In the News
Fish Talk in the News – Friday, February 1
- Earlier this week, the fishing community braced for the sharp cuts to cod catch limits expected to be implemented at the New England Fishery Management Council meeting. Leading up to the meeting, the Massachusetts congressional delegation asked NOAA regional administrator John Bullard to reconsider his decision to disallow interim measures to reduce, rather than end, overfishing. Bullard did not reverse his determination that the measures were not legally or biologically acceptable.
- Discussion also turned to the Council’s previous action to allow sectors to apply for access to groundfish closed areas through their sector operation plans, with some small-boat and recreational fishermen arguing that the move could create even more trouble for rapidly declining cod stocks. Author Callum Roberts published an editorial in The New York Times noting the benefits of the closed areas in supporting the recovery of depleted stocks. Roberts called for NOAA to make the decision to keep the areas, which cover over 5000 square miles, closed, asking the agency to “resist the temptation to squander their resources.”
- Meanwhile, the Senate approved a final Hurricane Sandy relief bill that did not contain any of the up to $150 million in proposed aid for fisheries in declared states of disaster.
- At the Council meeting on Wednesday in Portsmouth, NH, the Council approved the expected measures to cut catch limits sharply for Georges Bank and Gulf of Maine cod—by 61 and 77%, respectively. Fishermen said that the move would likely put them out of business, saying that in addition to losses in cod revenue, the limited cod quota will likely also harm their ability to target other fish stocks. Environmental groups argued that it was a necessary step towards allowing the cod fishery to recover; cod stocks are at 7-18% of healthy levels, and fishermen have been largely unable to find enough cod to fill their quotas this year. John Bullard acknowledged that the cuts were devastating, but said a “day of reckoning” had arrived for the fishery and denial about the state of fish stocks had to be abandoned.
- Discussion at the Council also focused on NOAA’s statement that they will be able to cover just half of the cost of at-sea monitoring for the groundfish fleet next year due to budget constraints. Fishermen argue the cost of government fisheries monitors—which reaches many hundreds of dollars per day and can significantly cut into revenues—is an unfair burden on an already struggling fleet. Fishermen have asked John Bullard to request funds from Congress to pay for the monitoring.
- On Thursday, discussion at the Council focused on the ongoing development of an Omnibus Habitat Amendment. The Council tasked the Closed Area Technical Team with identifying areas for potential closures based on concentrations of juvenile fish and spawning activity, leading some to complain these actions did not adequately take the age structure of fish populations into account.
- On Tuesday, the Council named Tom Nies its new Executive Director effective March 1, to succeed Paul Howard, who has served as Director for sixteen years. Nies has been a member of the Council’s staff since 1997.
- A Gloucester trawler, Princess Laura, may face NOAA law enforcement action after a Coast Guard boarding found evidence of the use of an illegal net liner. A net liner—a second net inside a trawl—effectively reduces mesh size, and its use is illegal under federal regulations. The vessel’s catch was seized and sold at auction. The boat’s owner claimed the Coast Guard misidentified a fragment of gillnet caught in the boat’s trawl as a net liner.