GloucesterTimes.com, Gloucester, MA

September 10, 2013

Fisheries report boosts both sides

By Sean Horgan
Staff Writer

---- — 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.

That was music to the collective ears of the folks at the Gloucester-based Northeast Seafood Coalition, which wasted no time in highlighting that particular finding while developing its own response to the 282-page report.

“As we continue to digest the report, we are very pleased to see a variety of third-party findings that mirror what our organization and our fishermen have been saying for a number of years,” Northeast Seafood Coalition executive director Jackie Odell said in a statement.

Most specifically, according to Odell, the report trumpeted the coalition’s and fishermen’s long-held position that there is a greater need for management flexibility in the Northeast groundfish fishery to account for shifting environmental and ecological conditions, as well as “the inherent limitations of science and a mismatch between policymakers’ expectations for scientific precision and the complex dynamics of the ecosystem.”

The timing of the report couldn’t have been better for the coalition’s Vito Giacalone.

Giacalone, the coalition’s policy director, is scheduled to testify in Washington Wednesday before the U.S. House’s Natural Resources committee regarding the re-authorization of Magnuson-Stevens. Not surprisingly, he will hammer home those portions of the report that identify areas of the current federal law that produce instability and uncertainty in the nation’s fisheries.

“This scientific unpredictability and dramatic swings in perceived stock have completely confounded fishery management and every aspect of our fishing industry and community,” Giacalone said in a portion of his testimony released in advance by the coalition. “We are perilously close to losing the oldest fishery in America, which was at the core of our colonial economy four centuries ago and is still at the core of our communities today.”

Sean Horgan may be contacted at 978-283-7000 x3464, or shorgan@gloucestertimes.com. Follow him on Twitter at @SeanGDT