GloucesterTimes.com, Gloucester, MA

April 25, 2013

Fish panel eyes changes, declines 'interim' call

By Richard Gaines
Staff Writer

---- — Acknowledging climate regime change, notably fast warming water in the once fish-rich Northwest Atlantic, the New England Fishery Management Council Wednesday approved a trio of changes in deciding how catch limits are calculated, outlined earlier by biologist and commercial fisherman David Goethel.

The council agreed with near unanimity to motions derived by Goethel from his March 4 letter to the council which cited six peer-reviewed scientific journal articles that together, he wrote, “demonstrate that the current management program will guarantee the destruction of the groundfish fleet with negligible benefits to the fish.”

At its three day meeting in Mystic, Conn., the council, a policy advisory arm of the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration, also voted to:

”Map changes to spawning sites and the general distribution of all groundfish” and the impact on the long-term yield from the waters of the Gulf of Maine and Georges Bank as well as the waters of Cape Cod and Southern New England;

”Consider the development of an ecosystem management plan for a priority in 2014; and,

“Calculate new “biological reference points” – the foundation of fishermen’s catch limits — and put them to use as available to modify existing catch limits.

David Pierce, the council representative for Massachusetts and the state’s deputy director of marine fisheries, described Goethel as a “Copernicus,” a reference to the Renaissance astronomer who theorized that the earth circulated the sun, rather than serving as the center of the universe as the Church had always insisted.

Unsuccessful were two other motions by Goethel, a biologist from Hampton,. N.H., who will complete his third three-year council term – the maximum allowed — at its June meeting.

The council, on a 7-10 vote, refused his motion to petition the Secretary of Commerce to approve one year “interim” rebuilding plans for a number of stocks, with those landings to be severely constrained beginning May 1 — next Wednesday. Gulf of Maine cod landings are slated to be reduced by 77 percent, Georges Bank cod and yellowtail flounder by more than 60 percent and many other stocks’ availability also will be curtailed.

The council tabled another motion by Goethel that would have had the council send “a letter to Congress to educate them about the exigent environmental circumstances that have occurred off the New England coast in regards to a new warm water regime,” and “request” congressional guidance on how to deal with “circumstances not anticipated” by the Magnuson-Stevens Act.

The council today is scheduled to discuss what it wanted Congress to consider in the reauthorization of Magnuson, a process that might take years and has just begun in the House Natural Resources Committee.

Congressman and U.S. Senate candidate Edward Markey is the ranking Democrat on the committee, but has tacked more closely with environmentalists’ views in the difficult balance between fish and fishermen.

In the debate Tuesday night between Markey and U.S. Rep. Stephen Lynch, contending for the Democratic nomination in the special election to fill Secretary of State and former Sen. John Kerry’s seat, Lynch said, “I am with the fishermen; you are with the fish.” Markey has argued that the Magnuson Act contains all the flexibility needed to allow for management adaptations to circumstances.

The interim rule on Gulf of Maine cod for 2012, which authorized only a reduction of overfishing, rather than the end of overfishing within the 10 year rebuilding plan,. kept the reduction in landings to 22 percent, a figure that, without a second interim action beginning May 1, will rise to a debilitating 77 percent cut. Despite pressure from the top elected state officials, Gov. Deval Patrick, Attorney General Martha Coakley and more than 60 state lawmakers — including many from landlocked districts — Gloucester-based NOAA Regional Administrator John Bullard has said the final rule containing catch limits the year beginning May 1 will not be modulated with another interim action. Publication of the catch plan for 2013 is overdue.

Goethel began his presentation Wednesday noting that ,in reducing overcapacity, 750 boats and many more fishing jobs have been eliminated in recent years, leaving a paltry 135 boats still fishing.

”We’ve solved overcapacity,” he said, “yet the decline in productivity” of the ecosystem which began in 2000 continues. He said the research he’s studied pointed to geography at the foundation of climate change. “We are at the bottom of the northern range, and the top of the southern range” of home to the 20 stocks in the groundfish complex.

”Stocks,” Goethel wrote, “rebuild in environmental and ecological time based on natural changes in community structure and the interplay with a dynamic climate, which occurs with or without fishery management, and certainly does not and cannot adhere to legislative-based rebuilding periods.”

The decline in landings and catch limits since the groundfishery shifted to a catch share commodity system in 2010 brought a declaration of a fishery disaster from the acting Commerce Secretary last September.

Richard Gaines can be reached at 978-283-7000, x3464, or at rgaines@gloucestertimes.com.