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March 20, 2013

Science flap eyes fishing closures

In the midst of one of the epic efforts at ocean management — a more than decade-long effort to drill into the scientific intricacies of North Atlantic bottom habitat and adjust areas closed to fishing since the 1970s — a fierce skirmish has broken out between worried environmentalists and the work of independent scientists.

Standing arm in arm in opposition to opening closed areas are the Pew Environment Group, Conservation Law Foundation and Sylvia Earle, the former chief scientist at the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration who shares former NOAA Administrator Jane Lubchenco’s preference for no fishing zones.

All three advocates in recent days have prophesied doom for the fish should the New England Fishery Management Council complete its work with a modernized map of closed areas, which, according to its published timetable, could happen as soon as December 2014. That would end a scientific, governmental and scientific process that began in 2004, but in all likelihood will be delayed beyond even that date.

The process, however, has been slowed by a lawsuit by environmental groups and various crises that pushed off the study of essential fish habitat and closed areas, while the management council, an arm of NOAA that studies science and makes policy recommendations, struggled with the disappearance of cod and shortages of other bottomfish essential to the aquatic economy.

Earle’s Mission Blue Alliance and the Pew Environment Group, the foundation born of the Sun Oil fortune, use the same interactive map on their websites, and profess that an area he size of Connecticut “is at risk of serious ecological setback,” via the opening of closed areas.

Chris Kellogg, a member of the staff of the New England Fishery Management Council, explained that the process of examining each of the closed areas and then analyzing their peculiarities was enormously daunting.

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