NEW BEDFORD — Mayor Jon Mitchell is “deeply concerned” about the “potentially consequential” impacts leasing could have in the scallop fishery, according to a letter he submitted to a fishery council ahead of its second and final public meeting in New Bedford Wednesday.
“There is no denying that there will be costs and impacts associated with the leasing program,” Mitchell wrote. “The playing field will be tilted on day one, perhaps irrevocably so, and the transformation of the scallop fishery from a ‘community fishery’ to a ‘corporate fishery’ may become all but inevitable.”
He went on to write, “as the most valuable fishing port in the nation, New Bedford has, without a doubt, more at stake in this matter than any community in the nation.”
At the close of his nearly four-page letter, he echoed local state representatives in requesting the council decline to proceed with drafting an amendment for leasing.
“I am hopeful that the Council will decline to proceed with the proposal before it, based on the vigorous opposition presented by New Bedford stakeholders.”
Included in his letter is an 11-page review, commissioned by the New Bedford Port Authority, on the potential impacts leasing could have.
Current regulations in the limited access scallop fishery allow one permit per vessel, which entitles a boat to a certain number of days at sea and access area trips to harvest scallops. A leasing program could enable a permit-holder to lease trips and days at sea from another permit-holder, or lease to themselves and fish two allocations with a single boat, for example.
Supporters say it will improve efficiency, increase flexibility and cut operational costs and carbon dioxide emissions. For example, permit-holders could lease allocations if a vessel breaks down during the season, or get rid of old vessels that are no longer seaworthy.
The Scallopers Campaign, the lobbying effort behind the leasing proposal, commissioned a study in 2021 by Alaska-based consulting firm Northern Economics, which concluded leasing could collectively reduce annual costs for vessel owners by about $12 million.
According to the review commissioned by the New Bedford Port Authority, which cost $10,000 and was completed by UMass Dartmouth professor Daniel Georgianna, the limited access scallop fishery has been successful and stable, and any major changes could cause unintended and harmful effects.
Georgianna concluded that leasing would give owners more flexibility, but could also result in consolidation and a loss of jobs and income for crew, based on interviews with 29 vessel owners, captains, crew, government officials, shoreside business owners and academics.
Scallop leasing public meeting
- When: 4 p.m. Wednesday, May 25
- Where: New Bedford Whaling Museum
He also stated “transferring,” which he defined as owners essentially leasing to themselves and within their fleet, would give owners flexibility with fewer harmful effects than leasing outside of their fleets to other owners.
According to Georgianna, who previously served on the council’s Science and Statistical Committee, surveys of the scallop resource show large-scale declines in biomass in recent years, which could lead the council to reduce trips and days at sea in order to protect the resource.
The reductions in fishing days could then “exacerbate under-utilization and perceived over-capitalization” of the fishing fleet, he said, potentially increasing calls for a leasing program.
Mitchell, who serves as chairman of the Port Authority, said about 7,000 workers and more than 400 fishing vessels operate in the Port of New Bedford, and that there would be a loss of trust and cooperation within the community if leasing is allowed.
“Indeed, we have seen evidence of that emerging discord and division during the scoping sessions that have already taken place,” he said.
The first New Bedford scoping meeting on May 11 drew more than 160 attendees — a mix of fishermen, shoreside business owners, marine scientists, attorneys and vessel owners. Most people who came to the microphone expressed strong opposition to leasing, citing concerns about further consolidation of the fishery.
It was the most attended session so far, with the Gloucester meeting drawing about one dozen people and the New Jersey meeting about 30, according to New England Fishery Management Council spokesperson Janice Plante. The remaining meetings are in Rhode Island, Virginia and North Carolina.
Plante said the council thinks there will be another big crowd in New Bedford, but could not speculate beyond that.
Mitchell will attend and provide comment Wednesday, according to a city spokesperson.
While the Scallopers Campaign is advocating for specific ideas and benefits of leasing, the council is taking a broader view and seeking comment on not only whether such a program is needed, but also what it should look like.
The council will continue collecting comments through July, discuss and deliberate, and then vote in September as to whether it will proceed with drafting an amendment to allow leasing.
After Wednesday’s New Bedford meeting at the Whaling Museum, five remain (the final two will be webinars). Upcoming dates and links to the online meetings can be found on the council’s website.
The public comment period closes on July 5 at 8 a.m. Comments can be sent by email to firstname.lastname@example.org; by mail to Thomas Nies, New England Fishery Management Council, 50 Water Street, Mill #2, Newburyport, MA 01950; or by fax to 978-465-3116.
Email Anastasia E. Lennon at email@example.com.