GloucesterTimes.com, Gloucester, MA

February 27, 2013

Letter: NOAA actions are to blame for fishery disaster


Gloucester Daily Times

---- — To the editor:

There is a posted comment from “John B.” on a Standard-Times of New Bedford story headlined “Petition seeks closing of NOAA fisheries regional office” stating that the New England fishermen’s troubles are due to “over harvesting” and that “ NOAA is not the cause of the fishermen’s troubles.”

NOAA’s role, he contends, “... is only the bearer of bad tidings” and so NOAA then, quite innocently, didn’t “cause” any of this mess. Instead, he warns fishermen that “... unless the (fishing) industry takes an unflinching look at the realities that it is facing” or, “Ignore the realities, and the New England fishing industry may well go the way of Newfoundland’s, which fished itself out of existence some years ago.”

John, there’s that old familiar refrain again, “... too many fishermen chasing too few fish”, overfishing, over harvesting?

No, sorry, that’s not “... an unflinching look at the realities” that’s an environmental nonprofit talking point.

This fishery is a disaster due to inadequate surveys and ambivalent assessments, plus the fact that many fishermen were put out of business by cockeyed catch share allocations and the consequent fleet consolidation imposed by NOAA’s EDF Jane Lubchenco. And it has been sustained by lawsuit threats from such enviro-luminaries as Conservation Law Foundation, Pew, Oceana, Center for Biological Diversity, and the Natural Resources Defense Council, to name a few.

Fishermen’s troubles are a direct result of mismanagement: inadequate science, NOAA’s single species approach to a complex multi-species fishery, and then, of course, our beloved “returning profitability to fishermen” catch shares system — a disastrous campaign to privatize and turn the fish resource into a Wall Street commodity at the expense and demise of working fishermen.

Additionally, NOAA has traditionally ignored environmental factors, such as climate change, predation, and natural cycles, focusing solely on managing the fishermen, not the fish in their environment. If this cod stock is indeed “collapsing,” it is certainly not due to “over harvesting” — the groundfish managers’ Total Allowable Catch has been under-harvested for years, sometimes by 75 percent, but consistently underfished by at least 50 percent.

NOAA’s responsibility goes way beyond simply being the “bearer of tidings.” NOAA has now micro-managed the fishermen almost completely out of existence. These “troubles” are not caused by coastal small boat fishing operations following a business plan of “over harvesting.” NOAA, steered by the environmental nonprofits, has mismanaged this groundfishery for decades.

Simplistic Maximum Sustainable Yield management of a complex multi-species groundfishery has contributed greatly to the undermining of stock stability. MSY jeopardizes a stock’s reproductive ability by encouraging the take of large prolific egg bearing fish, and then estimating stock population health by counting the recruitment of juveniles. It is the large mature fish in the stock population that influences stock stability and health. Managing from the MSY perspective does nothing but remove large fish from the stock, replacing them with a large class of young fish which assures stock population volatility.

As for Newfoundland’s cod fishery, it was shut down in 1992. But the Newfoundland cod collapse is in no way analogous to what’s going on in the dismantling of our fishery here in New England. The only parallel is perhaps between the Canadian Department of Fisheries’ faulty management posture, (i.e., inviting in Canadian and foreign industrial exploitation) and the similar posture of NOAA’s promulgation of catch shares quota management.

NOAA’s push for catch share consolidation is similar to Canada’s opening the door for exploitation by companies like Canada’s National Sea Products, Ltd., and NOAA’s push could have an even worse result of collapsing more species than just cod.

NOAA should stick to weather forecasting and navigational charting and give fisheries management over to a Department of Fisheries employing some personnel that know and care something about fishing.

RICHARD GRACHEK

Mystic, Conn.