On November 10, the Office of Advocacy submitted a letter to the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (aka NOAA) regarding the specifications for the Atlantic herring fishery. “Hmm,” you may be thinking. “What’s this all about? I didn’t see anything in the Federal Register about herring specifications.” Well, sometimes Advocacy gets involved so early in the process that there’s no proposed rule to put in the Federal Register. This was one of those occasions. You see, our letter was in reference to the science that the herring catch rules for the next three years will be based on.
I guess I should backtrack a little. In June 2009, the Transboundary Resources Assessment Committee (TRAC) performed a stock assessment that resulted in the Science and Statistical Committee (SSC) setting the acceptable biological catch (ABC) guidelines at 90,000 metric tons (MT), down from the current level of 165,000 MT. This was a HUGE reduction. In fact, both the SSC and the New England Fishery Management Council (NEFMC) raised questions about the June stock assessment that the ABC was based on. (Plus, the NEFMC believes that the herring fishery is not overfished.)
Needless to say, the fishing industry was really upset. A reduction that large could put them out of business. So, they contacted Advocacy for help before the NEFMC set the new catch limits.
In October, Advocacy held a conference call with members of the fishing industry. This fishery is so widespread that there were people calling in from New Jersey to Maine. And it wasn’t just fishers on the phone. The call included not only herring fishers but herring processors and lobster fishers as well. How did lobsters get involved, you might ask? Well, come to find out, the lobster fishers use herring as bait. If herring bait isn’t available, they’ll have to use something else that costs more. The members of the different fisheries are already having a hard time making ends meet, but the new reductions could probably force some of them into bankruptcy.
To say the least, the fishers and processors really wanted their concerns heard. So, Advocacy arranged a second phone call. The second call, however, was not limited to fishers. It also had representatives from NOAA’s National Marine Fisheries Service (NMFS), the NEFMC, and the Department of Commerce who were there to listen to everybody involved.
Following the call, Advocacy sent a letter to NOAA about the problem with TRAC’s stock assessment. Advocacy’s letter explained that a wider range of scientific information needs to be used to avoid bringing unnecessary economic harm on small fishers and processors. Advocacy encouraged NMFS to perform a new benchmark assessment for the Atlantic herring fishery. Without a new benchmark, TRAC’s questionable assessment could be used to determine the activities of the fishery for the next couple of years. Advocacy also encouraged NMFS to extend the 2009 specifications to 2010 in the meantime and to utilize maximum flexibility in considering alternatives.
Fast forward to the present. The NEFMC met in mid-November to talk about herring. In the end, they voted to recommend that the allowable catch for herring be 106,000 MT rather than 90,000 MT. The 106,000 MT was based on the three-year average catch from 2006-2008. This isn’t over yet. Like I said at the beginning, this is an example of Advocacy getting involved prior to the rulemaking. Now it’s time for the agency to start drafting a proposed rule.
Remember, Advocacy takes its guidance from small entities. Let us know what you think.
Assistant Chief Counsel