Capping six months of intense debate among fishermen, the New England Fishery Management Council voted this week against considering changes to allow scallop leasing within the fleet.
Fishermen crowded the council’s Sept. 27 meeting at Gloucester, Mass., for a debate on whether to develop an amendment to the scallop plant that would allow limited access scallop leasing for both access area trips and days-at-sea allocations.
Proponents of leasing, organized as the Scallopers Campaign, contended it would increase efficiency, cut costs and help operators when they face a major problem that takes a vessel out of action.
Opponents saw leasing as another avenue for consolidation of the fishery under fewer owners – as has happened in the Northeast groundfish fleet – with crew members and smaller independent operators at a disadvantage compared to fleet owners.
Tallies compiled by council staffers counted the majority of negative opinions expressed by commentators from Massachusetts, with 105 opposed compared to 15 in favor. Of seven public in-person comment sessions, the most attended were May 11 and May 25 hearings in New Bedford.
After reviewing the public scoping process comments and hearing more from people at the meeting and commenting remotely online, the council considered three motions, according to a summary by the council staff:
Allow temporary leasing in the event of vessel breakdowns and other vessel-related catastrophic events. The motion failed with six members voting yes and 11 voting no.
- Develop an amendment for voluntary leasing that was “fair and equitable to all stakeholders and reasonably calculated to promote fishery conservation.” The motion did not put any constraints on the alternatives that could be developed for leasing. It failed for lack of a second.
- A third motion proposed initiating an amendment for leasing, narrowing the range of alternatives that could be developed. The motion also failed on a vote of 1-to-15 with one abstention.
Those council votes put an end to discussing scallop leasing. During their discussions, some council members noted that 78 percent of commenters during the scoping process were against leasing, by the council’s own tally.
The council is continuing to discuss 2023 priorities for the scallop fishery this week, with final action expected at its December meeting in Newport, R.I.
Council members got their first look at 2022 scallop survey results in Gloucester and a final report from the Scallop Survey Working Group. Those will help the council develop scallop specifications for the 2023 fishing year.
“The surveys found several areas with new sets of seed scallops, as well as beds with concentrations of smaller scallops that are continuing to grow. These are positive signs that bode well for the future,” according to a council summary. “However, the surveys also revealed that biomass overall was at its lowest observed level since 1999, largely due to minimal recruitment over the past several years. As a result, access area trip allocations for 2023 are expected to be reduced from 2022 levels.”