Worst times, or just very, very bad? Industry splits hairs over the awful condition of cod

Atlantic cod (Photo credit: NOAA)

There remain some marginal voices in the fishing industry who continue to claim that cod populations are not in bad shape. Taking issue with a recent conclusion of mine that Atlantic cod were in their worst condition in history, these apologists for overfishing suggest that cod are just “in the middle of a rebuilding period.” Nonsense. Atlantic cod have been officially determined to be overfished since 1990 and been in a “rebuilding period” since 1995. They are not even close to the halfway point of being rebuilt even after 23 years of “management.” I suspect there are some who don’t care if cod ever come back.

The facts are this: the 2012 federal fall trawl survey and the Massachusetts spring trawl survey—both independent, science-driven and fully objective processes—each caught the fewest Atlantic cod during their survey that they ever have in the full history of the surveys. The federal spring survey in New England started in 1968; the state survey started in 1978. Is this a situation that the industry really wants to quibble about?

Source: www.mass.gov/eea/docs/dfg/dmf/programsandprojects/2012-resource-annual-report.pdf

New cod reaching maturity have been at persistent historic lows in recent years, and the landings at the dock reflect this. Last year the New England fleet only caught 35% of the Georges Bank cod that they were allowed to catch and 60% of the Gulf of Maine cod they were allowed to catch despite flexibility in transferring quota and high market prices. Even the single modeling result—the estimated spawning stock biomass—that these spin doctors point to in their claims that things for cod have been worse is conditioned by the scientists themselves as probably being optimistic when compared to the real situation. (Isn’t it interesting, by the way, how the same industry apologists who are so quick to savage the federal stock assessment science when it doesn’t say what they want to hear are so quick to rely on it when it does?)

The facts I pay attention to leave me, unfortunately, completely comfortable in concluding that these are the worst of times for Atlantic cod.


7 Responses to Worst times, or just very, very bad? Industry splits hairs over the awful condition of cod

  • Phil Lynch says:

    Well Peter – While I agree that the cod abundance is not as high as it was in years past there is a few small details that you conveniently leave out of your one – sided self serving editorials that keep emerging in the press. Point number 1 – Didn’t you, CLF,EDF, Jane Lubenchencho and NMFS push to replace Days At Sea with catch shares when NMFS declared the resource on track to be completely rebuilt by 2014 ? Yes, I believe you did – What happened there ? Industry’s fault again ? Point # 2 Did you or your experts ever notice that the inshore GOM was completely shut down because the CC yellowtail quota was prematurely reached and most boats could not continue to fish past November or December of last year ? The yellowtails were so thick and the industry’s allocation was so low that there was none available to buy by December of last year. You continue to point out that the industry ” could only catch 60 % of their GOM cod quota” yet to catch more was completely impossible because of you and the rest of the experts who designed this ” doomed to fail ” catch share system. Of course the GOM cod quota wasn’t reached last year – most inshore boats were handcuffed to the dock by Christmas because there was no yellowtail quota available and everyone was already out of yellowtail quota by this time. So what happens this year ? – CC yellowtails are cut by 50 – 60 % because of people like you. George’s Bank Haddock is completely rebuilt though right ? Ya – 5 % of George’s Bank Haddock was caught last year. Oh – maybe the boats didn’t catch the haddock because they didn’t have enough GB cod ? Wrong again – Only 43 % of GB cod was caught last year. Well maybe the boats didn’t have enough GB yellowtail to catch the haddock – wrong again – only 71 % of GB yellowtail was caught last year. Why don’t you and your useless organization buy fishing permits from the people you and your frivolous lawsuits have put out of business instead of suing the government ? If you really care so much about saving fish wouldn’t it make more sense to buy permits and not harvest the fish than sue NMFS ? Phil Lynch F/V Mary Elizabeth Scituate Ma

    • Peter Shelley (CLF) says:

      Phil, you don’t seem to grasp that you chose to make your career living off the public’s resource, not your own property. The public, including groups like CLF, have every right and I would argue even an obligation to get involved when that resource is damaged by oil and gas drilling, pollution or, in this case, by overfishing. The best way to get rid of groups like CLF and people like me is for you to bring back a healthy resource. By all means, go for it!! CLF did support for the catch share program after the required catch cuts would have limited the Days-At-Sea boats a handful of days for the full year. Prior to that, we supported the Council’s efforts to make the DAS program work, which they only finally succeeded at by tying most of the boats to the docks for most of the year. Maybe that old system worked for you. You are free to continue to use the DAS program and stop complaining about catch shares. Second, there was never a projection that “the resource” was going to be rebuilt by 2014. A number of the stocks were projected to be rebuild by 2014 and others, like cod, were not projected to be rebuilt until much later. There is no linkage between the catch share program and rebuilding timelines that I am aware of or that the DAS program was any better. Assuming you stay within the catch limits of both systems, you get to kill the same number of fish in either program. In my opinion, catch shares cannot take credit for either the accelerated recovery of stocks like GB haddock and redfish or the blame for dismal recovery of cod. While coastal yellowtail certainly restrained catch if you couldn’t avoid it or use gear that reduced your bycatch of flounder, we have heard of no widespread reports of boats being tied to the dock because of that fact or a premature closing of the yellowtail lease market. What facts are your arguments based on? If boats were tied up, in any event, it was the low yellowtail numbers and indiscriminant fishing gear that was responsible for that. With the exception of GOM cod, which we believe should be closed before it starts closing down fisheries on other stocks like you say yellowtail is already doing, I would like you to point to one case–one case–where CLF advocated in the last 23 years that NMFS had to set a harvest level lower than the scientific advice. I can’t recall any but maybe you can refresh my memory. Finally, I don’t know what you are arguing about GB Haddock. Since you seem to agree that haddock catch was not limited by limits on other stocks, perhaps you are arguing like a number of other fishermen that those “rebuilt” GB haddock stocks are a scientific fiction and not really there. Unfortunately, it would not be the first time the scientists overestimated the abundance of a groundfish stock. But I have no idea what that might have to do with my “useless organization.” p.s. Let me know what your permit is worth; maybe I can find a buyer.

  • Geordie King says:

    Mr. Shelley; in typical form you’ve ignored as Mr. Lynch points out some major facts in your quest to spread your “save the fishery” zeal. What is it that CLF is trying to accomplish? The New England fishing fleet has now been reduced something like 75% from what it was a mere 10 years ago. No conscientious fisherman wants to catch the last fish and with the hacked out catch share system and its attendant lopsided allocation scheme will continue to ensure that ones “portfolio” is never fully harvested, due as you know to our mixed species ecosystem. I am both a commercial and charter vessel captain and can tell you first hand that atleast in my region there are still plenty of haddock, cod and pollock. With much of our most productive fishing grounds long closed to the commercial sector, it’s amazing we’ve been able to harvest what we have in recent years. Is the ocean teeming with fish? Hell no. – Are stocks on the brink of collapse? Again hell no. The Hew England fishery has always been and will continue to be a mixed species stock in which the various components rise and fall on a periodic basis. I’ve been around long enough to know that there are good years and bad; up cycles and down. Those cycles are as certain as the changes in the weather or the sun rising in the east and setting in the west. Why not take a day off sometime and go out on an actual fishing vessel to see first hand what’s going on out there. Your armchair antics and self righteous attitude are getting old!

    • Peter Shelley (CLF) says:

      I would be more than willing to go on a trip with you whenever you like. I have been on a commercial boat for an extended trip and on several charter recreational boats as well as being an avid fisherman myself. As you suggest, there is no substitute for being on the water as a learning experience and I am certain I would learn valuable lessons from you. And of course there are abundance cycles, but the most critical information from the stock assessments are the trend lines. There haven’t often been trend lines like we now see with many stocks and they aren’t going in good directions. And I agree that there are many conscientious fishermen, but not all are conscientious and times are desperate for some. The very day the Council was debating catch limits recently, the Coast Guard was boarding a larger dragger using liners in their nets.

  • doug maxfield says:

    The fact that you and your little club have failed to mention the new decreases in fish sizes on several key groundfish stocks (cod, haddock, yellowtail, dab, and most shocking…redfish) is a prime example of just how out of touch you really are. This move is not only irrisponsible, but caters solely to the agenda of the offshore fleet.
    And, in response to the comments above, our current situation is 100% the fault of catch shares. end of story and I find it amazing that you have the nerve to call anyone a spin-doctor. I know it can be difficult, but should you go back to 2010 and read a few of your entries regarding the end of overfishing You’ll see.

    • Peter Shelley (CLF) says:

      While I may or may not be out of touch, your claim that CLF is not concerned about the change in minimum fish sizes is untrue. I have testified twice at the microphone against this trend and the specifics in Framework 48, strongly supporting David Pierce’s objections to these proposals, and CLF has filed written comments opposing them, e.g.–“The goal of these proposals is to reduce regulatory discards and increase revenue from the catch. These proposals are troubling, however, because they will have a tendency of encouraging fishermen to target small fish that have barely become sexually reproductive. Discards are wasteful and inefficient but since they are counted against the catch but produce no financial return, the current size limits provide a natural disincentive to catching fish just entering the fishery. This would remove that disincentive and likely still produce large discards of sub-legal fish.” I am glad you put in comments fighting this bad idea as well when it was before the Council and NMFS and I couldn’t find any when I just looked. Perhaps you can point me to them.

  • Chris says:

    Speaking as a concerned Canadian (and a former resident of both Boston and Atlantic Canada), my advice to fisherman is to learn from the disaster of Newfoundland’s cod collapse. Raising the limit is going to cause a similar collapse. I realize that it is incredibly difficult for many fisherman (and the communities that depend on them along the coast), but reducing the catch in the short term will be less painful in the long term.

    There are other issues that need to be addressed to, such as the catch sharing system (which is perceived to be unfair by many of the fisherman), and the future of these communities (not just the fisherman, but the people who economically depend on them), which will need to be addressed. But one thing is certain: sustaining high levels of catch is a path to disaster.

    I hate to be so blunt, but when it comes to the number of fish overall, the scientists are almost certainly correct and the fisherman wrong. Do what is best for the long term. Don’t let your fish stocks collapse the way Newfoundlands cod did.

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