NOAA’s National Marine Fisheries Service has apologized to the squid fleet for failing to effectively announce the July 9 closing of directed squid fishing, carried out in the waters off Massachusetts, Rhode Island and New York — a shutdown that fishermen say needlessly cost them time and money.
Based on projections that 90 percent of the Trimester II quota of 5,366 metric tons was taken, the NMFS’ Northeast Regional Office based in Gloucester’s Blackburn Industrial Park issued the closing order on the afternoon of July 6. But instead of notifying the fleet by email or the electronic vessel monitoring system (VMS) that most boats use to give NMFS the required 72 hours notice of a planned trip, the Gloucester office mailed and faxed the announced closing on July 6 to holders of squid permits. The National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration did not email the announcement until after 8 a.m. July 10 — more than eight hours after the fishery closed.
The inadequate and belated communication of the closing meant wasted time and resources and in some cases lost fishing opportunities for some boats, such as Mark Phillips’ 73-foot Illusion. Phillips said in a telephone interview that he ended a trip after four days of successful fishing about 15 hours from Point Judith, R.I. and 14 hours from Cape May, N.J. and, unaware of the closing, was steaming in to reload with ice and gas for another trip.
Had he known of the closure, Phillips said, he would have remained at sea for a fifth day and maximized his catch. He lives in Greenport, N.Y., but fishes mostly out of New Bedford.
Phillips is a member of Northeast Sector XIII, one of the 13 fishing cooperatives organized by Gloucester’s Northeast Seafood Coalition to participate in the the commodification of the groundfishing industry by NOAA, a system that went into effect in May 2010. Many fishermen, like Phillips, hold permits to fish for other species in addition to groundfish.
“We were all expecting the closure, we just didn’t know when,” Phillips said. “We made business decisions; I would have made a full five-day trip instead of a four-day trip.” He estimated the lost day’s fishing cost him about $10,000 in catch based on the current price of about $1 to $1.10 per pound at the dock for the longfin squid. “It’s the best season we’ve had in a long time,” he added.
“In this day and age of universal, instantaneous communications, it is flat out unacceptable that (NMFS) failed to alert our fishing community about this closure and cause many of them to lose tends of thousands of dollars on a wasted journey,” U.S. Sens. Charles Schumer and Kirstin Gillibrand and Congressman Tim Bishop, all of New York, said in a statement Tuesday.
Also Tuesday, Daniel S. Morris, NMFS’ acting regional administrator in Gloucester, issued a statement of his own.
“I have heard from fishermen that the poor communication caused confusion, inconvenience and, in some cases, unnecessary expenses,” he said. “I apologize for the poor communications and am committed to improving.”
Among possible improvements, he noted, is using VMS to notify vessels of longfin squid closures.”
Most of the squid boats make port in southern New England, New York and New Jersey, but a handful of Gloucester fishermen participate in the directed squid fishery. The Times could not determine if any of them were affected by the bungled announcement.
In a letter to Morris, Phillips lauded NMFS for allowing the boats that continued fishing past the deadline due to lack of notice to sell their landings.
“That was the only thing (NMFS) did right,” he said. “In past years, they would have made us dump our catch.”
But he also wrote that the failed communication was due, in part, to laziness.
“Sadly,” Phillips wrote, “NOAA expects the fishermen to be held to a different standard than NOAA’s own employees ... (and) will not hold any of its employees accountable for making mistakes.”
The boats must notify NMFS of a planned trip at least 72 hours in advance, giving the agency 48 hours to decide whether to assign an at sea monitor for the trip.
The directed squid fishery is split into trimesters, and closed to avoid exceeding the allocation. Trimester III will begin Sept. 1 and last until 95 percent of the 3,777 metric ton allocation is landed or 90 percent of the annual butterfish allocation is landed. The two species intermingle and so are managed as a unit.
Richard Gaines can be reached at 978-283-7800, or t firstname.lastname@example.org.