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September 10, 2013

Fisheries report boosts both sides

The National Research Council’s report on the rebuilding of U.S. fisheries released last week has provided a frenzy of we-told-you-so statements — even from those on opposite sides of the fishery management issue.

At its core, the report and it conclusions give a glimpse into the complexities of managing the nation’s fisheries in such a way that balances the needs of the commercial fishing industry while protecting fisheries and the ecosystem.

Patrick J. Sullivan, a professor at Cornell University and co-chair of the committee of scientists and researchers who contributed to the report, was asked how the report’s findings could engender so many interpretations by so many different parties involved in the fisheries management issue.

“These are very complex issues,” Sullivan said. “We want to create a livelihood and provide nutrition, all while keeping the ecosystem intact.”

The key, he said, was finding the proper balance. That might help explain why the report included morsels of positive reinforcement for parties on both sides.

NOAA gets to bask in the report’s findings that the agency’s efforts to rebuild various fish populations have been largely successful, with 43 percent of the fish stocks initially deemed overfished.

“The (report) found that rebuilding plans generally reduced fishing mortality and the stock biomass increased after reductions to fishing mortality,” the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration said in its statement responding to the report. “This is good news, but although some fish stocks have rebuilt, others are still below rebuilding targets.”

Commercial fishermen also found things to like in the report — particularly the findings that the 10-year timeline imposed by the Magnuson-Stevens Fisheries Conservation and Management Act is too rigid and could lead to inefficiencies and unnecessarily drastic cuts in quotas for individual species.

“We point out that, basing it on fishing mortality rather than biomass, and not shooting for a fixed timeline, might be a more robust way to go,” Sullivan said.

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