The announcement by NOAA Northeast Administrator John Bullard that the agency is looking to open up portions of long-closed groundfishing areas primarily off Cape Cod and Nantucket area may seem like a viable gesture in the wake of the job- and industry-killing Gulf of Maine cod limit cuts and the tight clamps on other stocks that took effect May 1.
But, as today’s Page 1 story notes, the changes will offer little or nothing to the small independent groundfishing boats that make up the vast majority of Gloucester’s embattled fishing fleet. And even more aggravating, limited openings such as this — especially considering NOAA’s anticipated mandate that all trips into such areas, all two-or-three day ventures from Gloucester, will require the fishermen to pick up the cost of mandated on-board federal monitors at roughly $600 per day.
That, needless to say, is hardly the way to address the needs of a fishery that has been in a government-recognized “economic disaster’ now for nearly a year, with not a dime of aid being funneled this way to address it. And if Bullard really wanted to provide at least some cooperative help to Gloucester’s and New England’s groundfishermen, he or Department of Commerce officials could have and would have taken other emergency steps long before now.
Those include ordering caps on the accumulation of quota by large off-shore boats and corporations, and installing trip landing limits, so that the larger boats — the beneficiaries of these potential openings as well — can’t continue to raid traditional inshore areas for cod that are the lifeblood of the Gloucester-based day boats.
The real help — the aid that fishermen and other ravaged waterfront owners need — will likely not come from NOAA at all.
It should come from federal court, where state Attorney General Martha Coakley has filed a well-grounded lawsuit citing specific NOAA wrongdoing in ignoring provisions of its own Magnuson-Stevens Act while also failing to use legitimate science advancements to assess fish stocks. And it should come from Congress, which must get behind a push from Congressman John Tierney and end the grotesque abuse of money from seafood import tariffs, which should go to marketing local seafood and fishermen’s aid under the 1954 Saltonstall-Kennedy Act, yet has long been siphoned off into NOAA’s operations budget.
Opening portions of the closed areas? That’s nice, John — but a far cry from the changes fishermen truly need and deserve.