SalemNews.com, Salem, MA

Opinion

October 16, 2013

Our view: Time to tap the brakes on ‘ocean zoning’

The federal Habitat Omnibus Amendment, already a confounding six years in the works, has a nice ring to it.

After all, who wouldn’t welcome new protections for our ocean habitat? Perhaps even fishermen, who’ve been at odds over various ocean preservation issues in the past, might support a package like this, given that it’s aimed — at least in theory — at the long-term, sustainable harvesting of seafood, right?

Wrong.

The truth is, this amendment, as it now stands, is so flawed it’s not worth the considerable paper on which it’s written. And the locally based Northeast Seafood Coalition, the leading voice and organizational group for the commercial fishing industry in the Northeast, is right to jump in and raise what should be very basic questions to those pushing this painfully misguided attempt at “ocean zoning,” whether federal officials and the nonprofit giants like that term or not.

In a nutshell, the proposed habitat amendment will narrow down and designate specific areas of the ocean that will be open to commercial fishermen in the Northeast fishery, perhaps as early as the winter of 2015. And it is once again a measure that would inevitably shut far too many doors on a core American industry that is already in the grips of a recognized “economic disaster” — and one created with the help of our own federal government at that.

For one thing, the coalition and other fishing groups are again raising dire questions about the credibility of the science used by what’s being called the Closed Area Technical Team. And beyond the basic science questions, coalition executive director Jackie Odell raises another significant concern: Some of the technical team’s recommendations for supposedly easing the clamps on seafood harvesting just don’t make any sense.

One of the measures, for example, would ban commercial fishing for the purpose of protecting groundfish, supposedly to promote spawning and rebuilding of stocks. Yet, the bill would simultaneously allow open access to the very same areas by recreational charter fishermen, who have been allocated 34 percent and 38 percent of Gulf of Maine haddock and cod stocks respectively.

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