There are still a lot of questions and skepticism regarding the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration's plan to carry out a new cod assessment aimed at setting the limits for a fishing year that is still more than a year away, starting May 1, 2013.
And no one will know the extent of any such assessment until after the beleaguered New England Fishery Management Council meets this week in Mystic, Conn.
But there are only a couple of primary questions emanating from the idea that NOAA might — just might — be willing to step up its cooperative research by having commercial trawlers with experienced fishermen working alongside the NOAA research vessel. They are:
How soon can this project start?
Why is there even any question as to its viability?
And, assuming NOAA does finally open its door to using real, independent fishermen to help collect data, what has taken so long?
Amid all the excessive regulatory enforcement, all the scofflaw steps in pushing through its job-killing catch share management system, and all of NOAA chief Jane Lubchenco's ignoring congressional calls and mandates, the greatest root cause of the rampant distrust across the industry is the total lack of faith in the NOAA science used to put these policies and catch limits in place.
That's remained the case from the infamous 1999-2000 "Trawlgate" fiasco — when a NOAA stock assessment using the wrong nets admittedly missed hundreds of thousands of fish, yet the agency kept the data and its limits in place — to data so skewed it led NOAA leaders to essentially right their wrong, and raise the 2010 pollock catch limit for pollock by a mere 600 percent.
When she first took NOAA's wheel in 2009, Lubchenco vowed to improve what she referred to as a "dysfunctional" relationship between NOAA and New England's and America's fishermen. Yet in these three years, that relationship and NOAA itself have become more dysfunctional than ever.
The idea of having a NOAA research crew working side-by-side with a trawl led by independent fishermen is a very real chance for Lubchenco, NOAA and the New England Council to take a major step toward an assessment that would, at long last, likely carry the credibility the fishermen and fishing communities deserve.
Don't hesitate, folks. Make this happen.