No time for a remodel?
Monday,30 January,2012 14:52:09
It appears that NMFS may have to tweak its policy from using the best available science to the most recently available science.
A 2008 study showed a very optimistic outlook for Northeast cod, which jived with what fishermen were reporting. But the most recent stock study indicates a drastically different picture of the stock, which is in sharp contrast with what fishermen are reporting.
When so many livelihoods are caught in the balance between contradictory assessments, managers must take care rather than taking drastic measures.
Unexplainable swings in a biomass that fishermen have been avoiding in order to allow it to rebuild on the 10-year guideline are not the best available science.
The current assessment saddles the entire industry, from bureaucrats to managers to fishermen, with question marks that could bring down entire communities.
The catch shares program has wreaked havoc with small fishing businesses. Those prospering are businesses large enough to amass choke species quota. And now we are looking at yet another sound blow to the smaller boats.
NOAA director Jane Lubchenco has promised to take fishing families and economic effects into account when moving forward with measures the council and NMFS are legally required to take to keep the stock on its rebuilding deadline of 2014, which the assessment predicts would not be possible even with a total shutdown.
The New England council's Science and Statistical Committee opted not to ratify the assessment, which will hopefully lend the council some flexibility in how it responds.
For the long term, groundfish fishermen can only hope that NMFS and the New England council can work to preserve working waterfronts while improving stock assessment tools, perhaps using sonar instead of modeling based on trawl surveys. Time will tell if cod has proven that sound scientific methods are not always accurate.
Friday,20 January,2012 11:32:37
The big news out of Alaska this week is not snow but another perennial favorite: salmon.
The forecast is good for the Copper River, yes. But even more awe-inspiring is the decision on the part of the state's salmon processors to drop their financial support of the Marine Stewardship Council's sustainability certification.
The MSC has been at the forefront of eco-labeling and has led the charge to ease marketing and purchasing conundrums that developed as consumers were encouraged to ask whether the fish they were buying was the product of a sustainable fishery.
I can’t say enough times that American seafood is sustainably managed. It is hands down the easiest choice for consumers who want to buy only “secure” sources of food.
Whether a private advocacy group puts a fishery on a brightly colored list has no bearing on how that species is being managed in this country (and it ought not). Our management system responds to data and is gradually being exposed to more cooperative research gleaned by scientists and fishermen working together.
I don’t believe there is any likelihood that we will catch the last fish of any species. Mother Nature is smarter than we are. But I do know that if we allow fishing to become too efficient, we will do our best to bring that fishery back to a healthy population before establishing it as a viable commercial target again.
What people don’t understand when they read “overfished” on a list is that the designation does not mean the species is on the brink of total collapse or at risk of disappearing altogether. It may simply mean that it was harvested at a rate higher than it was replenishing itself.
Of course, that’s assuming fishing is the primary problem in the decline of a species. In many cases, it is not. Unfortunately, fishermen have little say over waterfront development, pollution, climate change or natural shifts in species habitats. They pay the price, nevertheless.
But maybe, just maybe, the U.S. fishing industry is on its way to having a say in how it is perceived. Kudos to Alaska’s salmon pioneers. First for recognizing the benefits of eco-labeling and now for taking the next step in the wild beyond.
Our eyes on the sound
Friday,13 January,2012 14:17:40
As I sat in the airport in Portland, Maine, this morning, ready to fly out to Maryland for the East Coast Commercial Fishermen's & Aquaculture Trade Exposition in what promises to be a sloppy mess of a snowstorm, I couldn't help but think of our friends and fellow fishermen in Cordova, Alaska.
It's been a tough road to plow in Prince William Sound this week.
Pummeled by more than 18 feet of snow, Cordova is running low on shovels and the capacity to manage the mounds that have now been covered by rainy slush that freezes when the temperatures dip again.
While most folks in town are busily shoveling snow from their roofs, a significant concern for some is the stability of boats in the harbor. They also need to be freed of the unmanageable burden of snow and ice.
The Alaska National Guard arrived on a ferry this week with a crew of 51 to help the folks in Cordova continue to dig out from under an amount of snow on that is equivalent to 20 billion gallons of water, which also has locals worried about flooding.
On my first flight this morning, the flight attendant reminded us to keep our seatbelts fastened because of the "light chop." If a little turbulence is light chop, I am not sure how to go about describing the onslaught of 18 feet of snow, slushing, melting and freezing all around.
Our thoughts are with our friends in and around Cordova this week, whose lives and livelihoods are at the mercy of winter's grip.
I can only hope that with the help of the National Guard and the Coast Guard, the hearty residents of Cordova will safely find their way through spring and back into the summer salmon season, when a light chop will feel like a relaxing dip in the water.
Friday,6 January,2012 07:50:11
Today in Raleigh, N.C., the state Assembly's Marine Fisheries Legislative Study Committee held its first public hearing session on a proposal to designate red drum, spotted seatrout and striped bass as gamefish.
The committee is the result of widespread opposition to a bill that attempted to make these fish off limits not only to commercial fishing but to any sale or barter.
So what does that mean? It means the Coastal Conservation Association-backed initiative would take these three species out of public hands and make them the sole property of the very small percentage of people who own and use recreational fishing licenses in North Carolina.
This ought not be an opportunity to pit commercial against sport fishermen. There's a large overlap between these two groups, because commercial fishermen tend to enjoy fishing of all kinds. There are cultural and economic benefits to recreational fishing businesses, as there are with commercial fishing businesses. Furthermore, I don't believe dividing fishing interests is how we get things accomplished in fishery management. We have to come to the table together instead of fighting over individual species as if they're the last scrap of protein on the supper table.
Commercial fishermen sell and barter their catch to the general public. This bill would make it illegal to do anything with these three fish except catch them yourself. That would perpetuate a dangerous idea of putting our natural resources into the hands of a few privileged people.
What would the public say if gas station owners united in a quest to sell their fuel only to a small portion of the public who owned licenses to fill up their tanks?
The CCA is publicly urging its members to fill the room for the four scheduled meetings of this committee and tout the economic benefits of recreational fishing. But this is not just about economics. It's about the culture of fishing in this country. How do we want to manage our public resources? Do we want to reserve them for a privileged few, or do we want to continue to allow our fisheries to be enjoyed equally on the public table as well as by the private sector?
I urge any member of the public to attend any of these meetings and stand for the right of any American to catch, buy or sell fish. The first takes place today and the next three are on Feb. 2, March 1 and April 5. All four meetings run from 1 p.m. to 4 p.m. in Room 643 of the Legislative Office Building in Raleigh.