New England’s Groundfish (mis)Management

For as long as Groundfish have been managed, it has been the policy of the New England Fisheries Management Council to enact only minimal reforms, as groups like the Northeast Seafood Coalition that fight conservation efforts at every step. So it should should come as no surprise that we’ve enjoyed recoveries that are minimal, at best, as well. Many of these minimal recoveries are largely thanks to these year round closures, and While Mr. Bullard argues that fishermen aren’t catching all of their allotted quota, I’d argue that the idea that we have the ability to assign a truly meaningful total allowable catch is laughable. Let’s not forget how that arbitrary total allowable catch is divided; it’s split up based on a given permit’s landing history between the years of 1996 and 2006. So we’re doing is rewarding the least sustainable fishing operations, the ones who have taken the most from the resource, the ones who are most responsible for the mess we’re in right now, with the largest share of the fish. All the while using a system of management whereby trip limits are no longer, and these largest and least sustainable boats are allowed to concentrate their effort on any gathering of fish, as soon as they are discovered. Let’s not forget that these are also the boats with the most mobility and therefore the least vested interest in the long term viability of specific fishing grounds. When they’ve pounded one area to the point where it’s not worth fishing anymore they can move on to another. Meanwhile, herring, mackerel and menhaden continue to be poorly managed and over-utilized by large seiners and the extremely unsustainable midwater trawlers, effectively starving the groundfish stocks we’re trying to revive.
Perhaps what’s most troubling about the current state of New England’s Groundfish industry is that it is most destructive to the smaller and medium sized boats who would make up the truly sustainable fishery of the future, were the necessary reforms enacted to facilitate such a recovery. This extreme consolidation severely limits access to the fishery to only those with enough money to buy permits with significant catch history, and the largest boats with which to catch it. The days of denial are gone. Because a person can still go out and have a decent day fishing doesn’t mean that there isn’t a problem and there’s no need for action. To the contrary, it means there’s still a resource worth defending, protecting and conserving. It means all is not lost, yet. A hundred and fifty years ago that same good day of fishing could be had in Pennobscot, Blue Hill, Jericho or Frenchman’s Bays while fishing from a small Dory. How can anyone argue that stocks have fully recovered until this is possible again? I’m concerned about this stuff not because I want to preserve fish for the sake of some romantic sense of nostalgia. I’m concerned about this stuff because it makes good ecological and economical sense. I’m young enough to actually be able to enjoy a recovered fishery, but until we start making more meaningful changes, not just business as usual, under the guise of scientific cooperation we’re never going to get there. So the closed areas should stay closed, perhaps even be expanded, or else we’ll risk erasing what minimal gains we’ve made.

By Ed Snell, Owner/Operater Rita B Offshore Fishing Charters

About newenglandwaterman

1600 Master Near Coastal, Master of Towing Vessels, and a whole binder full of other pieces of paper. You can find me at the controls, hooked up and hard over, when I'm not at home playing with the dogs
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