Too much quota for some species cannot be harvested.  There is a need to find ways to enable fishermen to catch their full allocations.

>  The continuous fluctuations in annual catch limits prevent fishermen from engaging in effective business planning practices.

>  Fishermen need increased access to closed areas in order to fish different species and use different gear types.

>  Offshore closures should be lifted to encourage large vessels to fish offshore.

>  It is difficult for small vessels to make up lost revenue from closed areas.

>  Regulations enacted to protect species listed under the Endangered Species Act often stay in effect after populations of the listed species have recovered.  This unnecessarily limits fishermen’s abilities to fully harvest their fish quotas.

>  Industry needs more notice of pending closures related to compliance issues.

>  There is a need to address the inequality of the allocation of commercial catch quotas among states.

>  Fishermen need to be able to land more fish to keep auctions open and shoreside infrastructure functional.  And,

>  A diverse fleet is necessary to maintain market share and a sustainable marine environment.

Management issues

>  Management measures take too long to develop, preventing NOAA Fisheries from reacting and managing in real time.

>  Some management decisions are based on poor science and a fear of legal action against the agency.

>  Management needs to look at long-term trends, not just provide knee-jerk reactions.

>  Local fishermen accepted and implemented input controls (days-at-sea) early to conserve stocks and now feel their commitment and efforts to conserve stocks are unrecognized.

>  There is significant opposition from small vessels and the recreational community to reopening the Western Gulf of Maine Closed Area due to the need to protect spawning fish and habitat.

>  Catch shares should have been based on permits rather than catch history.

>  There are an insufficient number of harbor porpoise takes to warrant a closure.

>  Some fishermen prefer input controls (days-at sea) to catch shares.  And,

>  There is a need to revisit the Magnuson-Stevens Fishery Conservation and Management Act to incorporate more flexibility.

Safety, new entrants

>  There are significant safety concerns associated with an aging fleet coupled with the inability of fishermen to undertake effective long-term business planning.  And,

>  There is a need for funding and resources for people who are interested in joining the commercial fishing industry.

Mid-Atlantic concerns

>  The Mid-Atlantic needs greater attention from NOAA Fisheries to deal with their particular concerns.

>  There is a need to think about how to manage rebuilt fisheries.

>  Bluefin tuna allocation needs to be more fairly distributed between New England and Mid-Atlantic fishermen.  Quota could be distributed on a monthly basis.

>  Both fishermen and fish species are being displaced by the impacts of regulatory and environmental changes.  And,

>  The charter industry should be managed differently than the commercial fisheries.

Maine concerns

>  There is a need for greater diversification between the lobster and groundfish fisheries.  And,

>  The American lobster processing industry needs to become more competitive against Canadian companies in terms of product forms, marketing, and distribution.

Recreational fisheries

>  Recreational daily bag limits should be set early in the calendar year to allow the charter industry to create effective business plans.

>  The methods used to survey the recreational sector are flawed and insufficient.

>  Ways to enable recreational fishermen to catch their underutilized quota need to be developed.

>  The charter industry should be considered when trip limits are established.

>  Recreational and commercial fisheries should be treated separately but allocated quota in the same way.  And,

>  The Western Gulf of Maine Closure area should be maintained to protect spawning cod.


>  Many industry members expressed appreciation for John Bullard’s willingness to meet with fishermen in their homeports.

>  The fishing industry needs help from NOAA Fisheries to market underutilized species to the public.

>  If available, disaster funding should be given to fishermen who lost their vessels and businesses.  And,

>  There is a need to develop aquaculture opportunities for fishermen.

As you can see, many people had many different thoughts and opinions on a wide range of topics.  Our job now is to determine which issues NOAA Fisheries is authorized to address and to continue crafting solutions to these varied and complex problems.

We already have committed to paying for 100% of observer coverage costs in fishing year 2013 to help fishermen lower costs and raise their revenues.  This is a first step in promoting a viable fishery now and in the future.

For more information, call Olivia Rugo, NOAA Fisheries Northeast Regional Office, at (978) 675-2167 or e-mail her at <>.

To view public comments expressed during individual port visits click here.