Coast Guard: Catch misreported on 350 fishing trips

Staff file photo/"It is suspected that during fishing years 2011-2012, 600,000 pounds of yellowtail flounder were potentially harvested from the Georges Bank stock area and misreported," a new Coast Guard report says.

The Northeast multispecies groundfishery may have been victimized by several misreporting schemes through a five-year period and “potentially up to 2.5 million pounds of regulated species were misreported by vessels from multiple sectors” in the fishery, according to a Coast Guard investigation of misreporting.

The report chronicling the Coast Guard investigation from 2011 to 2015 will be presented to the New England Fishery Management Council on Tuesday during the first of its three days of meetings in Newport, Rhode Island.

The Coast Guard presentation is one of two scheduled agenda items dealing with catch misreporting that will be before the council on Tuesday.

The same day, NOAA Fisheries’ Office of Law Enforcement is scheduled to make a presentation to the council specifically on misreporting uncovered during the criminal case brought against now-incarcerated New Bedford fishing mogul Carlos Rafael.

In its 21-page report, the Coast Guard said the analysis by its Boston-based First District enforcement staff identified more than 350 vessel trips during the period of 2011 to 2015 in the Northeast multispecies groundfishery “where there appears to be evidence of misreporting.”

The analysis placed a particular focus on potential misreporting by vessels fishing in seasonal fisheries or fishing the same stock in more than one stock area. The goal of the misreporting, according to the report, is to keep fishing without exceeding catch limits and annual catch entitlements.

Using three separate databases supplied by NOAA Fisheries, the Coast Guard said its analysis was applied to 60,713 Northeast multispecies groundfish vessel trips in the four-year period and flagged 2,154 trips, or 3.5% of the analyzed trips.

“Upon examination, many of the 2,154 flagged trips were easily explained by legitimate fishing practices, border tows or glitches in the data system and were therefore disregarded,” the report stated. “However, on over 350 trips, there was evidence of potential misreporting.

“In total, these 350 trips amounted to less than 1% of the 60,000 (Northeast multispecies groundfish) trips that were taken during this five-year period, but represents a significant amount of fish that were potentially caught in one stock area and reported in another.”

The results of the analysis dealt with four specific stocks — winter flounder, yellowtail flounder, cod and haddock — that are fished in multiple stock areas.

Winter flounder

The Coast Guard said its investigation showed the majority of misreporting of winter flounder occurred when it was a seasonal fishery.

“Based on the review of these trips it is suspected that during fishing years 2013-2015, up to 780,000 pounds of winter flounder were potentially harvested from the Southern New England/Mid-Atlantic stock area and misreported as coming from the Georges Bank stock area,” the report stated.

Yellowtail flounder

The Coast Guard stated the majority of potential of misreporting for yellowtail flounder also occurred when it was targeted as a seasonal fishery.

“This occurred in the Georges Bank stock area, particularly in the fishing years 2011 and 2012,” the report stated. “Based on the review of these trips, it is suspected that during fishing years 2011-2012, 600,000 pounds of yellowtail flounder were potentially harvested from the Georges Bank stock area and misreported as coming from the Gulf of Maine/Cape Cod stock area or the Southern New England/Mid-Atlantic stock area.”

Cod and haddock

Both cod and haddock have two stocks — one in the Gulf of Maine and the other on and west of Georges Bank.

“The Coast Guard’s investigation revealed that misreporting of cod may have occurred in different regions as both a seasonal fishery and a choke species,” the report stated. “Potential misreporting of cod during a seasonal fishery occurred in the Massachusetts Bay area of the Gulf of Maine stock area, particularly in the winter and spring of fishing years 2011 and 2012.”

Based on its review, the Coast Guard said “it is suspected that up to 400,000 pounds of cod were potentially harvested in the Gulf of Maine stock area and misreported as coming from Georges Bank west, primarily in fishing year 2011 and 2012.”

It also said it is suspected that up to 800,000 pounds of cod that were potentially harvested from Georges Bank east were misreported as coming from Georges Bank west.

“The misreporting of haddock was similar to cod as a targeted species in Georges Bank east, and, in 2015, as a choke species in the Gulf of Maine stock area,” the report stated.

Contact Sean Horgan at 978-675-2714, or shorgan@gloucestertimes.com. Follow him on Twitter at @SeanGDT.

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