New Fishing Season Brings Same Old Bad Ideas

Cod stocks on Georges Bank and in the Gulf of Maine are at a fraction of healthy levels.

New England’s new fishing season is underway amid heightened concern about the viability of some of the once plentiful fish that helped build the region’s economy. New catch limits for cod, haddock, and some flounder are painful but necessary if we want to keep fish and fishing in New England waters. Many of these fish populations are at perilously low levels. Georges Bank cod, for example, are just 8% of what a healthy, sustainable stock should be.

Unfortunately, the fishing industry and its political allies continue to press the same old bad ideas—allowing overfishing to continue and ignoring science and the law. At an industry-sponsored publicity event Monday on Boston’s Fish Pier, Sen. Elizabeth Warren and other officials repeated the call to allow overfishing to continue on these depleted stocks. This is the very sort of thinking that contributed to the problems we now face. The New England Fishery Management Council has wisely refused this approach, and NOAA regional administrator John Bullard, who endured jeers and taunts at Monday’s events, politely reminded those lawmakers that it is his job to follow the law.

Cod landings have declined dramatically in the last several decades.

NOAA is right to stand firm on the catch limits, and should be taking further action to ensure the future of our fisheries. The Magnuson Stevens Act clearly forbids the sort of prolonged endorsement of overfishing that Sen. Warren and others want. And as Bullard pointed out in a letter to state lawmakers, even if the law allowed it, it would still be a bad idea to raise the allowable fishing given the declining status of these stocks. Closing the directed cod fishery may be necessary to allow stocks to recover.

New England’s groundfish fishery is in a hole, and it’s time for Sen. Warren and others to recognize the first rule for getting out of holes: stop digging.


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