GloucesterTimes.com, Gloucester, MA

January 1, 2013

NOAA report spotlights 'underfishing'

By Richard Gaines
Staff Writer

---- — In her resignation letter Dec. 12, NOAA administrator Jane Lubchenco listed among her accomplishments “returning fishing to profitability.”

But the Northeast groundfishery, declared a disaster in September, was operated at only 41 percent of authorized potential in 2011, a new NOAA Science Center study reports.

The study, titled “2011 Final Report on the Performance on the Northeast Multispecies (Groundfish) Fishery (May 2011-April 2012),” is a technical and wide-ranging study that evaluates the “economic and social performance” of the functioning of the catch share trading system in place since May 2010 members of the 20 sectors or fishing cooperatives.

The report also covered boats that were excluded due to a lack of catch history on their permits, and remained in the common pool, operating independently under the previous regimen based on effort controls measured primarily by limiting the number of allowed days at sea.

These fishermen landed only 1 percent of groundfish in a system that was aimed at discouraging participation in the common pool, and were reported to have shifted their attention to stocks and species outside the groundfish complex.

The extreme degree to which the beneficial participants in the catch share commodity market system failed to land the allowable totals was reported in the middle of a paragraph on transactional costs.

”Because only 41 percent of the total allocated ACE (annual catch entitlements)/PSC (potential sector contribution) in 2011 was caught and less than 80 percent of these allocations were caught for 9 of the 16 stocks ... it might seem that the potential for efficiency gains for improving lease markets is large,” the social scientist at the NOAA Science Center wrote.

The comment referred readers to a table showing that, in the 2011 fishing cycle ending April 20, 2012, the industry was allowed to catch 172,111,201 pounds of mix groundfish — according to both the ACE and PSC, effectively the total allowable catch. But fishermen only landed 70,059,346 pounds — or 40.7 percent of the allowed limit.

The dramatic extent of the underfishing was the predicted outcome of many figures associated with the groundfishing industry, including Congressman Barney Frank, who did not run for re-election in 2012, Brian Rothschild, a founder of the University of Massachusetts-Dartmouth’s School of Marine Science and Technology, Vito Giacalone, policy director of the Northeast Seafood Coalition and President of the Gloucester Fishing Community Preservation Fund or permit bank, and Gloucester fisheries attorney Stephen Ouellette.

“There is a failure to take into account the mixed-species nature of the fishery in current management regulations,” Rothschild testified the House Natural Resources Subcommittee on Insular Affairs, Oceans and Wildlife on April 22, 2010. “Unless this is changed, catch-share management will only propagate ongoing underfishing and by-catch waste.

According to the Science Center report, only 11 to 12 percent of Georges Bank haddock was landed in 2011, 34 percent of redfish, and 50 percent of haddock.

Even cod, the stock whose downward turn in the arc of its restoration has brought the industry toward a potentially catastrophic fishing year in 2013, was under-harvested in 2011.

Fishermen landed only 83 percent of the George’s Bank cod east, along the “transboundary” line with Canada, and 70 percent of the allocation for the western section of George’s. In the Gulf of Maine, only 85 percent of the allocation was landed — and NOAA reduced the allocation by 22 percent in 2012, the fishing year that runs through April 30, 2013. The 22 percent reduction was an interim emergency measure aimed at giving the industry one more year of viability while rewriting the recovery plan that would eliminate overfishing immediately.

The groundfishery was declared a disaster in September by acting Commerce Secretary Rebecca Blank, and based on the finding, the congressional delegations for the five coastal New England states and New York were attempting to push a $100 million relief appropriation for the groundfishery through Congress before the session ends at midnight tonight.

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