CLF Calls to Shut Down New England Cod Fishery

Jan 31, 2013 by  | Bio |  3 Comment »

Yesterday the story of New England’s cod fishery took another tragic turn when the New England Fishery Management Council voted to drastically cut catch limits for New England’s two cod stocks—Gulf of Maine and Georges Bank cod—by 77 and 61 percent, respectively.

The Council’s action follows months of scientific debate on appropriate catch limits for cod. Recent assessments showed stocks at the lowest levels ever recorded and declining rapidly:

  • Georges Bank cod biomass is at just 7% of healthy, sustainable levels.
  • Gulf of Maine cod biomass is at 13-18% of healthy, sustainable levels.
  • The last better-than-average year for young Georges Bank cod production was 1991.
  • The amount of younger fish becoming available for fishing, known as recruitment, has been at the lowest estimated levels ever for the last five years running.

Confirming this dismal outlook, fishermen have been unable to find enough cod to even come close to filling their small quotas. The fish just aren’t there any more.

Despite this grim outlook, some in the industry asked for interim measures that would allow devastating overfishing to continue for yet another year, and the Massachusetts fisheries agency representative on the Council inexplicably asked for catch levels that were higher than the highest recommendations from scientists. NOAA regional administrator John Bullard rejected these efforts as legally and biologically unjustifiable.

Bullard told the Council yesterday that the “day of reckoning” for the fishery had arrived and that further management denial about the true state of the stocks could not be sanctioned. In this context, the Council chose to cut the catch – even in the face of industry opposition.

But the action to cut cod quota did not go far enough. The options implemented by the Council are the least aggressive cuts allowable by law, and under some assessments they still authorize overfishing. They push the limits of scientific advice and put the short-term economic interests over the long-term health of New England’s cod fishery and the viability of a whole generation of groundfishermen. Years of similarly short-sighted decision-making have caused the current biological disaster.

The Council unanimously rejected a motion to shut down the cod fishery entirely—an option that the NMFS Regional Director labeled as irresponsible, but one that may be the only chance for the recovery of New England’s cod stocks.

Canada took similar action to shut down its cod fishery in 1992, when its stocks were in a state remarkably similar to New England’s current disaster. Even their action in retrospect was too little and too late to avert a social and economic calamity; tens of thousands of people were put out of work, and cod stocks have still not fully recovered.

Unlike Canada, however, New England fishing communities are unlikely to see massive disaster relief funds. The New England Fishery Management Council now owns this problem and will bear full responsibility for the long term biological and socio-economic  consequences of their decision. While CLF hopes that the Council’s gamble is not reckless, decades of bad Council bets in the past and the current scientific advice do not bode well. Time will tell.

Now is not the time for denial. It is not the time for timid decisions and taking unconscionable risks. It is time to make the painful, necessary steps towards a better future for fishing in New England. Rather than arguing over the scraps left after decades of mismanagement, we should shut the cod fishery down and protect whatever cod are left.


Video: Watch my Testimony on Rebuilding a Vibrant New England Fishery

Dec 14, 2011 by  | Bio |  Leave a Comment

As I wrote in a recent post here on CLF Scoop, I testified before the House Committee on Natural Resources on a topic that I have worked on for years: restoring New England’s fisheries and commercial fish populations. We recently posted that clip to YouTube. You can watch it by clicking on the image below.

You can also download a transcript of my testimony here, or read it here.

Thanks for supporting CLF’s work to rebuild a vibrant New England fishery.

Thank You, Mr. Secretary

Jan 27, 2011 by  | Bio |  Leave a Comment

In New England the issue of fisheries management is a serious topic as it involves serious questions of science, economics, healthy ecosystems, an iconic part of New England’s culture and the very real issue of many people’s livelihoods. Still, the public debate around fishing and fisheries management in New England can often be a lot like arguing baseball — the home team is usually deemed more virtuous than the rest of the league and many facts, figures, data and theories are promoted to defend that assertion. These debates can happen between any combination of folks with an opinion or a perceived stake in the issue – trawlers and gillnetters, one port versus another, one state versus another, commercial fishermen and recreational fishermen, fishermen and regulators, and fishermen and conservationists, among others. While baseball rivalries can be pretty heated, the overwhelmingly vast majority of fans are able to understand that, after all, it’s just a baseball game. Most times.

The thing is, fishermen, regulators or conservationists involved in fisheries issues in regions outside of here often consider the debate and behavior in New England to be much more contentious. For some reason we seem to treat each other more rudely and with such a lack of civility that it is noted across the country. The public debate and political hyperbole over the implementation of the most recent groundfish management plan is a clear example. Despite years of hard work and robust debate by the New England Fishery Management Council and a near unanimous vote to approve the “sectors” plan (final vote 16-1) for managing species like cod, haddock and flounder, the current public debate resembles a fist fight over the results of last year’s World Series. Working the refs, rallying the crowd and harassing the other team’s fans has become a larger part of the story than the game, as it were.

So, when federal Commerce Secretary Gary Locke issued a plain, legal, factual and well reasoned response to deny Gov. Patrick’s request to raise the catch limits through “emergency action” we felt the Secretary deserved an honest “thank you.” CLF and nine other conservation groups sent him a  letter saying so. Thank you Secretary Locke. We think you made an important, rational and sober decision that will help move New England forward.