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March 5, 2013

'Phantom' discards seen skewing fish quotas

Fishing discards seen skewing allocations

Calculating discards, an essential component in the fishery management system, has evolved into a knot of absurdities which helps explain the poor quality of NOAA fisheries science, says David Goethel, a commercial fisherman and member of the New England Fishery Management Council.

Because only a fraction of the fishing trips are monitored for NOAA by private contractors, whose employees keep records of the number and weight of the fish discarded, their calculations are then extrapolated and applied universally no matter what fish are targeted and what fish are discarded.

Worse still, Goethel has written in a letter to top officials of the agency, it is a practical impossibility for these monitors to get true weights while a boat is rolling and pitching on the high seas. Yet, those projected weights work their way into the stock assessment system and bias the conclusions, distorting the findings about the profile of stocks and even their overall vitality, Goethel says.

In a technical letter to William Karp, director of the NOAA Science Center at Woods Hole, John Bullard, NOAA’s Northeast regional administrator, and Rip Cunningham, chairman of the New England Fishery Management Council, Goethel analyzes the flaws in the incumbent system of attempting to determine discards which is anchored to the system of at sea monitors on a fraction of the commercial trips.

He proposes abandoning at-sea monitors completely and instead suggests requiring all fish brought on board to be landed at the dock where monitors would weigh the “discards” and the fishermen would be paid for the fish that would become the possession of the monitoring companies, but no longer would be charged against the allocation of the fisherman.

“If you want compliance,” wrote Goethel, “ you have to have rules that benefit fishermen. Paying fishermen without removing the fish from the annual catch limit, will turn a loss into a reward. Maybe then we can get accurate information on catch which will benefit the entire process with minimal cost.”

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