Fishermen Can Work Together to Improve the Fishery

Roger Fleming is an attorney with Earthjustice. Roger has been working in fisheries law in New England and Washington, D.C. since 2001.

One of the most rewarding aspects of my involvement in New England fisheries management over the past 10 years has been the opportunity to work with fishermen to find solutions to the problems facing the resource and their fishing businesses. Unfortunately, this past year has been disappointing in one major regard. At a time when there is good cause for optimism, having made historic strides in bringing New England’s groundfish fishery back, the year has been marred with too much vitriolic mudslinging and counterproductive tactics by some parts of the industry, and those advocating on their behalf. As a result, we’re not as far along as we should be. The fishery would be better served if this frustration were redirected toward finding ways to make the current system work better.

Honest disagreements based on differing views of the facts are part of the fishery management process and typically result in better policies. But when industry participants, their advocates or commentators play fast and loose with the facts, spin wild and baseless conspiracy theories, or attack fellow fishermen, no one benefits, including those that could use some help.

If you listened carefully throughout the year, you could hear valuable advice from many of the most experienced and influential industry leaders for managing the transition to sector management, and productive ideas for improvement. But this was almost always drowned out by angry and aimless shouting from others. We need to move forward. As end of the year reports roll in, I am struck by the increasing volume of calls for overall management stability. Yet, things could still be improved.

Here are some observations for how more fishermen could come together to improve the fishery in the coming year:

1) Pay for advocates, and other services, that will honestly and objectively assess the facts and help find solutions, not perpetuate myth and foster resentment and hatred.

2) Work with political representatives on solutions that address the problems fishermen face now, not measures designed to reinstate policies that failed both the resource and New England’s fishing businesses.

3) Work on the management changes already under development, such as permit banks, monitoring program improvements and measures to facilitate more catch of the healthier stocks. With broader engagement from fishermen working together, these proposals could be made stronger.

4) If you’re convinced that the sector approach is not the right long-term solution, make its inherent flexibility work in your favor by experimenting to develop better approaches.

5) Develop the united front necessary for getting results from Congress and regulators in order to get the appropriations and regulatory responses needed to improve monitoring, the quality and speed of stock assessment science, and other management improvements.

New England’s groundfish fishery would be stronger if everyone with an interest worked civilly with each other. The fact that most catch limits are going up, the condition of most stocks is improving, and as a result revenues are looking up, represents a solid start. It took years to get the fishery into the poor condition it was in – now is the time to play a focused and positive part in shaping what the fishery will look like in the future.


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