By Sean Horgan
---- — He had already finished preparing his testimony last week for the congressional committee on the re-authorization of the Magnuson-Stevens Act when the National Research Council report on rebuilding fish stocks fell into his lap like manna from heaven.
With that, Gloucester’s Vito Giacalone went to Washington with a little more credibility in his Wednesday testimony before the House Committee on Natural Resources.
“I thought (the NRC report) was notable enough to take up a portion of my five minutes,” Giacalone said Thursday of his testimony. “Who cares what ‘Guido’ has to say? They want to know what the NRC has to say.”
Clearly, the committee wanted to hear exactly what Giacalone had to say, both as a long-time commercial fisherman and as policy director for the Gloucester-based Northeast Seafood Coalition.
But it also didn’t hurt the coalition’s cause that many of the conclusions of the recently released NRC report dovetailed nicely with what Giacalone wanted to impart to the committee members — particularly on issues related to scientific uncertainty and the need for more flexibility in managing stocks.
“The basic management strategy set forth in (Magnuson-Stevens) places demands on science that far exceed its capacity in the case of Northeast groundfish,” Giacalone testified. “In many ways, it feels like our fishery is the poster child for their findings and recommendations.”
The NRC report’s findings, which also complimented NOAA in its efforts to rebuild U.S. fish stocks, highlighted the limitations of the science used in the rebuilding and questioned the value of the 10-year timelines imposed by Magnuson-Stevens.
“A time frame-based rebuilding strategy depends on relative stability and, thus, predictability of population parameters that cannot be controlled,” Giacalone told the committee. “In our fishery, none of that stability exists.”
Giacalone and the other half-dozen scientists and researchers testifying before the committee agreed that, overall, Magnuson-Stevens has provided effective management of the nation’s fisheries. But they also agreed there are areas in which the law could be strengthened.
“If we are to succeed in managing these stocks to achieve a sustainable resource and a sustainable fishery, then we will need fundamental revisions of (Magnuson-Stevens) as part of a longer-term strategy,” Giacalone testified.
Specifically, Giacalone told the committee members, the nation’s eight regional fishery councils, including the New England Regional Fisheries Management Council, should be empowered to implement alternative rebuilding strategies.
Speaking directly to the instability of the Gulf of Maine and Georges Bank ecosystems, Giacalone said: “The Georges Bank and Gulf of Maine marine ecosystems are highly dynamic and perhaps less stable an environment than was contemplated in statute or reflected in [NOAA’s] interpretations and implementation.”
The critical point, he testified, is the need for stability.
“So there is good cause to provide the council with the flexibility to implement alternative management strategies that are not entirely founded on traditional stock assessments,” Giacalone testified.
Then he closed his testimony with a cold measure of the reality faced by New England commercial fishermen and the communities in which they live.
“All of the long-term policy improvements in the world aren’t going to matter much if there aren’t any of us still standing when they are implemented,” Giacalone testified. “We are in the midst of a crisis that needs immediate attention. Nothing short of an appropriation for disaster relief will build a bridge sufficient to sustain the fishing industry in New England.”
Sean Horgan may be contacted at 978-283-7000 x3464, or email@example.com. Follow him on Twitter at @SeanGDT