Opinion

Fire, Ready, Aim: Attorney General Martha Coakley Launches Unguided Missile

Attorney General Martha Coakley announces her lawsuit last May on the Boston Fish Pier.

Massachusetts Attorney General Martha Coakley announced yesterday at a press conference on the Boston Fish Pier that the Commonwealth intends to sue the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA), arguing that legal catch limits the federal government has set for cod, flounder and other groundfish equates to a “death penalty” for the Massachusetts fishing industry. Attorney General Coakley’s action completely ignores the facts on the state of groundfish populations and follows the same politically-determined path of her participation in a grossly flawed 2011 lawsuit to bring down the entire Amendment 16 groundfish management plan.

The Attorney General is once again wrong on the law and wrong on the facts. Political interference like this action by Attorney General Coakley has been a leading cause of the destruction of these fisheries over the past twenty years—harassing fishery managers to ignore the best science available.

At her press conference on the Fish Pier yesterday afternoon, Attorney General Coakley claimed that the cuts to catch limits are the product of “relentless and unfair regulations.” When asked why she thought the cuts had been implemented in the first place, she called NOAA a rogue federal agency. She claimed NOAA has a “callous disregard for the well-being of Massachusetts’ fishing families.”

Well, what about the merits of the claims by the Commonwealth’s top attorney that the “low” catch limits are the cause of the fishing industry’s woes? The supposedly drastic “cut” in the catch limit for offshore cod is actually a 6% increase over what New England’s fishermen were able to catch last year.

Thankfully, unlike a real missile launch, Martha Coakley still has the chance to revisit her poorly considered decision. Let’s start with a review of the record on the state of New England’s fish stocks:

  • Scientists are in agreement that there are no positive signs indicating recovery of the codfish that have been depleted from overfishing by the New England fleet.
  • New England’s cod stocks are at nine percent of healthy levels and have declined by almost 80% since the 1980s.
  • Cod have been overfished in each of the last ten years.
  • Numbers of young cod growing to maturity are at all-time lows.
  • Even the Massachusetts Division of Marine Fisheries scientific fish survey of its coastal waters last fall found the lowest number of cod that have ever been recorded in the history of the state survey.

Conclusion: Fishermen caught just a fraction of their allotted cod quota last year—not because of regulations, but because the fish simply aren’t there. NOAA didn’t cut catch limits frivolously; they cut them because the facts demand it.

We need responsible management which includes habitat protection and a suspension of directed commercial and recreational cod fishing. We also need some serious leadership from our elected officials. Going to court or getting up on a political soapbox will not magically create more fish. Attorney General Coakley’s lawsuit is a misguided denial of the facts that will only worsen the dire state of our fisheries and continue decades of self-inflicted wounds by politicians and fishing industry leaders that have destroyed this fishery for Massachusetts.

Attorney General Coakley is not speaking for the people of Massachusetts—they want healthy oceans, thriving fish populations and a chance for their grandchildren to catch a codfish off Cape Cod.


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