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Meet Peter Burns, GARFO’s American Lobster Policy Analyst

What are your duties and areas of responsibility?

As a fishery policy analyst in our regional office, I work with the fishing industry, state personnel, scientists, and others to develop management plans and regulations to ensure healthy and sustainable fisheries. More specifically, I am the lead analyst for the lobster management program and other fisheries. In this capacity, I represent the agency on the Atlantic States Marine Fisheries Commission’s Lobster Management Board. The Commission is responsible for developing the management plan for lobster. Under the authority of the Atlantic Coastal Act, NOAA Fisheries enacts regulations and programs in Federal waters that complement state regulations and support the management plan.

What do you consider your most significant achievements as a NOAA employee?

I have been involved with the lobster management program for 18 years and have assisted in the development of many of the regulations and programs now in place to help address problems with the lobster stocks and assist fishermen in keeping their businesses sustainable. Working closely with the states and the lobster industry, we have implemented limited-access programs to reduce traps in the fishery to help keep fishing effort in check and reduce the danger to whales by removing lobster lines from the water.

We have also implemented a system of trap transferability that allows fishermen to buy and sell parts of their trap allocations to optimize the size of their businesses. This program serves as an industry funded buyout for fishermen who want to sell their allocations and get out of the fishery, while providing opportunities for smaller business that want to expand. Despite these efforts and the complex network of management measures in place to conserve the resource, climate change is complicating our ability to effectively manage fisheries.

The southern New England lobster stock is experiencing recruitment failure due to warming waters. Scientists are telling us that even closing the fishery would not guarantee that the stock can rebuild to historic levels. On the other hand, the Gulf of Maine lobster fishery is experiencing record-breaking harvests year after year and the stock is at historically high levels of abundance. However, scientists believe that warming waters are negatively impacting the development of baby lobsters, which may become a problem for the Gulf of Maine lobster industry in the coming years. Scientists and managers need to continue to work closely with the lobster industry to find more innovative and effective ways to manage lobster and other fisheries in the wake of the impacts of climate change. I hope to be part of that process moving forward.

Do you have any achievements outside of NOAA that you would like to mention?

 I am the proud father of two teenagers, a daughter and a son, who love to be outside and on the water. We have a small boat that we use to get out to the beach during the summer. We also like to fish for striped bass and other species in Plum Island Sound near our home in northeastern Massachusetts. We take our boat up to Casco Bay, Maine, every summer to explore the many islands and beautiful weather, wildlife, and scenery.

What is your favorite motto?

My favorite motto that I think of when things get tough is “just keep swimming” from Finding Nemo, which is one of our favorite family movies. In any endeavor that we undertake, there are bound to be problems and complications. This motto helps me to remember to keep at it and never give up. If you hit a snag, figure out what you need to do to overcome it.

What would you recommend to those who want to begin a career at NOAA?

I recommend that they talk to employees to learn about the different types of jobs that are available. NOAA does so many different things and requires a workforce with a broad range of skills to help get the work done. Ask questions and learn from others how they became employed in the agency and map out the types of skills needed to get on the intended career path. Networking, internships, and informational interviews are great ways to stay in touch with what’s happening in the agency and find out when jobs are available. NOAA is blessed with a smart and committed workforce so work hard so you can stay competitive when jobs come up.

Story reprinted from NOAA NART's Fall 2017 Newsletter.