New England Fisheries

Proposed Rules Likely to Hurt Groundfish Fishery

Photo credit: Dieter Craasmann.

Public comment periods offer the opportunity for stakeholders to weigh in on issues they care about, and for government officials to gather the information needed to make well-informed and effective decisions. Unfortunately, the New England fishery management process has become so industry-influenced and so prone to risk-taking that prior to submitting public comments, some eNGos ask themselves, “Why even bother?” We would hate to think, though, what would actually happen to our region’s fisheries if these groups listened only to themselves.

The comment period for the proposed Framework Adjustment 55 to the Northeast Multispecies (Groundfish) Fishery Management Plan closed last week, and NOAA Fisheries will now review the comments before issuing a final decision on two important issues: 2016-2018 catch limits for its 20 managed groundfish stocks and the adjustment of at-sea monitoring requirements.

It may be beating dead horse, but it’s still important to reiterate the major sustainability and conservation concerns that should be considered with this proposed rule, as mentioned in public comment by Peter Shelley, Senior Counsel and Vice President of Conservation Law Foundation.

Groundfish management is ineffective and Framework 55 will make it worse

As previously stated, the New England Fishery Management Council has a history of taking a high-risk management approach; it is evident time and again that there has been little reward. Five years ago, 12 groundfish stocks were subject to overfishing and 13 stocks were overfished. Today, 6 stocks are still subject to overfishing and 11 remain overfished.

Additionally, 2014 operational assessments indicate that 69 percent of groundfish stocks are below their target biomasses and that just two species, redfish and haddock, make up a full 80 percent of the surveyed fish biomass. The numbers don’t lie – it’s evident that the Council has failed to reduce fishing mortality and protect the longevity of these stocks.

Let’s look on the bright side and say that yes, some stocks have shown improvement. This, however, does not warrant the general high-risk management approach that is taken with many of the catch limits proposed in Framework 55. For example, increased catch limits are being proposed for Gulf of Maine cod, a stock that plummeted to historic lows just last year and remains overfished with overfishing occurring. A minor improvement in stock levels does not justify increasing catch limits for a stock still in such a poor state.

Accurate quotas rely on accurate at-sea assessments

Furthermore, the move to reduce at-sea monitoring coverage is none other than irresponsible. Over the last few years, monitoring levels have already been decreasing, making it more and more difficult to accurately assess stocks. And strict quota limitations demand accurate data.

The Boston Globe recently ran a story on an electronic monitoring pilot program that some groundfish vessels will participate in this year, emphasizing the effort to transition away from the at-sea monitoring program. The story, however, failed to report on why full monitoring matters, be it human or electronic. To keep it simple, without full monitoring – especially with the calamitous state of New England groundfish stocks – the complete data needed to inform management decisions continues to lack.

With a lack of data plus the Council’s pattern of high risk behavior, New England groundfish stocks will certainly continue to decline.


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