Ground Fishermen Testify Against Draft Amendment 16; Small Turnout Attributed To ‘Dying Industry’

By Carol McCracken

The ground fishermen testifying inside the Massachusetts Room were about as dismal as the inclement weather outside the Holiday Inn on Spring Street late yesterday afternoon.  A dozen or so fishermen offered their opinions to a panel of three from the New England Fishery Management Council who will make recommendations to the National Marine Fisheries Service on the Draft Amendment 16.

One of the most controversial provisions therein is the use of sectors.  A sector is a “group of fishermen who voluntarily enter into a binding agreement with each other and the government to limit their total catch to a fixed share of the total allowable catch for the fishery…Forming a sector allows fishermen to pool their resources and potentially increase revenues while fishing sustainably,” according to literature distributed.   Tom Nies, one of the Council members said:  “It should be noted that we are moving away from an output control system to a system that will rebuild ground fishing stocks.”  Sectors are an incredibly complicated system with layer upon layer of bureaucy utilizing expensive monitoring requirements which cost must be absorbed by the fishermen, fishng quotas based upon the history of catch of each of the fishermen in the sector, etc.  Troy Bichrest, a fisherman from Harpswell, did not estify publicy, but said this is “slow suffering.”

One unidentified fisherman said the Draft Amendment was so complicated that he did not want to testify and show his lack of knowledge of the subject.  He wondered why, with such  far reaching consequences, no hotline or web page had been established to answer questions from the public.  That’s the usual practice in such important matters, he said.

Jim Odlin, a ground fisherman who lives on Munjoy Hill also serves on the  Council.  “Our industry has been under turmoil for the past 20 years,  I don’t see that ending any time soon.”  Chris Odlin, from Scarborough, said:  “The sectors won’t work.  There are rules that don’t have to be there.  I see errors that I can’t do anything about.”  Sam Viola, now a former fisherman, said:  “I’m getting out of fishing because of …………like this.  Why would anyone want to get involved in this program? Does anyone care what we want?  Will anyone be left standing?” At the end of the short public hearing, the Odlin brothers agreed:  “It’s just a matter of pick your poison.  Will it be lethal injection or some other poison?”

Two more public comment session are planned on June 1st in New London, Connecticut and in S. Kingston, Rhode Island.  The final decision on Draft Amendment 16 of the Council will be made between June 23- 25 at the Holiday Inn by the Bay, Portland.

Draft Amendment 16 can be seen on the Council website at www.nefmc.org.  Paper copies are available on request by calling the Council office at 978/465-0492.