March 24, 2011

Gillibrand Urges American Lobster Board To Keep Current Rules For Long Island Lobstermen

Senator Says Reducing Lobster Landings Would Destroy Entire Industry

Washington, DC – U.S. Senator Kirsten Gillibrand recently urged the Atlantic States Marine Fisheries Commission’s (ASMFC) Lobster Management Board to keep current rules in place for Long Island lobstermen rather than issue new changes that would threaten the lobster industry and drastically limit lobstermen on amount of lobsters caught. The board is set to make their recommendation later this year.  

“Without sufficient and clear data being used to assess the stocks, it is impossible to determine what new management guidelines should be placed on this species,” Senator Gillibrand wrote in a letter to the Southern New England (SNE) lobster fishery. “A truly cooperative effort between industry and ASMFC science staff to firmly marry scientific theory with on-the-water experience is the only way credibility will be achieved by both managers and industry, ultimately benefiting all.”

Regulators are determining whether to reduce lobster landings by 50% or 75% or keep the current rules in place. Senator Gillibrand argued that more time is needed to assess existing measures that already restrict fishery on the size of landed lobsters. In a letter to the organization, Senator Gillibrand also called for improvements to data collection, pointing out discrepancies in data from 2007 used to measure the health of the lobster stock in 2011. 

Senator Gillibrand will also fight for continued funding for the Long Island Sound Study, which has contributed immensely to the re-proliferation of native species throughout the estuary, including lobster and other shellfish.

Full text of Senator Gillibrand’s letter is below:

I am writing regarding the Southern New England (SNE) lobster fishery and a serious decision pending before the Atlantic States Marine Fisheries Commission’s (ASMFC) Lobster Board relating to a preferred option for lobster management.  I am writing to ask that a status quo management decision be recommended.

It is my understanding that the Lobster Board’s technical committee report considers the SNE lobster fishery to be depleted with no overfishing occurring, and has been assigned the task of deciding how to improve the health of the SNE lobster population.  This population, which the SNE sets a target of 25 million lobsters, is hovering at around 14.7 million lobsters according to the most recent lobster stock assessment, completed in 2009.

There have been concerns brought to my attention regarding the technical committee's report and gaps in data collection when assessing the lobster populations.  For example, the technical committee’s Recruitment Failure report [1] notes that landings data for 2008 and 2009 for both New York and New Jersey is either incomplete, missing and/or underestimated.   There is also confusion surrounding the inclusion of Northeast Area Monitoring and Assessment Program (NEAMAP) lobster data in the ASMFC 2009 lobster stock assessment report. [2]  To date, I have not been able to receive an answer from any of the local advocates in New York on whether this data was in fact taken into consideration in the assessment report.

Further, there has been conflicting opinions on what is considered optimal indicators of recruitment health and what constitutes recruitment failure, as illustrated by at least one peer reviewer of the Technical Committee’s report.  Without sufficient and clear data being used to assess the stocks, it is impossible to determine what new management guidelines should be placed on this species.

Another consideration is whether or not to use the abnormally high lobster landings between 1994 – 1999 as a benchmark when measuring the lobster stock.   Lobstermen from New York have said that these landings were at a higher level of abundance than ever recorded in more than 50 years of lobster data.  Using this data as the standard may not accurately depict the health of the stock over a prolonged period of time.

Since 2007, local SNE lobstermen have been continually participating in ASMFC management measures taken to rebuild the SNE lobster population, including two gauge size increases, a vent-size increase, and a trap reduction plan. Lobstermen contest that without these new gauge restrictions, their landings would have been comparable to 2008-2009 levels, which contradict the Technical Committee’s report findings.  In addition to a sizable decrease in landings as a result of those management measures, those from within my constituency inform me that discards, an indicator of recruitment health of sub-legal lobsters, including those younger lobsters termed “crickets,” have more than doubled in the same time period.  From 2000 to 2009, trap use in New York has also dropped from 212,767 to 44,110, an 80-percent decrease.

The ASMFC has before it three options to address lobster management, citing decreased abundance, low recruitment, and environmental stressors in the Technical Committee’s report: a 50-percent reduction in lobster traps per lobsterman, a 75-percent reduction in lobster traps per lobsterman, or to maintain status quo.

I urge the ASMFC to choose to maintain the status quo.  Any other option would decimate the entire New York lobster industry, needlessly.  Choosing the status quo option would give gauge-size and vent-size increases, management measures in place since 2007, a chance to show their effects with the proper data collection. The committee’s own lobster stock assessment of 2009 was based on 2007 data and is not an accurate depiction of the current state of the fishery.

Proper data collection is key, and in addition to choosing a status quo option, I urge the ASMFC to improve the data collection with which you measure and regulate the SNE lobster industry.  In addition to improved trawl survey data, both in frequency and scope throughout the SNE region, effort must be made to continue the ventless trap survey begun by the ASMFC in 2006 now with a special emphasis on the SNE fishery.  A truly cooperative effort between industry and ASMFC science staff to firmly marry scientific theory with on-the-water experience is the only way credibility will be achieved by both managers and industry benefiting all.

Lastly, local industry leaders maintain that certain lobster predator species are in great abundance, yet quotas on these same species are small.  For those stocks that have a range of acceptable catch levels, I ask that you revisit this data and decide if any quota adjustments could be made to increase catch of predator species, thereby aiding depleted lobster populations.  Larger steps should be made to focus on ecosystem-based data analysis in areas like the Long Island Sound, where multi-species fisheries are also impacted by water temperature changes, invasive species and pollution, all elements discussed in both the TC and CIE reports.

I am committed to working with you to identify potential funding opportunities that would allow for more accurate data collection. In 2009, Long Island’s lobstermen caught over one million pounds of lobster worth, just under $4 million dollars across the dock.  That translates to millions of dollars for the various shore side Long Island and New York businesses that depend on their daily catch, and represents a vital role in Long Island’s and New York’s economy.  We must not decimate this industry by making decisions based on incomplete and inadequate data, and ignoring other factors that could help the lobster stock thrive.

I thank you for your attention to this very important issues, and again urge you to maintain the status quo for management of the Southern New England lobster fishery.