The relatively rare, unified stand by all eight U.S. fishery management councils calling for more flexibility within the Magnuson-Stevens Act may not make a whit’s bit of difference for fishermen and waterfront businesses in Gloucester and elsewhere.
That’s because these councils, which can make proposals and advise NOAA leaders on fishery policies, can’t affect anything beyond that, as local fishermen, waterfront business owners and even state and federal lawmakers have come to know all too well. NOAA Northeast Administrator John Bullard paid no mind to the New England Council’s recommendation for a second year of more reasonable cod limits, before standing by the cuts of up to 78 percent that are now in place — just as his predecessor, Patricia Kurkul, more than once overruled council votes of 16-1 when she was the “one.”
But in taking their announced, united stand at the start of a three-day fishery management conference in the nation’s capital, the eight councils — who deal with vastly different fishing worlds and issues from here to Alaska — have sent a clear signal not only to NOAA, but to the giant nonprofit organizations like the Pew Environment Group, which, like its allies, continues to carry far too much weight on these councils regarding fisheries issues, and which is a primary financial sponsor of this week’s supposedly neutral, NOAA-led conference.
And it is a stand that should at least make NOAA and its parent Department of Commerce sit up and take notice that, indeed, the fishing regulatory system is badly broken and in need of repair.
The Magnuson “flexibility” issue largely focuses on the time lines set within the federal fishing statute for the recognized rebuilding of the fish stocks. But the need for increased flexibility — supported now by not only the eight fishery councils, but by a vast majority of coastal lawmakers with the glaring exception of U.S. Senate hopeful Ed Markey — merely stands as a centerpiece for the kinds of reforms that struggling fishermen need, and that Congress should consider heading into the law’s proposed reauthorization.
We can only hope that, at long last, that important message will be heard.