New England Fisheries

Farewell to Pat Kurkul

Pat Kurkul recently announced that December 2011 would be the end of her tenure as Regional Director for NMFS in New England. This announcement brings to a close more than ten years of service by Pat in an extremely difficult and high profile position.

As regional director, the buck stopped at Pat’s desk during one of the most critical periods of fisheries management in New England’s long fisheries history. And she inherited a mess. Most of the groundfish species and other regional species were overfished and rampant overfishing was still the rule, the New England fleet was significantly over capacity relative to any foreseeable sustainable yield of fish from the ocean, the New England Council was barely operational and completely reactive, and the politics of fisheries were raw.

Today, New England has just finished a fishing year where practically none of the species managed by the New England Council were subject to overfishing—a first for some species in several hundreds of years. The fishing power of the fleet is in much better balance with available fish populations and the New England Council has gone through a remarkable sea change with respect to its professionalism and capacity. The politics—we concede—of fisheries are still raw.

Pat made a number of decisions that we disagreed with and even openly opposed. The Magnuson Act virtually guarantees that managers will have to act against someone’s interests virtually all the time. As the human face for the Magnuson’s mandates, Pat’s decisions angered and frustrated many fishermen. She had to watch helplessly as the plans she approved cost hundreds of working people their jobs in the necessary restructuring of the industry. She suffered the abusive and unrelenting personal attacks sponsored by her hometown newspapers on its blog site in silence.

A good case can be made that the New England fleet is now entering a new phase, that fishermen are in a better position today than they were ten years ago to benefit from some fresh ideas from the regional federal leadership. So even in the timing and grace of her announcement, Pat has demonstrated the selflessness that has been such an element of her tenure.

From where we sit, New England has been fortunate to have Pat as regional director. She has been fair, unbiased, and willing to listen to everyone in the region. She made the decisions that had to be made and backed up the Council as they developed new management pathways for New England. She was the right person at the right time and we want to thank her for dedicating so much of her professional career to such a difficult but largely thankless task.

With appreciation, we wish her well.


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