BOSTON (Saving Seafood) August 24, 2012 — At a public meeting today of the New England Fishery Management Council's (NEFMC) Scientific and Statistical Committee (SSC), New Bedford Mayor John Mitchell presented a letter he and Gloucester Mayor Carolyn Kirk jointly authored asking the SSC to recommend to the New England Fisheries Management Council that no changes be made to current Annual Catch Limits (ACL) until there is confidence in the accuracy of the stock assessments.
New Bedford is the nation's most profitable fishing port, Gloucester is the nation's oldest.
After reading the letter, Mayor Mitchell expressed concern that the SSC was not considering the economic impact of their decisions. He urged that, "the SSC put the breaks on the train," adding, "if things remain in motion as they appear to be, we will lose those jobs, we will devastate fishing communities, and we will put families out of business for a long time."
On August 2, NOAA and the NEFMC estimated that several stocks in the Northeast multispecies fishery would face ACL cuts of 45% to 73% for the 2013 fishing year.
According to the mayors' letter, potential cuts to species such as cod and yellowtail flounder, are based on stock assessments that are methodologically flawed, and that there is a great amount of uncertainty regarding the health of the groundfish stocks. The Mayors recommend that the SSC keep the current ACLs in place while they conduct an end-to-end stock assessment review, looking at issues such as the data collection process, population models, reference points, and other uncertainties. The letter adds that keeping ACLs constant while the stock assessment process is reviewed is consistent with National Standard 8 of the Magnuson-Stevens Act, "which requires that conservation and management measures take into account economic and social data in order to provide for the sustained participation of, and to minimize adverse economic impacts on, fishing communities."
The Mayors also state that if the estimated ACL cuts go through, they would have a devastating effect on the economies of New Bedford and Gloucester. Each port records groundfish revenues over $20 million, and the letter estimates that, "the groundfish industry is worth a combined total of $141 million to New Bedford and Gloucester alone." In addition to affecting revenue directly from groundfish, the ACL cuts would also impact the nation's most valuable fishery, that of Atlantic scallops, which catches yellowtail flounder as bycatch. According to the mayors, the scallop industry is annually responsible for $400 million in revenue and $1.2 billion in economic activity.
Because the resulting economic damage from the ACL cuts would, "deal a crippling blow to the groundfish and scallop industries," the letter urges that the SSC, "recommend to the Council a pause before any changes are made to the status quo, allowing time for scientific uncertainties to be resolved."
Drew Minkiewicz, of the Fisheries Survival Fund, an industry group that includes the majority of full-time, limited-access scallop permit holders, questioned the suitability of the assessment models to be able to provide worthwhile management advice. "We all agree that having a proper assessment based on a working model is the best way to go, but we don't have that now," he said. "We need to accept that this model is not acceptable. We need to set a standard and say there is a level below which a model cannot go."
Rodney Avilla, a commercial fisherman and a former member of the New England Fishery Management Council, expressed similar concerns, "when we make decisions, we always seem to go on the side of the fish," reminding the SSC that, " all the advice you give to the Council affects human lives."
Read the mayors' letter
Listen to Mayor Jon Mitchell, Drew Minkiewicz and Rodney Avila speak during the public comment period