The New England Fishery Management Council, not to mention fishermen out of Gloucester and across the region, have a new obstacle to face when they begin the new fishing year next Tuesday. And this one's spawned from a NOAA decision that may truly mark a new low, even for an agency with virtually no credibility left.
The National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration has declared the Atlantic sturgeon as an endangered species, and that bodes badly for fishermen across the region.
It's not that New England fishermen are illegally hauling in a lot of sturgeon. But the declaration also means that fishermen cannot haul up sturgeon in their bycatch — the fish that nets accidentally snag when fishermen are targeting other species. And that may mean dire new limits on the catches for other species in the sturgeon's habitat, which ranges up and down the Atlantic coast.
Now, you might think that, to issue the endangered declaration, NOAA would have solid data regarding the sturgeon population, indicating the need for such a job- and even industry-killing step.
But this is NOAA — and you would think wrong.
In fact, NOAA has never undertaken a stock assessment for sturgeon, regional council members were told Tuesday. The agency declared it endangered when acting on a petition by the Natural Resources Defense Council. And to top it off, sturgeon are a resilient lot; according to NOAA's own numbers, sturgeon's bycatch survival rate is remarkably high, at 80 percent from gillnets and 95 percent for those hauled up in trawl nets.
The fact is, lawmakers simply cannot allow NOAA to set any new limits based on any supposed endangerment that cannot be documented.
NOAA's science is bad enough; this is pure science fiction, and lawmakers should recognize it as nothing more.