AFTER SUDDEN FISHERY CLOSURE NOTICE FORCED SQUID VESSELS TO RETURN TO SHORE WITH THOUSANDS OF DOLLARS IN LOST EXPENSES, SCHUMER, GILLIBRAND, BISHOP, BLAST AGENCY FOR LACK OF NOTIFICATION THAT COULD EASILY HAVE BEEN AVOIDED
Schumer, Gillibrand, Bishop, Call on NOAA to Implement Comprehensive Notification System, Including Email and Text Messaging, so That Long Island Fishermen Don't Spend Tens of Thousands of Dollars Preparing Only to Find Out Fishery is Closed
Last Week, NOAA Sent Notice to Small Universe of Long Island Fishing Industry, Via Fax, That Fishery Would Be Closed; Many Fishermen Did Not Find Out About Closure Until Four Days Later, After Already Investing in Resources to Prepare for Haul-and While At Sea
Schumer, Gillibrand, Bishop: NOAA Needs to Get With the Times and Enhance its Notification System to Include Email and Text Messages to Alert Local Fishermen to Potential Fishery Closures to Prevent Vessels from Leaving Docks and Making Moot Trips Out to Sea
United States Senators Charles E. Schumer and Kirsten Gillibrand and Congressman Tim Bishop blasted the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA) for failing to properly notify the local fishing industry that a closure of the squid fishery was imminent, costing local fishermen thousands of dollars in haul preparation costs that cannot be recovered. Last Friday, NOAA sent out notification to a limited universe of fishing interests, via fax, notifying them that the 90 percent of the Longfin Squid fishery had been harvested and would be closed the following Monday. Word of the impending closure did not reach many in the industry until days later, after many boats were at sea, having purchased fuel, ice, and provisions for up to five days. To ensure a communication failure of this size does not happen again and cost the already struggling industry tens of thousands of dollars, Schumer, Gillibrand, and Bishop called on NOAA to revamp its notification system to include opt-in text messaging and email, increasing its facsimile database, and enhanced notification via radio and fishing industry publications. The lawmakers also called on NOAA to provide a minimum of five days notice before a fisheries closure to allow fishermen to better plan so that out of pocket costs, that cannot be recovered, are not wasted.
"In this day and age of universal, instantaneous communication it is flat-out unacceptable that NOAA failed to alert our fishing community about this closure and cause many of them to lose tens of thousands of dollars on a wasted journey. The bottom line is that when NOAA closes a fishery, they must promptly notify the people who make their living in that industry via email and text and more," said Senator Schumer. "This latest episode demonstrates that not only is NOAA's enforcement regime out of date, so is its notification system. If the agency can't properly notify the industry of fishery closures how can we reasonably expect the agency to properly enforce its regulatory regime. I am increasingly concerned that for every step forward, NOAA takes two steps back."
"Our fishermen deserve better," said Senator Gillibrand. "It's time to bring NOAA's communication system into the 21st Century to ensure that our fishermen are properly alerted and not wasting their resources."
"NOAA's inability to properly notify Long Island fishermen is unacceptable. Fishermen need to inform NOAA in advance before heading out to sea. The least NOAA can do is inform fishermen well in advance that a fishery faces closure. We've identified a serious problem and are willing to work with NOAA and our fishermen to resolve it," said Congressman Tim Bishop.
The majority of Longfin squid is caught in the waters of Rhode Island, New York, New Jersey, and Massachusetts. Since squid vessels typically take trips that last between two and five days long, many vessels left on Sunday, already re-fueled and restocked with tons of ice for their trips, only to be forced to return to the docks on Monday with spoiled supplies and no catch, which cost anywhere between $10,000-$50,000 per vessel. The National Marine Fisheries Service (NMFS) said they sent out notification via fax and radio, but fishermen have reported that the notice did not broadcast on NOAA weather mariner radio until 8:50 p.m. June 9th and in some cases faxes were never received.
Ironically, the squid fleet must notify NMFS, through a website, anytime boats are planning on taking a squid trip at least three days in advance or face fines. Schumer, Gillibrand, and Bishop pointed out that since these fleets are required to notify NMFS electronically, the agency could have easily notified those crews that reported they were out to sea for a haul.
There are 351 federal directed Longfin squid commercial fishing permits in the Mid-Atlantic region. According to industry officials, at least 100 boats were fishing for squid at the time of the notice, and at least 50 of those boats were believed to be from New York. Many had come in over the weekend to dump their catch and restock for another trip to sea because they had not received any notice of the closing. That means thousands of dollars for fuel (at 4$ a gallon or $7-10,000 in fuel per boat), thousands of dollars in ice and food for a five day trip, plus lost catch, were lost to these boats.
In their letter to NOAA Administrator Lubchenco, Schumer, Gillibrand, and Bishop called for the agency to overhaul its notification system to include electronic communication, via text messages and email, and require notice five days prior to a fishery closure to save on preparation costs incurred by the industry.
In June, Schumer announced he had successfully secured agreement to hold hearings to address concerns with rules governing the fishing industry, before reauthorization of the Magnuson-Stevens Act takes place. Schumer has been a vocal critic of NOAA's enforcement regime and criticized many of the regulations governing local fisheries as inflexible and based in questionable science.
A copy of Schumer, Gillibrand, and Bishop's letter can be found below.
Dear Secretary Lubchenco,
In response to the recent last minute closure notification of the Trimester 2 directed Longfin Squid Fishery, we write to urge NOAA to revamp its notification system to include opt-in text messaging and email, increasing its facsimile database, and enhanced notification via radio and fishing industry publications. Further, NOAA should provide a minimum of five days notice before a fisheries closure to allow fishermen to better plan so that out of pocket costs, that cannot be recovered, are not wasted.
On July 6, 2012, the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration's (NOAA) National Marine Fisheries Service (NMFS) announced the 90 percent trigger had been reached, thereby closing the directed fishery, affecting those vessels issued Federal longfin squid permits. Because of the directed fishery closure, they are now limited to landing no more than 2,500 lbs of longfin beginning July 10, 2012, per trip or calendar day until the start of Trimester 3 on September 1, 2012. Unfortunately, the announcement of this closure was not made widely available to many vessels making up the Longfin Squid fleet until four days later, via email, after a majority of the fleet had already packed, restocked and left port for another trip. This resulted in the loss of thousands of dollars in wasted ice, fuel, food purchases and lost catch, which all could have been avoided with a more timely and streamlined notification of the fishery closure by NMFS.
While we understand that a fax notification was sent out during the late afternoon of Friday, July 6th, to port agents, a majority of the vessels with these longfin permits use Boatracs to track official notices on fishery closures. Many did not receive, see, nor were they notified by port agents of the impending closure. As a result, many members of this fleet came in over the weekend, re-fueled, re-stocked ice and food and left port for their trips only to be forced to return to the docks with wasted supplies and no catch, costing anywhere between $10,000-$50,000 per vessel.
U.S. fisheries supply the majority of Longfin squid in both domestic and foreign markets. The majority of this catch is landed in Rhode Island, New York, New Jersey, and Massachusetts. Collectively, the Longfin Squid Fishery fleet consists of approximately one hundred vessels. These same fishermen are required by NMFS to provide 72 hours advanced notice for their planned trips. The same notification standards should apply when closures are planned by NMFS. We request you to work with these vessels on a standardized way to communicate important fishery closure information.