Bipartisan congressional pressure continues to build on Secretary of Commerce John Bryson for emergency action buffering New England's fishing fleet from potential drastic catch limits some fear could emanate from a dire new assessment of the status of Gulf of Maine cod.
In the aftermath of the peer-reviewed assessment released Dec. 1 in near final draft form, seven U.S. representatives — including Massachusetts fishing port Democrats John Tierney, who represents Gloucester, and Barney Frank, whose district includes New Bedford — have now joined U.S. Sens. John Kerry and Olympia Snowe of Maine in urging emergency action authorized by the Magnuson-Stevens Act and questioning the cod survey results.
Others to join their call are Rep. Bill Keating for Cape Cod, and Reps. Frank Guinta of New Hampshire, and Mike Michaud and Chellie Pingree of Maine. All signed onto a letter sent to Bryson last Friday implying that the new cod results, which contradict a three-year old benchmark assessment using the same methodologies and the empirical reports of fishermen, are wrong.
"Yes, we have received letters from Sen. Kerry, Sen. Snowe and other members of the New England delegation," NOAA spokesman Justin Kenney said Tuesday in an email to the Times. "We are currently preparing our responses to these letters, including the request to conduct a new stock assessment for Gulf of Maine cod.
"Also, we continue to talk to fishermen and other members of the public about this challenging issue," he added. "In addition to a public meeting in Portsmouth earlier this month, we launched a website dedicated to the Gulf of Cod issue (via http://www.nero.noaa.gov/) and pledge to be as transparent and proactive as possible."
Tierney, Frank and their colleagues joined Kerry in urging Bryson to order a new assessment, noting that the disputed findings will likely lead to dramatic restrictions on cod landings and — because of the tightly mixed nature of the groundfish stocks — bar fishermen from pursuing fish such as haddock, which suffer no overfishing, according to National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration's own figures.