It's certainly good to hear that, with a six-month interim rule poised to deliver Gloucester and New England's fishermen a 22 percent cut in their Gulf of Maine cod catch, NOAA officials are willing to carry out a new cod "assessment" with an eye toward resetting limits for 2013.
But it's troubling to learn that the "extent" of the new, accelerated assessment won't be outlined until after the New England Fishery Management Council meets later this month.
To have any legitimate credibility, any such new study must be a full new benchmark assessment, with a complete new trawl survey, not merely an updating of data collected for the disputed survey of 2010-11. Any such survey must include active participation on the party of active, independent fishermen — not just those who are tied to the council or draw financial support from the nonprofit foundations or other groups who have conspired to drive the smaller, independent boats to the brink of economic extinction.
The fact that the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration intends to carry out a new survey at all at least acknowledges the agency's science credibility problems.
Yes, it would have been nice if NOAA administrator Jane Lubchenco had heeded the call from U.S. Sen John Kerry and others to launch a new cod assessment as soon as the 2011 report was issued — and before any limits were set for the coming fishing years, which starts May 1.
Lubchenco and other NOAA officials should have put any changes for the coming year on hold, pending a new study.
The fact that the agency has set the new limits at a 22 percent cut from the current year gives the 2010 survey and 2011 report more credibility than they may deserve.
The prospect of a new assessment indeed gives NOAA the chance to carry out a survey and assessment that can indeed be seen as credible by the industry and lawmakers alike. Yet any such survey — and, by extension, any viable 2013 limits — will only be seen as credible with fishermen's input for a thorough new benchmark study.
Anything short of that will loom as more of the same — and that should be unacceptable for al.