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
Read the mayors' letter
Listen to Mayor Jon Mitchell, Drew Minkiewicz and Rodney Avila speak during the public comment period