New England Fisheries

A Review of 2016 on Talking Fish

A puffin parent brings fish to its nestling, which is waiting in a burrow beneath the boulders. Image via The Pew Charitable Trusts.

Many of us, Talking Fish included, are ready to leave 2016 behind and wish for the best in the New Year. But it’s still valuable to reflect on the past year and review some of the major topics that we covered around New England’s fisheries. Merriam Webster chose “surreal” as the 2016 word of the year; it seems a similar sentiment can be applied to the world of New England fisheries in 2016, as we encountered many ups and downs throughout the year.

A Controversial Start

News of controversy and corruption began early on in the year. Towards the end of 2015, Captain David Goethel, a fisherman from New Hampshire, sued NOAA over industry funded at-sea monitoring. That case, which claimed that at-sea monitoring and the council system itself were unconstitutional, continued well into the year, ultimately to be thrown out by the judge in the summer months. Then, in late February, the region’s largest fisherman, Carlos Rafael, was indicted on multiple charges of fraud, misreporting, tax evasion, and money smuggling. A ruling has not yet been made in that case, but some Carlos Rafael’s vessels continue to fish in the meantime.

Climate Change Heats Up

In 2014, we learned that the Gulf of Maine is warming faster than 99 percent of the world’s ocean, and then in January 2016, NOAA projected that the waters of the Northeast shelf will warm twice as fast as previously thought. Soon after that, a NOAA study of 82 marine fishes and invertebrates reported that nearly half of the species studied are either highly or very highly vulnerable to the effects of climate change – from lobsters all the way to Atlantic puffins. Unfortunately, climate change and warming waters is an issue that is here now and will have lasting effects.

Progress Made and Milestones Achieved

To deal with the effects of climate change, smart ecosystem-based fisheries management is crucial, which includes precautionary management of forage fish and increased habitat protection. This year, the New England Fishery Management Council did not address localized depletion in the Atlantic herring fishery and it failed to make any progress on the management of river herring and shad. But the two Management Strategy Evaluation workshops hosted by the NEFMC were a good step forward in transparent management, and progress will be made on localized depletion in 2017. Additionally, management of Atlantic menhaden received national attention with an op-ed in the New York Times, and the conversation on this topic will continue next year.

In regards to habitat protection, the long-awaited Omnibus Habitat Amendment has yet to be finalized, and the Omnibus Deep-Sea Coral Amendment is still in development. Talking Fish continued to stress, however, the importance of closed areas to species like Atlantic cod, and celebrated the Northeast Canyons and Seamounts as the first marine national monument in the Atlantic Ocean. The monument designation, and the months leading up to it, were certainly not without controversy as fishing groups often exaggerated its potential impacts, but we reiterated that protecting special places in the ocean will in fact be a benefit for all.

Other milestones in 2016 included the 40th Anniversary of the Magnuson-Stevens Act and the completion of the Northeast Regional Ocean Plan, which was finalized less than a month ago.

We want to thank you for keeping up with Talking Fish this year, and we look forward to continuing the conversation in 2017. Until then, be sure to read our analysis of NEFMC’s 2017 priorities and review our top six most-read posts of 2016:

1) One strike and you’re out: Indictment of prominent MA fishermen exposes massive corruption

The criminal arrest and indictment of the region’s largest fisherman, New Bedford’s Carlos Rafael, for multiple charges of fraud, misreporting, tax evasion, and money smuggling should not be used to brush an industry with the tar of his allegedly corrupt practices. But it certainly raises several important issues.

2) Blowing Up the New England Fishery Management Council

Captain David Goethel of New Hampshire, an accomplished fisherman and a former longtime member of the New England Fishery Management Council, recently sued the federal government regarding the imminent requirement that New England groundfishermen cover the costs of at-sea observers on their boats. But Captain Goethel’s lawsuit goes well beyond his attack on the at-sea observer requirement. It also claims that the very structure of the federal fishery management council system violates the U.S. Constitution. The potential consequences of these legal claims are potentially much darker and merit a closer look.

3) A Victory for the Magnuson-Stevens Act (and Common Sense): Judge Rules in Favor of Industry-Funded At-Sea Monitoring

Last Friday, the Chief Judge of the New Hampshire Federal District Court, Joseph N. Laplante, ruled in Captain David Goethel and Sector 13’s lawsuit opposing industry-funded at-sea monitoring (ASM). Without getting too much into the weeds – and this lawsuit was all weeds – let’s break down the ruling.

4) A Vote to be Thankful For: Council Says No to Lobster and Crab Exemption from Coral Amendment

It is important to acknowledge when a good management decision has been made, and last week the New England Fishery Management Council did just that. For the second time, the Council voted against a motion that would have exempted the lobster and crab pot/trap fisheries in the Gulf of Maine from analysis in the draft Omnibus Deep-Sea Coral Amendment, notwithstanding barely-veiled warnings of civil disobedience from some lobster quarters in Maine. The vote was the right one.

5) Fishing Groups Exaggerate Economic Impacts of a New England Marine National Monument

The New England Coral Canyons and Seamounts Area holds remarkable ecologic value—ancient deep sea coral gardens, abundant and diverse marine mammal populations, as well as sea turtles and sea birds, and an array of rare and unusual marine species. The area is also distinguished by how little fishing actually occurs there. It is truly one of the least fished areas on the U.S. Atlantic Seaboard. That’s why erroneous claims need to be called out that creating a marine national monument in New England’s Coral Canyons and Seamounts would have “devastating economic impacts” on any fishery or port in New England. The facts simply contradict those claims.

6) Innies-And-Outies: New Science Reveals Closed Area Effectiveness for Atlantic cod

With NOAA poised to review the New England Fishery Management Council’s Omnibus Habitat Amendment – and in the face of some fishermen who claim that marine protected areas within the cold waters off New England show no benefit, and others that claim the new sector quota system eliminates the need for closed areas all together – a timely paper was recently released by two New England-based marine scientists.


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