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September 11, 2013

Editorial: Science report shows need for Magnuson changes

Last week’s report from the National Research Council — a wing of the U.S. National Academy of Sciences — is being spun by NOAA officials and the giant green nonprofits as showing that the agency’s steps toward rebuilding many fish stocks have proven successful.

And the report indeed finds that 43 percent of the stocks initially categorized as being “overfished” are in full or partial recovery — thanks, of course, to the fact that Gloucester’s, New England’s and America’s fishermen have, for years now, abided by federal rules.

But those figures should hardly be seen as justification for the 78 percent cod limit cuts and the other dramatic landing reductions that have led fishermen to put their boats and/or houses up for sale this summer, while spending far more time on the dock than working, as they always had, to harvest one of our primary sources of protein from the sea. Indeed, the rebuilding of stocks should make the case for further easing limits on many stocks that have shown recovery.

Above all, however, the report makes the most profound, scientifically-based case yet for reforming the federal Magnuson Stevens Act and providing fishermen the flexibility they need — and that most state and coastal federal lawmakers have argued now for years.

“We point out that, basing (limits) on fishing mortality rather than biomass, and not shooting for a fixed timeline, might be a more robust way to go,” said Patrick J. Sullivan, the professor at Cornell University and co-chair of the committee of scientists and researchers who contributed to the report. And that should be a call to NOAA officials and lawmakers alike to step up their push for changes in a law that, aside from its timeline failings, has also been poorly followed and enforced by NOAA for at least the last five years.

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