A New England whelk or “conch” is caught by MBL employees. Fishing for the snail is regulated by the Massachusetts Division of Marine Fisheries. (Credit: Joseph Caputo/MBL)
Massachusetts fisherman once considered the New England whelk or “conch” as nothing more than bycatch. Although demand existed for the large-shelled snail, traditionally used for cooking in East Asian cultures, it could more easily be trawled in the waters around South America, the Caribbean and Asia, making conch unprofitable in the Northeast. This turned around in the 1980s, however, when overfishing of whelk quickly transformed the small New England conch fishery into a multi-million dollar industry.
A New England whelk or “conch” is caught by MBL employees. Fishing for the snail is regulated by the Massachusetts Division of Marine Fisheries. (Credit: Joseph Caputo/MBL) Full size image
To maintain local conch populations, the Massachusetts Division of Marine Fisheries issued regulations in 1992 on how much whelk could be harvested. These included limiting the number of conch licenses issued, creating a closed season for conch, and setting a minimum legal size limit for catch.
Since 1988, two MBL visiting investigators have observed how the whelk-fishing policies have played out. Ilene Kaplan and Barbara Boyer, both professors at Union College in Schenectady, New York, are continuing their research this summer by interviewing fishermen, government regulators, and seafood dealers to understand how marine policies develop over time.
“This allows for a snapshot view of the relationship between fishermen and government staff and the development and implementation of marine regulations of a commercial fishery that has both economic and scientific significance,” Kaplan says.
Their results so far have identified both strengths and weaknesses in the current whelk-fishing regulations. They hope to use their fieldwork to influence larger marine policy decisions in the future.
Governor Deval Patrick signed a bill yesterday that will push Massachusetts towards becoming the first state with a single management plan for its coastal waters. All proposed projects within 3 miles of the state’s coastline, from wind farms to aquaculture operations, will be put on hold until a 17 -member committee made up of scientists and lawmakers can devise the document, due out in late 2009. (The event was reported in detail by The Associated Press and Boston Globe.)
The bill is in everyone’s favor. Local businesses, wildlife conservationists, and lawmakers all benefit from these guidelines, which will be devised with sound science and economics in mind. It passed unanimously in the State Senate by July 2006. Even the Alliance to protect Nantucket Sound had positive comments on the bill.
“However, the compromise bill still opens the door to wind energy development close to shore in our state ocean sanctuaries including Nantucket Sound,” they said in a statement. ” This crack in the armor of preservation continues to loom large as an issue for the Alliance.” The bill does not cover the Cape Wind project, which the group strong opposes, because it is in federal waters.
For a bill that makes everyone happy, it still took over five years of hard work for it to pass. The Massachusetts Ocean Management Task Force was formed in June 2003 and has since lobbied for the bill under the name Mass Ocean Action Coalition. According to a letter to Environmental Affairs from the coalition, it is made up of representatives from state and federal agencies, conservation organizations, fishing organizations and academic institutions.
Although the effort to create an advisory group wasn’t controversial, the actual regulations the group proposes will most definitely stir debate. One touchy subject is the issue of whether or not to use the state coastline to host potential sources of renewable energy. As the Cape Wind project has demonstrated, many people are opposed. The committee has a tough job ahead of them.
Biology meets policy in this radio piece examining whether or not a university can be liable if a student commits suicide. The problem, I found, is that universities sometimes do too little because they are afraid of doing too much. This fear is caused by the Family Educational Rights and Privacy Act (FERPA), a law created to protect student records from their parents, and a cause of confusion for universities who are also acting in loco parentis, or “in the place of the parent.” How can a university protect itself and its student? With a university-wide crisis plan and a solid understanding of this complex law, experts told me.
This was originally recorded for an Advanced Radio Journalism course with Professor Anne Donohue at Boston University.