Fisheries Recovery Requires Action

NOAA's proposal would open 3,000 square miles of previously protected habitat to commercial trawling.

One of the goofier bromides[1] we see tossed out from time to time is that if an action displeases parties on either side of an issue it must have something going for it, because it has achieved “balance.”  Often this statement is delivered with a shrug of the shoulders denoting a “whaddya gonna do?” sentiment.

Balance is an important component of developing opinions, of course, but more so are those of substance, fact and context. That’s why we found the Boston Globe’s recent editorial regarding the proposed opening of protected areas on Georges Bank to be fairly lazy in its analysis of the dire state of New England’s fisheries. The Globe failed to share with readers the substantial body of science documenting the benefits of closed areas and the risks we face if we eliminate them. Closed areas protect important habitat and spawning areas and the fish that grow there can help the surrounding fishery. New England’s closed areas have played an important role in rebuilding Georges Bank haddock and scallop populations—which now make New Bedford, MA, the nation’s richest fishing port.

The Globe editorial also failed to point out the basic fact that this is not your ordinary fisheries debate. Maybe a “split the baby” approach works in some smaller scale fisheries debates, but the context here is that we are witnessing a historic collapse of one of the world’s most productive natural resources and the impacts of climate change are altering the ability of fisheries managers to arrest the decline. The real and visible impacts of climate change have been no secret in the current fisheries management discussion. It’s also disappointing that the Globe seemed to prematurely discard the context presented in its otherwise thoughtful June story about the decline of fish stocks.

As scientists warned in this letter, the likely result of opening closed areas to more fishing will be “ecological setbacks to the recovery of fish populations already at low levels, and serious economic harm shortly afterward.” The bottom line is that we expect better from the region’s leading news outlet. Their concept of a solution hardly sounds like a “sensible attempt at compromise,” as the Globe put it. It sounds like more of the same pattern we’ve seen for too long.

For a reminder on the benefits of the closed areas, here’s the Talking Fish Top Ten list. To ask NOAA to keep the areas closed to trawling, click here.

[1] “A commonplace or hackneyed statement or notion.” Merriam-Webster Dictionary online. Most recently found at: http://www.merriam-webster.com/dictionary/bromide



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