The most recent Fisheries Roundtable, held on May 16th from 6-8 pm at the Lane Public Library in Hampton, N.H., was the start of a conversation about the various uses of the ocean. Attendees — mostly fishermen — were asked to weigh in on their activities to help inform the Northeast Regional Ocean Council (NROC) about their marine spatial planning.
NROC is a Federally funded partnership started at the request of New England governors to provide a forum for agencies and states to discuss marine activities. The N.H. point person, Steve Couture from the N.H. Coastal Program at the Department of Environmental Services (N.H. DES), introduced himself and the NROC program. He said that NROCs goals are focused on improving the data available about various ocean uses and improving communications among the different user groups. Organizations including the Environmental Protection Agency, the Department of the Interior, the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration, N.H. Fish and Game, the U.S. Coast Guard, the Army Corps of Engineers and the U.S. Department of Agriculture and other representatives for the states of Maine, New Hampshire, Massachusetts, Rhode Island and Connecticut have met quarterly since 2005 as part of this council in New England, he explained.
NROC is gearing up for a multi-year effort to enhance data and science related to human activities and natural resources in New England’s marine waters. This work, an important first phase in the region’s ocean planning effort, includes working with commercial fishermen to use existing information and data to characterize commercial fishing in marine waters. NROC is similarly gearing up projects to work with the maritime commerce (ports and shipping), recreational boating, and energy industries to provide information (spatial and otherwise) related to those human uses.
Matt Magnusson, adjunct instructor at the UNH Whittemore School of Business and Economics, presented data about the economic, environmental and social indicators of the N.H. seafood industry. The economic data, gleaned from NOAA’s commercial landings records, included information about the total harvest value and weight of lobster, groundfish and all species combined.
Joshua Weirsma, manager for the N.H. groundfish sectors 11 and 12, spoke next about productivity changes, behavioral adaptations and the future of sector management as it pertains to ocean uses.
Weirsma conducted a survey in 2011 asking N.H. fishermen for their input regarding sectors. Of the respondents, approximately 75% strongly agreed that the additional reporting, oversight and monitoring are burdensome and costly. However, respondents noted that sectors do allow more flexibility in fishing, such as when and where they can fish and what types of gear they can use.
“Fishermen (also) need flexibility in spatial planning to switch fishing areas or gear type,” said Ellen Goethel, marine educator and wife of Hampton, N.H. fisherman David Goethel. “If something gets built in an area between where fishermen traverse to get from one of their fishing areas to the next that will effectively force them to travel 100 miles out of their way, that will be a problem,” she said.
George LaPointe, a consultant in Maine who is contracted by NROC, discussed the need for accurate fishing location data from current-day fishing activities as well as previous locations fishermen may have used before various closures went into effect.
Simply basing the fishing activity on vessel monitoring system (VMS) data isn’t a good solution, LaPointe said. It’s difficult to distinguish between when a fishing vessel is simply in transit and when it is actively fishing just based on the VMS data—which only goes back perhaps 10 years anyway, he explained. It is far more effective to receive input directly from fishermen, particularly if they’ve been in the industry for a long time.
“NROCs job is the plan for future activities,” LaPointe explained. “Accurate maps are clearly important, so we’ll start will charts of fishing activity and improve on them. We’ll map these fishing sites without focusing on individuals for confidentiality issues.”
Erik Anderson, a fisherman out of Portsmouth, N.H., asked the bigger questions. “Who are your end user groups? What is your intent? Is this Federally motivated?” he asked. “These are my major concerns. Once we document our use, will our group activities be laid against other people’s activities?”
“The perception is that you are cutting up the ocean for different, competing uses,” he added. “So the message is beware of how you cooperate because it might come back to burn you.”
Couture explained that if a new wind farm is proposed, but there are no data maps about where fishermen fish, then NROC has to play catch-up later to hastily document it all before the wind farm is finished being built.
“When we don’t have the data about what you do and where, you lose,” LaPointe responded to Anderson. “Yes, there are other competing users. But this will put you in a better spot. We can’t guarantee that other people won’t say certain uses are more important than yours. Tradeoffs happen all the time, but we need the best data we can get.”
LaPointe added that it is not NROCs job to apply values, but rather to simply map the various ocean activities and uses.
Weirsma suggested that the map would be better if it was dynamic. “If you build something, there should be projections on the shift in fishing effort that might occur, how ecosystems will be impacted, where the fish will move to, where fishermen might move in response to the fish movements,” he said. “It might make other areas more valuable. Some areas might not be used as much, and it might make value judgment easier or better if you have these predictive qualities. The maps need to be dynamic to reflect those changes,” he added.
“The bottom line is that there are risks in participating and risks in not participating,” said Erik Chapman, fisheries extension specialist for N.H. Sea Grant.
After the meeting officially ended, the conversation continued on the steps of the library. This is clearly just the beginning of the discussion about marine spatial planning, and constructive feedback will be a welcome part to this process in the upcoming years.
For more information about NROC, please visit: http://collaborate.csc.noaa.gov/nroc/default.aspx