The senior counsel for the Conservation Law Foundation may be arguing for all the wrong reasons, but he makes a valid point:
When it comes to the 2013 Gulf of Maine commercial cod fishing season, which begins May 1, the New England Fishery Management Council and NOAA might be better off simply shutting down the fishery than going forward with its current cut of up to 77 percent in fishermen’s allowable catch.
For the cuts are so dire in that stock, especially, that the limit will likely cover only the cod bycatch that fishermen haul up while targeting other species. And that will mean fishermen — perhaps after a trip or two at the start of the new fishing year, will not be able to target Gulf of Maine cod at all over the coming year, or in 2014, when these industry-killing limits are pegged to remain in place.
That was not the reason cited by Conservation Law Foundation senior counsel Peter Shelley in his newsletter posting out of last month’s regional council meeting. Shelley, of course, writes that “recent assessments showed stocks at the lowest levels and declining rapidly. The fish just aren’t there anymore” — clearly accepting the latest NOAA assessment dat a, even though the data is being widely questioned by fishermen, and even though NOAA’s “scientific” assessment, as usual, included no input or cooperative research from rank and file fishermen who know the business.
Yet, New Hampshire groundfisherman David Goethel, at the January fishery management council meeting, argued for the same thing: a cod fishery shutdown.
Why? Because he recognized that, while the coming dire limits will essentially have the same practical effect, a full shutdown of the iconic New England cod fishery — based on highly questionable assessment data, and under a catch share management system that’s already killing fishing businesses and other waterfront jobs — would finally get the attention of congressional leaders and administration officials who would recognize that NOAA and the Department of Commerce are killing one of the nation’s historic industries and boosting America’s trade deficit in seafood past the 90 percent mark. And maybe, just maybe, they would finally see the need to act – either through extending federal aid to address the Northeast fishery “economic disaster” recognized by Commerce, or, even better, through reforming NOAA management policies and letting fishermen fish within more viable yet clearly sustainable limits.
Yes, shutting down the cod fishery sounds like a drastic measure – and it is. But it’s little or no more drastic than the limits that are due to take effect in May. And it’s one option the council should at least reconsider.