It shouldn’t come as any surprise that the nation’s largest scallop industry organization has found NOAA’s approach to determining the status of the yellowtail flounder to be essentially worthless.
On one hand, many critics might only expect a fishing industry to raise questions regarding NOAA’s stock gathering system, whether for groundfish, scallops or just about anything else.
More importantly, however, there seems little question that the lawyers for the Fisheries Survival Fund are right – just as are other fishermen and industry groups that have raised these issues in the past.
While NOAA officials continue to tout their data collection and the computer models generally used to project the health of most seafood stocks, the truth is that NOAA’s assessment have indeed raised so many questions that they have virtually no credibility at all — dating to the infamous “Trawlgate” fiasco at the turn of the new century, when NOAA’s scientists had to concede the study used the wrong nets, likely missing hundreds of thousands of fish, yet stood by their data to shamefully set low catch limits based on the admittedly flawed numbers.
Then there were the 2010 assessments in which NOAA’s pollock science was so precise that the agency felt the need to raise fishermen’s total allowable catch by a mere 600 percent — and the 2011 Gulf of Maine cod data report, which NOAA is using to cut fishermen’s anual quota this year by 22 percent, despite dire questions over the validity of numbers obtained through the use of a new research vessel and new equipment.
In the Fisheries Survival Fund case, the letter — sent by attorneys Drew E. Minkiewicz and David E. Frulla, with the Washington, D.C., office of the firm Kelley Drye & Warren, to Bill Karp, the new director of NOAA’s Northeast Fisheries Science Center — provides a harsh analysis of government’s effort to determine the status of the yellowtail, an important staple of the groundfishing fleet and a common bycatch in scallop hauling.
In a nutshell, the group urges NOAA to scrap its commitment to projection through “computer models” in favor of “field research.” And that field research, of course, would mean giving more credence to the actual research trawls.
With all due respect to the Fisheries Survival Fund, however, we would take its call a step farther.
If indeed NOAA wants to restore any credibility to its stock assessments — as industry leaders and lawmakers have noted in the past — it must present data based on cooperative trawl studies carried out with working fishermen on board.
It’s time to fix this badly broken system — pronto.