The Magnuson-Stevens Act reauthorization road show hit Boston on Monday, when U.S. Sen. Elizabeth Warren hosted a State House session that again left fishing advocates questioning the science that serves as the basis for so many federal policies governing the nation’s fisheries.
The session featured numerous speakers and drew a large audience of policymakers, federal and state politicians, as well as fishing and conservation advocates.
“If folks in Washington are really looking for a path to help rebuild and sustain the fishery, they got the answers to that today,” said Massachusetts Senate Minority Leader Bruce Tarr, R-Gloucester. “The one message that came through loud and clear for everyone is the science is inadequate, and the decisions based on that science, by extension, are questionable.”
Tarr was part of a large Gloucester contingent at the session that included state Rep. Ann-Margaret Ferrante, Northeast Seafood Coalition executive director Jackie Odell and policy director Vito Giacalone, and Angela Sanfilippo from the Gloucester Fishermen’s Wives Association.
They were joined by U.S. Rep. John Tierney and both Massachusetts senators, Warren and Edward Markey. Gov. Deval Patrick also attended a portion of the hearings.
The congressional contingent included Alaska Sen. Mark Begich, the Democrat who chairs the Senate subcommittee on Oceans, Atmosphere, Fisheries and Coast Guard.
That subcommittee is at the center of the ongoing effort to reauthorize the Magnuson-Stevens Act, which regulates the nation’s fisheries and fishing industry.
Begich told the audience the reauthorization legislation should be ready by the middle of 2014.
Giacalone testified that much of the destruction to the Northeast multispecies fisheries is a result of a failed federal policy “pretending to know the unknown and control the uncontrollable.”
He told Warren, Begich and Markey that the three elemental components of any fish stock are natural mortality, the growth rate of the stock and recruitment — the measure of how many first-year fish make it into a given fishery.
“The three parameters are all outside human control,” Giacalone testified. “Our recommendation is to have a rebuilding alternative, not to just get rid of the 10-year rebuilding because some fisheries like it and some reasons see it as good policy.”
That alternative, he said, would allow fisheries managers to focus on the rate of fishing mortality rather than the rebuilding of stocks “to an arbitrary target within an arbitrary time frame.”
The coalition, through Giacalone’s testimony, also recommended changing Magnuson-Stevens to provide a different strategy and timetable for assessing fish stocks.
“It would have helped us, in fact it would help us right now, if we were able to a do a multiyear evaluation of potential over-fishing, one that would assess the status of a stock as it relates to the legal thresholds,” Giacalone said.
The current policy of basing quota and policies strictly on annual assessments offers only a statistical snapshot of the current state of a particular fish stock and contributes to the reactionary nature of rapidly shifting policies, he said.
“It would be much more realistic to have a multiyear average, taking last year’s assessment, the year before that and this year’s,” he said. “That will give you three data points and smooth your measurement.”
Brian Rothschild, former director of the Massachusetts Marine Fisheries Institute at the University of Massachusetts at Dartmouth, testified that the process to reauthorize Magnuson-Stevens “needs to develop a balance among natural standards rather than focusing almost solely on overfishing at the expense of everything else — including the economic and social well-being of fishing communities.”
Rothschild, president of the newly formed Center for Sustainable Fisheries in New Bedford, also told the panel that the path toward reauthorization must include improving the science used in stock assessments and the development of fisheries policy.
“I think there is a glimmer of a consensus, and that consensus is the system is not working,” Rothschild said. “That consensus is the seed we need to develop a national debate, which I think is essential.”
Sean Horgan may be contacted at 978-283-7000 x3464, or firstname.lastname@example.org. Follow him on Twitter at @SeanGDT