New England Fisheries

The New England (Patriots) Fishery Management Council

Third down and long yards: the bleakest scientific assessment in the history of Gulf of Maine cod, current fishing going on at some 13 times the fishing rates that might rebuild cod within a decade, recreational fishing that might have caught some 10-20% of all new young cod coming into the fishery in the first two months of the fishing year, a spawning population that may have declined more than 75% in the last two years, and a room full of fishermen who came to vent their frustration with chronic mismanagement.

The Council had good field position for the play. The Council’s plan development team supplied an iron-clad science case for the cod crisis, affirming what most fishermen were seeing out on the water. Earlier, the groundfish committee had successfully developed a package of management actions for emergency action, passed by an 8-1 vote.

There were no surprises coming on the other side. All the same voices that had been coming to the microphone over the years arguing for the highest catch levels on cod possible and for ignoring what they consider to be bogus science came to the microphone again. Saying the same things: throw the science out and let us fish.

The Council broke from the huddle, the Committee proposal was snapped into play, and … everything fell apart, forcing another punt. The Council turned it over to NOAA Fisheries to make the real management decisions to prevent further deepening of the crisis.

I wish I had a good answer for the question about how a group could turn an 8-1 committee vote into a 9-8 council loss. I wish I had a good answer for the question of why we even have such a council–not to mention paying them for their time—if they can’t make the hard third-down conversions.

After more than 24 years of overfishing, if there were a way to take cod’s fate in New England out of the New England Fishery Management Council’s hands permanently, now would be the time.


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