With management by sectors a done deal, New Englanders must figure out how to make them work
By Linc Bedrosian
"Are you in or out?"
George Clooney's character asks that question of his prospective partners-in-crime in the movie "Ocean's Eleven." But in New England's beleaguered groundfish fishery, the question has a little different meaning.
The New England Fishery Management Council voted in June to bring sector management to the fishery next May. Long before then, however, groundfish harvesters had to decide whether to join a sector — a group of fishermen who receive an allotment of the total allowable catch based on their collective catch history — or fish in the common pool under the present effort control system.
Harvesters had to commit to joining a sector before final operations plans were submitted by Sept. 1, even though they won't know what the annual catch limits or their share of it will be until November. Right now, it's difficult to determine whether they will fare better in a sector or in the common pool. Count Hampton, N.H., fisherman and New England council member Dave Goethel among those who don't know which route they'll take.
"I haven't decided what I'm doing. I have two permits that are basically worthless," Goethel says. "I'm going to have to really look at this carefully."
The good news is that signing up for a sector doesn't mean you have to stay in it. If, before the final rule is published (likely in December), a fisherman decides he's better off in the common pool, he can leave the sector. But if you haven't already joined a sector, you won't be able to do so until the next fishing year.
Sector proponents say the system relieves fishermen from the ever-tightening regulations that have shackled them as fishery managers have tried to meet Magnuson-Stevens Act stock rebuilding requirements. Yet years of cutting days at sea and implementing other effort controls haven't sufficiently rebuilt stocks.
Hence the need, advocates say, for a new management system. And by the time the council began Amendment 16 deliberations, frustrated New England fishermen who for years had opposed quota share programs resigned themselves to developing a sector management program.
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