SalemNews.com, Salem, MA

Opinion

February 6, 2013

Our view: Bay State's 'Sacred Cod' has become NOAA's sacred cow

With strict new limits on Gulf of Maine cod, “there’s not enough to sustain the fishery. The game is over.”

Those words from Gloucester’s Vito Giacalone, chief policy advocate for the Northeast Seafood Coalition, marked an all-too realistic assessment of the New England fishery’s 2013 prospects after the New England Fishery Management Council shamefully gave its vote of approval to new Gulf of Maine cod cuts that will limit fishermen to landing just 23 percent of this year’s quota. And there’s real irony to that.

For it was Giacalone and the coalition, more than anyone else out of Gloucester, who have tried to work with the NOAA and its catch share and sector system — often with sharp criticism even within the industry. And it was Giacalone who, when the catch share system was first coming down the pike four years ago, encouraged others to work with the agency as well.

“This (system) is coming,” Giaclone told a packed rally at City Hall that summer. “We can act like victims or rise up and figure out how to drive this thing. If you can’t stop the bus, try to drive it.”

Now, he and his coalition fishermen are indeed victims. Thanks to NOAA regional chief John Bullard’s stand against extending current guidelines, and the council’s devastating blessing of this travesty, Giacalone and all New England groundfishermen have been thrown under the proverbial bus Giacalone was talking about. An entire industry of hard-working fishing families has been devastated as NOAA and our federal Department of Commerce leadership carry out a clearly marked agenda of not only consolidating the industry for hostile, corporate takeover, but killing off the industry New England has known for centuries.

Yes, NOAA can show “scientific” data suggesting that these dire cuts — up to 77 percent for the Gulf of Maine cod catch — may be necessary. Yet NOAA also had 2008 survey data that showed many of the cod stocks were already rebuilt. And NOAA’s latest data is off an assessment model that did not include any input from fishermen, meaning it’s no more credible than the admittedly bogus data used in the “Trawlgate” fiasco of 1999-2000, when NOAA conceded its statistics were hopelessly flawed, yet still used them to set stock limits.

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