New England Fisheries

Scientists Stand By Stock Assessments

Peter Shelley is Senior Counsel at CLF Massachusetts. Until 2010, Peter served as Vice President and Director of CLF Massachusetts.

Governor Patrick’s November 2010 request for emergency action to raise catch limits of haddock, cod, and other groundfish presumed this could be done without jeopardy to restoring fish populations to healthy levels. Failure to raise these levels, he argued, would cause some forty million dollars in economic losses. Governor Patrick’s claims were based on a report prepared by a number of fishery scientists and economists headed by Dr. Steve Cadrin under the auspices of the Massachusetts Fishery Institute (Cadrin Report).

In response to this request, Department of Commerce Secretary Gary Locke rebuffed Patrick on the basis that there was no new scientific or economic information that warranted emergency action. The federal government urged the Governor to raise his scientific and economic arguments with the Science and Statistical Committee (SSC) of the New England Fishery Management Council (NEFMC). The SSC is an international and largely independent group of fisheries scientists, who are charged with providing scientific advice to the New England fishery managers.

Drs. Cadrin and Dan Georgianna, a professor of economics at UMass Dartmouth who is also a member of the SSC, made their presentation to the SSC over two days in March and were given full latitude to present all their arguments to the group. In a tersely written consensus review statement last week, the SSC rejected the Cadrin Report as a basis for raising the catch levels currently in effect, implicitly concluding that the Cadrin Report was not the best available science. Indeed, the SSC categorically disagreed with two of the key scientific arguments made by the Cadrin Report—that current catch levels were based on overly conservative modeling approaches and that various risk factors were double-counted. Instead, the SSC explained, current catch levels were based on “risk neutral” approaches and model adjustments were made to correct bias, not reduce risk; there was no double-counting. Their review of the economic data was even more circumscribed, observing simply that “available data were not used correctly and … the baseline for comparisons made interpretation of the economic impacts difficult.”

The SSC did recognize the legitimacy of several of the technical issues raised by the Cadrin Report without coming to any conclusions, indicating simply that there were a number of issues that merited further research and analysis. This recognition simply reflects the standard scientific process and research protocols that the SSC has followed in the past;  it does not provide any basis for calling prior work into question as the Cadrin Report purported to do.

Governor Patrick’s political maneuvering on this topic has consumed significant effort and was an unfortunate distraction from the serious business of improving fisheries management and securing the economic and social well-being of the fleet. There are real challenges that need to be addressed, from who gets to fish the rebuilding fish populations to how to achieve the paramount objective of restoring all commercial fish stocks to health. While the Governor’s efforts may have been well-intended, he did a disservice to all the scientists, managers, and fishermen who are trying to address these challenges and make the new fishing management system work. The SSC was correct in rebuffing the Cadrin report and reaffirming the sound scientific work that went into the creation of this new system.


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