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May 9, 2013

Drop fish timelines, coalition chief argues

Writing as an individual, the executive director of the Gloucester-based Northeast Seafood Coalition argued to a nation’s capital gathering Wednesday that the next rewrite of the Magnuson-Stevens Act should abandon the 1996 mandate to put weakened stocks on 10-year building deadlines.

Presenting a paper at a workshop during the second of the three day “Managing our Nation’s Fisheries” conference at a Washington, D.C. hotel, Jackie Odell said history has demonstrated that the science of the sea is inadequate to “project rebuilding targets and track progress during rebuilding timelines.”

The 20-stock Northeast groundfishery has been whipsawed by irreconcilable stock assessments in recent years, with Gulf of Maine cod, the stock on which the fleet — especially the day boats concentrated in Gloucester — have come to depend, going from a spawning stock biomass of 33,877 metric tons in 2008 to barely 25 percent of that estimate three years later, without the boats ever exceeding their hard catch limits.

Odell said that, as NOAA re-calibrated the landing limits needed to meet the rebuilding timeline, the results were limits on Gulf of Maine cod and across the entire groundfish complex that are so low, very few fishing businesses will be allowed to survive.

As if to reiterate Odell’s argument, in declaring that the groundfishery had devolved into a disaster, the acting Commerce Secretary last November wrote that the downward spiral had come about “despite fishermen’s adherence to catch limits intended to rebuild the stocks.”

In its third year, the conference at the Mayflower Washington Renaissance Hotel has brought together policy makers and administrators, congressional staffers and non-government organizations such as Odell’s Northeast Seafood Coalition, representing the industry, and Pew Environment Group, which allies more closely with the interests of fish than the mainstream fishermen.

With grants, Pew has made long-term investment in the Cape Cod Commercial Hook Fishermen’s Association — which has acted as its proxy where policy is concerned — and distributed more than $272 million nationally to influence fisheries policy.

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