GloucesterTimes.com, Gloucester, MA

May 9, 2013

Drop fish timelines, coalition chief argues

By Richard Gaines
Staff Writer

---- — Writing as an individual, the executive director of the Gloucester-based Northeast Seafood Coalition argued to a nation’s capital gathering Wednesday that the next rewrite of the Magnuson-Stevens Act should abandon the 1996 mandate to put weakened stocks on 10-year building deadlines.

Presenting a paper at a workshop during the second of the three day “Managing our Nation’s Fisheries” conference at a Washington, D.C. hotel, Jackie Odell said history has demonstrated that the science of the sea is inadequate to “project rebuilding targets and track progress during rebuilding timelines.”

The 20-stock Northeast groundfishery has been whipsawed by irreconcilable stock assessments in recent years, with Gulf of Maine cod, the stock on which the fleet — especially the day boats concentrated in Gloucester — have come to depend, going from a spawning stock biomass of 33,877 metric tons in 2008 to barely 25 percent of that estimate three years later, without the boats ever exceeding their hard catch limits.

Odell said that, as NOAA re-calibrated the landing limits needed to meet the rebuilding timeline, the results were limits on Gulf of Maine cod and across the entire groundfish complex that are so low, very few fishing businesses will be allowed to survive.

As if to reiterate Odell’s argument, in declaring that the groundfishery had devolved into a disaster, the acting Commerce Secretary last November wrote that the downward spiral had come about “despite fishermen’s adherence to catch limits intended to rebuild the stocks.”

In its third year, the conference at the Mayflower Washington Renaissance Hotel has brought together policy makers and administrators, congressional staffers and non-government organizations such as Odell’s Northeast Seafood Coalition, representing the industry, and Pew Environment Group, which allies more closely with the interests of fish than the mainstream fishermen.

With grants, Pew has made long-term investment in the Cape Cod Commercial Hook Fishermen’s Association — which has acted as its proxy where policy is concerned — and distributed more than $272 million nationally to influence fisheries policy.

Pew has taken a hard line against any weakening of the 10-year rebuilding timelines which its green allies helped influence into the 1996 rewrite of the Magnuson Act. Rebuilding plans for most groundfishery stocks were not in place until 2004.

Odell Wednesday offered an alternative to 10-year, or any rebuilding timelines.

They “should be replaced with fishing mortality rate-based strategies, which on average over the long term will rebuild a stock to biomass (that will produce) maximum sustainable yield. Such a strategy would achieve the core objective of fisheries management, to sustain commercial and recreational ‘fisheries’ while preventing overfishing.

“Such an approach would also bring greater stability to the groundfishery by focusing on current stock status and near-term projections rather than relying on long-term individual stock performance in a complex multi-species fishery during an arbitrary time frame,” Odell wrote.

In the discussion of her paper, Odell concluded that “industry is committed to rebuilding groundfish stocks,” but was frustrated by “apparently lack of common sense” in management.

She said there “needs to be a platform based on some level of certainty that the fishery can depend on,” and a recognition that “rebuilding comes at a cost” to those who are in the fishery and depend on it.

The fight over whether the next re-authorization of Magnuson, now just beginning in the House Natural Resources Committee, will surely feature a fight on whether to modify or replace the 10 year rebuilding requirements, but there will be dozens of such skirmishes between industry groups like Odell’s Northeast Seafood Coalition, which is based in Gloucester and represents more than 450 active groundfish vessels, Maine to New Jersey, and the force of the greens epitomized by the Pew Environment Group.

The Managing Our Nation’s Fisheries Conference concludes with a plenary session this morning that is available by podcast from the event’s Cvent website, or by visiting the website of the Pacific Fishery Management Council, the lead organizing agency of the conference.

Financial sponsors of the conference are NOAA, The Pew Charitable Trusts, the Walton Foundation and the Gordon and Betty Moore Foundation, as well as the American Sportfishing Association, the At-Sea Processors Association, Pacific Seafood, the Pacific Seafood Processors Association and the Groundfish Forum.

The investigative website of industry analyst Nils Stolpe reports that Pew, Walton and the Moore (Intel founders) foundations have distributed $466 million to influence fisheries policy since the last days of the Clinton administration, most of it spent during the Obama years.

Correspondent Tazwell Jones contributed reporting to this story from Washington, D.C.

Richard Gaines can be reached at 978-283-7000, x3464, or at rgaines@gloucestertimes.com.