Oceana: Proposed rule puts groundfish fishery's future at risk

Published on
March 22, 2016

A new proposed rule set to affect the ways in which the New England groundfish fishery calculates the level of observer coverage for fishing trips has raised questions and concerns within the NGO sector.

The National Marine Fisheries Service published a proposed rule as of 21 March that would drop monitoring levels in the New England groundfish fishery from 24 percent to 14 percent, leaving 86 percent of fishing trips unobserved, according to Oceana.

When transitioning to a new management program five years ago, one that divided the New England groundfish fishery into “catch sectors,” the fishing industry agreed to fund its own monitoring. Until last year, the federal government funded the at-sea monitoring of the fishery, but the burden of paying for monitoring shifted to fishing boat owners this year, creating cost concerns that prompted the New England Fishery Management Council to approve a measure last year to cut down on monitoring, which ultimately lead to the proposed rule offered up this week.

The proposed rule does little to recognize the "disaster" poised to unfold for the industry, said Oceana fisheries campaign manager Gib Brogan.

“The New England groundfish fishery is on the brink of collapse. Instead of recognizing this looming disaster and helping fishermen move towards a more sustainable future, this proposed rule would instead weaken the chances of recovery for this historic fishery,” Brogan said.

Brogan said the presence of observers was necessary to ensure proper protocol is followed.

“Observers on fishing vessels are crucial for accurately estimating how many fish are caught, including what’s thrown back overboard, as well as helping to make sure fishing stays within limits so populations can rebuild in the future," Brogan said. "There is ample evidence showing that fishing behavior on observed and unobserved trips is different. Considering the dire state of our stocks like cod, we need confidence that every fish is counted and accounted for. There isn’t any room for error.”

The future of the New England groundfish fishery is at risk of being compromised by the proposed rule, Brogan said.

“This risky proposal shows a callous disregard for conservation and a fundamentally irresponsible management style that the fisheries of this region cannot afford. We need the Fisheries Service to do its job as a steward of this fishery and reject this half-baked attempt to build a cheaper monitoring option at the expense of the population,” he said.

The public can review and comment on the proposed rule for 15 days, beginning 21 March. The agency is pushing for updated regulations to be enacted by 1 May.

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