The Northeast Seafood Coalition scored a significant victory this week when it helped fight off additional fishery closures related to what it regarded as unwarranted efforts to protect the harbor porpoise.
Now, the Gloucester-based industry group is gearing up for the next potential threat to the already-reeling Northeast groundfish industry: the Habitat Omnibus Amendment.
“It’s all about habitat,” NSC executive director Jackie Odell said when asked what’s next on the coalition’s agenda.
And with good reason.
The crafting of the Habitat Omnibus Amendment ultimately will determine the specific areas of the ocean that will be open to fishermen in the Northeast multispecies fishery. The modifications are expected to take effect in the winter of 2015.
It is an extraordinarily complex process, now moving into its sixth year. It is heavily driven by science and varying perspective — and thus often rife with the contention and disagreement that have emerged as the hallmarks of the effort to sustain and govern the American commercial fishing industry.
The coalition has submitted its public comments to the council that, at least in part, underscore those differences. They include:
“Any habitat area considered for protecting spawning or juvenile fish should be developed for a future management action.
First, the (Closed Area Technical Team) work has appeared very late in the amendment process. There has been inadequate time for stakeholders to participate and react to these alternatives that will impose great hardship for many fishing businesses.
Second, there is serious concern with the scientific information and data being used to identify and justify such areas.
Third, in many cases, the alternatives put forth by CATT conflict with the efforts of stakeholders over the years to work closely together to craft thoughtful alternatives in the amendment.”
Existing and future spawning and seasonal closures should be closed to all gear capable of catching groundfish.
“For instance, disallowing commercial fishing for the purpose of protecting groundfish, promoting rebuilding and spawning while simultaneously allowing open access to these areas by the recreational fishery, which has been allocated 34 percent and 38 percent of Gulf of Maine haddock and cod stocks respectively, is wrong.”
“The scientific data used by CATT is highly questionable. Many believe it has not been scientifically proven that there is a valid correlation between juvenile fish and habitat types.”
“We’re at a critical stage,” Odell said. “The council is coming to end of the process.”
At its late November meeting in Newport, R.I., the New England Fisheries Management Council is expected to select “preferred alternatives” for habitat openings and closures in the Northeast multispecies fishery.
Those alternatives will be presented in a series of public hearings in the beginning of 2014, with the council voting on the its final amendment some time in April. That amendment then will go to the Secretary of Commerce for implementation.
Sean Horgan may be contacted at 978-283-7000 x3464, or email@example.com. Follow him on Twitter at @SeanGDT