GLOUCESTER — In a ballroom overlooking Gloucester Harbor, the council regulating New England’s fisheries rejected a controversial proposal on Tuesday to develop a leasing program in the region’s lucrative scallop fishery after failing to agree on the presented motions.
The New England Fishery Management Council deliberated on three motions for more than two hours, with all three failing. The final motion during the meeting failed with 15 votes against, one in favor and one abstention — with leasing supporters viewing it as too narrow.
The latest leasing push comes 12 years after a proposal to allow it was defeated in a close 9-to-7 council vote, with one member abstaining.
Current regulations in the limited access scallop fishery allow one permit per vessel, which entitles a vessel to a certain number of days at sea, as well as a given number of access area fishing trips. A leasing program would have enabled a permit-holder (and his or her vessel) to lease and fish additional days or trips from another permit.
The third motion, put forward by Michael Pentony, regional administrator for the Greater Atlantic Regional Fisheries Office, proposed initiating an amendment to develop a days at sea leasing and access area trip transfer program with some specific features.
During discussion of this motion, Jeffrey Pike of the Scallopers Campaign (the group behind the latest leasing effort) communicated a late shift in stance. He told the council the campaign wanted to “take the word ‘leasing’ out of the lexicon” and promote only internal transfers of allocations — noted in the motion as transfers within a company — stating he took the advice of the New Bedford Port Authority.
He said it was a hard decision as it would not help single-vessel owners who would not have another vessel to internally transfer allocations to.
Pike said internal transfers would mean no lease fees or broker fees. Leasing critics — many of them crew members — said they believed crew would bear the brunt of a leasing program, just as crew in the groundfish fishery, for example, pay a leasing charge.
Following Pike’s comment, other commenters said internal transfers would only be advantageous for the big operations with multiple vessels — a concern opponents already had with leasing benefiting corporations and hurting small businesses.
Supporters of leasing, some with ownership interest in larger fleets, have said leasing of fishing allocations will improve efficiency, cut operational costs, minimize emissions amid climate change, ameliorate port congestion and increase flexibility in the event a vessel fails. Opponents have said it’s a means of furthering consolidation, with crew and independent shoreside businesses likely to bear the cost.
“There was a time in this industry when a father owned a boat and he taught his son, and his son was able to rise up … buy and operate his own boat, and you know, those days are gone,” said Tyler Miranda, a New Bedford captain of two scallopers, during a public meeting earlier this year. “It will take even further away from the family and community dynamic that fishing is and always was — and will make it more corporate.”
New Bedford Mayor Jon Mitchell and State Rep. Chris Markey made the two-hour trip to Gloucester to provide comments to the council. Markey said he was speaking on behalf of the local delegation of state elected officials, who all shared the view that leasing would economically hurt the New Bedford community.
New Bedford fishermen and permit owners were at the hotel hours before the council took up the leasing issue. The opposition has been largely centralized in the city — driven by the crew and some vessel owners who fear leasing is the first step toward further consolidation.
Some listened in on the morning’s scallop fishery presentations on topics such as survey work amid offshore wind development; others sat outside chatting and waiting for the leasing discussion to begin.
Gloucester police officers stood outside the meeting room. The council uses police detail when it expects a large crowd, and anticipated this meeting could be one of the council’s most heavily attended, said an NEFMC spokesperson. The meeting was hybrid, with more than 100 people attending online, including council staff and members.
In person, the ballroom at the Beauport Hotel grew more sparse as the council’s deliberations continued into the early evening, not appearing as packed as the meetings in New Bedford this summer.
New Bedford scallop captain Miranda, who made the trip to Gloucester, said he was grateful for the outcome minutes after the vote.
“It restored my faith in the committee process,” he said, noting he was previously worried about the influence bigger corporations had on the process. “I want to participate more going forward.”
During last week’s scallop committee meeting, Pike said they would look for “other options” should leasing not move forward.
Asked what that meant, George Lapointe with the Scallopers Campaign said they are “clearly disappointed” but have not figured out those next steps yet.
Before the council decided to take up the leasing issue, the Scallopers Campaign petitioned the federal government to invoke its authority under the U.S. Secretary of Commerce and authorize leasing, stating the council had “failed to act.”
Several committee members discussed this action last week, wondering if the campaign’s petition was still active. Council staff said it was their understanding that it was withdrawn once NEFMC decided to take up the issue.
Asked when Pike decided to remove leasing language and support just internal transfers, Lapointe said Pike was trying to be responsive to the public comments and get some traction so that discussion could continue on the subject at the council level.
If a motion on leasing passed, council staff and committees would undertake further analysis and discussion on a possible program and any alternatives.
Lapointe noted similar issues brought leasing to the table more than a decade ago, that it’s still in conversation today and that the people who are with the Scallopers Campaign are still interested in the effort.
Because no motions passed during Tuesday’s meeting, leasing will have to be adopted as a work priority to be discussed again, said a council staff member. For now, leasing is no longer on the table.
Several of the attendees — including New Bedford fishermen — spilled into the hotel bar adjacent to the ballroom after the final vote was taken. For some, it was a celebration.
Motion: The council initiate an amendment to consider the development of a voluntary DAS Leasing and access area trip transfer program in the Limited Access scallop fishery where transfers are limited to: (a.) Internal transfers within the same ownership structure (company), and/or (b.) two allocations on a vessel, and/or (c.) to address catastrophic vessel loss and/or breakdowns.
|Eric Reid, chair||Did not cast vote|
|Rick Bellavance, vice chair||No|
|Michael Pentony, NOAA Fisheries||Abstain|
|Daniel J. Salerno||No|
|Cheri Patterson (by proxy Renee Zobel)||No|
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