Environmental groups raise concerns over state of New England groundfish fishery

Published on
January 16, 2019

Two environmental organizations have requested a meeting with federal officials this month over the concerns they have about groundfish stocks in New England.

Representatives from the Conservation Law Foundation and the Environmental Defense Fund sent a letter last month to Timothy Gallaudet, the assistant secretary for oceans and atmosphere in the U.S. Commerce Department, and Chris Oliver, NOAA Fisheries’ assistant administrator. The groups called for the meeting to take place before the next full meeting of the New England Fishery Management Council, which starts on 29 January in Portsmouth, New Hampshire.

While the groups claim NOAA Fisheries is rebuilding domestic fish stocks across the country, they criticize the government for failing to properly monitor Atlantic cod, flounders, and other groundfish in the northeastern United States. 

“NOAA Fisheries and the Council have consistently failed to prevent overfishing on some of these stocks since ‘overfishing’ metrics were first approved in 1989,” the letter states. “If there isn’t a radical change in management direction, the prospect of these stocks ever rebuilding remains tenuous at best.”

The groups also take federal officials to task for not having good data available. They claim the Atlantic cod stock is overfished to the point of a potential collapse, and they also say, citing government reports, that fishermen also discard tons of cod without it being officially reported by onboard observers.

They want the Council to take steps to make sure that monitors are available to be on board for 15 percent of the New England groundfish trips – the current minimum requirement – starting next year. However, with the ongoing government shutdown, they fear the workload NOAA Fisheries staff may have upon their return from furlough could keep that from happening.

“Time is running out for the New England groundfish fishery and the people who rely on it,” Environmental Defense Fund New England Director Johanna Thomas said. “We can turn this fishery around with full accountability and a cost-effective monitoring program. The tools, technology and policy exist to solve this problem, but our fisheries leaders must act now.”

The letter also was addressed to the NEFMC Chairman John Quinn, its executive director, Tom Nies, and Mike Pentony, the regional administrator for the Greater Atlantic Regional Fisheries Office.

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