, Salem, MA

December 18, 2013

Our view: Fish panel must heed community impact

The Salem News

---- — The New England Fisheries Management Council’s monthly meeting, a three-day session that began Monday in Danvers, holds immense potential for creating important new guidelines for fishermen out of Gloucester and elsewhere to move forward.

Yet, this council — a policy arm of NOAA that is supposed to bring the input of fishermen, federal government officials and the environmental community to the same table, but too often fails the fishermen — could also bury small, largely independent fishing fleets such as Gloucester’s once and for all.

But the means to avoiding that latter scenario are very basic. In considering its next moves regarding a revised groundfish stocks rebuilding plan, or any reconfiguring of open and closed areas with an eye toward sustaining the fisheries habitat, the council must heed the oft-ignored provisions of the Magnuson Stevens Act that require the economic impact of any rules and policies on the fishing industry and fishing communities be an important factor in any determinations.

While legitimacy questions cloud any NOAA science-driven policies derived from projections and trawl studies with minimal, if any, input from fishermen, it’s hard to dismiss the comments from Jackie Odell, executive director of the Northeast Seafood Coalition, who noted that some stock assessments “have been really poor.” To that end, however, Odell and the coalition have called for the council to adopt management strategies beyond the existing stock assessment models that have clearly played a role in the groundfishing industry’s federally recognized — though still unfunded — “economic disaster.”

The council, of course, does not have the clout it and NOAA officials would have the American public believe. As NOAA Northeast administrator and council member, John Bullard essentially has a form of veto power most famously demonstrated in 2009 when then-administrator Pat Kurkul — the lone dissenter in a 16-1 council vote on an interim rule — ignored the vote and still put the rule in place.

Yet, by adhering to the Magnuson Stevens community impact standards and supporting the Northeast Seafood Coalition proposals, this council can finally right fishing’s regulatory ship and chart a course for a sustainable future. Let’s hope that’s the case.