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In the News
Fish Talk in the News – Friday, February 15
NOAA announced this week it will cover the full cost of observers on Northeast sector vessels in 2014 (Credit: NOAA Fisheries Service/NEFSC/Fisheries Sampling Branch)
- Late last week, 13 members of Congress from Maine, Massachusetts, and New Hampshire sent a letter to acting Commerce Secretary Rebecca Blank asking her to cover the full cost of the required at-sea monitoring for groundfish vessels. The letter followed NOAA Regional Administrator John Bullard’s announcement at the recent New England Fishery Management Council meeting that the agency would only be able to cover half of the cost of this monitoring in 2013. This announcement led to a strong pushback from fishing industry advocates, who also noted problems with monitors interfering with vessel equipment. The requirement to hire an at-sea monitor is randomly assigned to certain groundfish trips, and the monitoring can cost up to $800 per day, severely cutting in to trip revenues.
- The Congressional letter also asked for NOAA to make a swift decision on their policies for sector carryover of quota between 2012 and 2013. In previous years, sectors have been allowed to carry over up to 10% of a year’s quota to the following year if they had not caught the fish to fill that quota. The measure was designed in part to prevent a rush to fill quota at the end of the season. Given the recent large cuts in some catch limits—up to 77% for Gulf of Maine cod—the 10% carryover from 2012 would mean a drastic increase in effective catch limits for 2013. Bullard announced his decision on Thursday to maintain the 10% carryover level for all stocks except Gulf of Maine cod, for which the carryover will be limited to just less than 2% of 2012 ACL to avoid overfishing.
- A New York Times blog post published this week focused on the potential harm caused by the New England Fishery Management Council’s move to open more than half of the area currently protected from bottom trawling in New England’s waters. The action would destroy remaining bottom habitat for groundfish and cause further risk to already-struggling populations of cod and other species, according to both environmental advocates and recreational fishermen.
- An opinion piece published in the Portland Press-Herald claimed that fishermen have taken an unfair portion of the blame for the groundfish crisis. The article called for more consideration of the effects of climate change, and noted that scrutiny should be placed on the fishery managers that have not taken effective action to improve the state of the groundfishery. It also recommended that the term “overfishing” be replaced with “overprotection”, and called fisheries science “downright inaccurate.” The article came in spite of the NEFMC’s scientists’ claims that their estimates of stocks and acceptable catch levels were likely overoptimistic, and the recognition by environmental groups and others that it is the role of the Council to effectively manage the stocks for rebuilding. Meanwhile, Cape Cod fishermen argued that the cuts to catch limits planned for next year were, in practice, already in effect due to the poor state of the stocks and their inability to find fish to catch, and that catch limits had a history of being too optimistic.
- NOAA is reviewing new management measures intended to allow more young scallops to grow to maturity. The action would include a plan to reduce quotas by a third, and generally has support from fishermen and the School for Marine Science and Technology at UMass Dartmouth. Recent research has shown unusually high numbers of small scallops in 2012, which will grow to maturity in 2-3 years, hopefully allowing for a return to higher catch levels.
- The Inspector General of the United States Department of Commerce has begun a review of the rules and processes related to catch share programs administered by NOAA. In particular, the rule will focus on the controls related to decisions on allocations of catch shares. The review is the second part of a multi-phase investigation, and follows a report released in late January that highlighted the need for improved financial disclosures and record-keeping at NOAA.