, Gloucester, MA

March 14, 2013

Editorial: Magnuson needs true reforms beyond flexibility

Gloucester Daily Times

---- — When Richard Burgess, one of a half-dozen Gloucester-based fishermen who outlined the many grave financial issues they’re facing, spoke of their needs to the Times for Monday’s Page 1 feature, he understandably noted three components.

One was another year’s extension of the current interim limits, which cut Gulf of Maine cod limits by 22 percent, not the industry-killing 77 percent the Northeast groundfishing fleet is facing as of May 1. And he noted potential emergency orders that NOAA Northeast administrator John Bullard says he’s not sure he can issue — caps on the accumulation of quota by large off-shore boats and corporations, and trip landing limits, so that the larger boats can’t continue to raid traditional inshore areas for cod that are the lifeblood of the Gloucester-based day boats.

There was, of course, one conspicuous need that Burgess did not specfically mention – although it would help:

It’s money. And while Congress, NOAA and the Department of Commerce should indeed ante up and grant aid to this industry they’re killing by funding a remedy to this recognized economic disaster, Burgess’ comments nonetheless spotlight the flashpoint of this growing economic crisis:

Gloucester’s and New England’s fishermen aren’t asking for handouts, they’re asking for reforms to the Magnuson-Stevens Act, and to NOAA’s fishery policies that still seem bent on driving the small independent fishing boat the way of the family farm.

Congressman John Tierney gets that, as his written comments to the House Committee on Natural Resources — now receiving testimony regarding the need for flexibility and other reforms to the Magnuson-Stevens Act — clearly show (see news story, Page 1). So does Congressman William Keating, whose district includes Cape Cod and much of Massachusetts Bay.

But it’s disturbing to hear the stands of Congressman and U.S. Senate candidate Ed Markey, who has blamed Republicans for tying up an economic disaster aid package for the industry, yet maintains there’s no need for Magnuson flexibility.

Look, if NOAA were held accountable to abiding by Magnuson — notably a provision that demands the feds consider the economic impact on fishing communities when setting other rules and limits — and if the time frames were more flexible, realistic, and backed by credible science we might not have had a disaster or need any such aid.

For now, however, Markey should take his cues from Tierney and Keating, not the environmental nonprofits, and recognize this is not a problem he can solve by throwing money at it.

Fishermen and fishing communities indeed more Magnuson flexibility – and true reforms.