Recreational saltwater fishermen in Massachusetts likely will be required to have a fishing license beginning next year.
That word came from Paul Diodati, the director of the state Division of Marine Fisheries, who came to the Island last week and spoke at the Chilmark Public Library.
Mr. Diodati was joined by John Pappalardo, chairman of the New England Fishery Management Council. The council oversees many fish stocks that swim in federal waters south and east of the Vineyard.
The two men spoke about what they as managers see ahead as well as what they think fishermen will need to do to survive.
Both men spoke of impending regulations that are intended to make fishing a sustainable industry, and of troubles ahead for the small seaside community fisherman.
If Island fishermen want to survive, the men said, they’ll need to participate in the political process by pooling their resources to work with the system.
The issue of a recreational saltwater license is not a new one, though in years past it failed at the state level for a lack of support from the fishermen.
This time is different; Mr. Diodati said the mandate for a saltwater license is coming from the federal government.
“The Magnuson-Stevens Fishery Conservation and Management Reauthorization Act of 2006 requires the federal government to implement a recreational fishing registry,” Mr. Diodati said.
“That means there is going to be a fishing license, essentially by 2009. The National Marine Fisheries Service is working on it,” Mr. Diodati said. “The license will be free in 2009, but there will be a charge in 2011.”
He said a federal permit might cost as much as $30.
“Now there is one exemption,” Mr. Diodati said about the federal license. “If Massachusetts had its own license, it wouldn’t have to take part in the federal license. If the state does one, it would be a heck of a lot less than the $30. I can guarantee that. It would be less than half that. It could cost $5.”
Recreational freshwater fishermen in Massachusetts have had to purchase a state fishing license for years.
The topic of fisheries management also came up for extended discussion during the presentation.
Mr. Pappalardo, a commercial fisherman from Chatham, struck a chord with the number of the commercial fishermen in the audience, including lobstermen, draggermen and shellfishermen, by talking about the failure of that management to protect fish and the fisherman.
“We continue to waste our future,” Mr. Pappalardo said. “In my opinion, one of the worst things we do in management is to require fishermen to throw fish overboard. I think that doing that over the last 15 to 20 years has brought us to where we are now,”
Fisheries management is flawed, Mr. Pappalardo said. “If we do nothing we will continue to have regulations that make absolutely no sense. It is a little like you tell a little lie. And then you have to tell another lie. And then it goes on.”
Both Mr. Diodati and Mr. Pappalardo spoke about the consolidation of the region’s fishing fleets. They both acknowledged that the small coastal community fishing fleets are disappearing — if they haven’t already — and that the urban centers are where most fishing boats are based.
“I was at a meeting three weeks ago in New Bedford,” Mr. Diodati said. “It was primarily a Massachusetts fishing industry meeting and around the table there were some of the larger entities in terms of seafood processors and fishermen. Those in attendance came from Portland, Me., and Point Judith, R.I. They have already consolidated those states. We are seeing fewer and fewer vessels.”
Mr. Pappalardo added that the future of fisheries management is being driven by a political process that pays more attention to the big players.
“Right now there is a big disconnect between a community like this one and the New England Fishery Management Council,” he said. “There are 18 of us sitting at a table at a meeting. We all have our own interests and backgrounds. Communities like this quite frankly aren’t at the top of people’s minds.”
Mr. Pappalardo offered one ray of hope. He said: “Communities need to start investing in their future if they want to maintain a connection to the fisheries resource.”
“From our point of view over at Chatham, the right to be able to fish is an asset that belongs to the community,” he said.
“Whenever a fisherman sells his boat, sells his permits, there is a significant loss to the community. This action has diminished the community’s assets. People get at the end of their career. Regulations tighten. Fuel prices climb. People make economic decisions that is right for them to do.”
He urged communities to take ownership of those rights to fish.
Mr. Pappalardo spoke of a new initiative on Cape Cod to pool funds to purchase fishing licenses from local fishermen, so when they retire the licenses stay in the community. He said the new entity is called the Cape Cod Fisheries Trust. That organization plans to purchase the fishing licenses to make them available for use by local fishermen.
Mr. Pappalardo said the day of the individual fisherman being able to hold his own in coastal communities is just getting too hard.
“You start feeling like the victim,” he said. “You feel powerless. Just because you have a good idea doesn’t mean you will get your way. It is people in politics. If you have a good idea, you have to surround your idea with smart people. If you work together, you start working with management and that management isn’t happening to you.”
Chris Murphy of Chilmark, a retired commercial fisherman, asked why either the federal or state fisheries managers haven’t taken a stronger stand in protecting habitat or bait fish that swim in the waters around Cape Cod and the Islands.
Mr. Murphy said it is widely known that mid-water trawlers, large fishing boats that have the ability to harvest and process lots of fish quickly, are operating in the region.
“Why don’t you just say no?” he asked. “Get rid of the midwater trawlers because they are destroying all the food fish for all the other fisheries.”
Mr. Diodati replied that he didn’t believe the midwater trawlers are responsible for the decline of alewives. Mr. Diodati said predators like striped bass may be causing the falling stocks.
Mr. Murphy rejoined: “There is no other predator out there that can take 100,000 pounds of fish in an hour.”
Karsten Larsen, a Chilmark commercial fisherman, said he was recently down in the Carolinas and was astonished to see how many different species of small fish had been taken by this kind of trawler.
“You wouldn’t believe the river herring there. There were also little squeteague and bluefish,” Mr. Larsen said.
Mr. Diodati did say fisheries managers are looking at the midwater trawlers, but in a cooperative measure with the industry.
“We have identified sensitive areas where there is potential river herring bycatch in those fisheries, south of Martha’s Vineyard, off Block Island,” he said. Managers are working with the trawler owners to get them to avoid those areas voluntarily.
The talk at the Chilmark public library was sponsored by the Menemsha Fisheries Development Fund.
The next program is scheduled for Wednesday, June 18, at 5:30 p.m. Robert Kennedy, director of Natural Science for the Maria Mitchell Association of Nantucket will talk about efforts to revitalize the bay scallop fishery on that island.