F isheries management in New England is broken and here is just one small example of one of its glaring faults.
The vessel Unicorn went fishing on a 24-hour trip out of Menemsha harbor on Friday, Dec. 5. Gregory Mayhew and his son Todd set their net out just 12 miles outside of the harbor in the area south of Noman’s land. They towed and they had a good deal of success, bringing in fluke, yellowtail flounder, winter flounder, scup, cod, dogfish and skates. All of these species are good marketable fish with ready buyers waiting for the Unicorn to unload in New Bedford. But here is the rub. The Unicorn is allowed to fish but it is not allowed to possess any fluke or dogfish. The fisheries management plan requires that any fluke or dogfish caught this December by this boat must be discarded, thrown overboard and left floating on the top of the sea for sea gulls to consume. And the quota for scup has been reached so this fish must also be thrown over the side. As for yellowtail flounder, Greg and Todd are only allowed to keep 250 pounds per day. So when they have a good tow and they are fishing well and catch 600 pounds in one hour, they have to bring in the net and cull through the fish and throw 350 pounds of dying yellowtail flounders over the side. And this is all in a managed fishery where the Unicorn is playing by the federal rules. Is this a good plan?
The Unicorn did have a successful day of fishing. They came in with over 3,000 pounds of fish to sell — skate wings, winter flounder, some cod and their allotted quota of yellowtail flounder. But during their one day of fishing they discarded as much as 4,500 pounds of decent fish, some of this very high-quality jumbo fluke that is prized in the marketplace. Hopefully, some of this discarded fish lived when it was returned to the sea, but probably not a great percentage.
This problem in fisheries management is called regulatory discard. The regulations require that the fish be discarded and not landed. It is destructive of the resource and it is stupid. We are trying to help our stocks of dogfish, yellowtail flounder and fluke recover, and then we are enforcing regulations that allow harvesting of the fish but demand that the fish be thrown overboard and not saved for our dinner tables. Does this make sense? Is anyone from the New England Fisheries Management Council paying attention?
Regulatory discard and bycatch are huge problems in our fisheries management system. If we are going to let boats fish, then we need to let them land and sell what they catch. We need to control overfishing but not by demanding regulatory discards.
Warren Doty is a Chilmark selectman and president of the Menemsha Fisheries Development Fund.