Written by Adrianne Madden
February 18, 2009
Valentine's Day was Saturday, but NMFS wasn't feeling the love.
When NMFS announced its interim rules for the 2009 groundfishing season, angry Northeast fishermen roundly criticized the fisheries management agency. The combination of further whittling of days at sea and increased area closures, including most of southern New England groundfishing grounds, further handcuffed an already struggling fleet.
Even folks in the environmental community said the agency's restrictions went too far.
Then Massachusetts and New Hampshire asked the courts to set aside the Framework 42 groundfishing rules. They argued that the agency had failed to consider using the so-called "mixed stock exception." That management tool would let regulators allow fishing on healthier stocks even if another was rebuilding.
U.S. District Judge Edward Harrington agreed, temporarily suspending Framework 42 for 60 days. He ordered the agency to thoroughly examine whether the mixed stock exception could be used. And he upbraided NMFS for failing to fully consider the impacts of its edicts upon fishermen. Ouch.
Last week, NMFS asked the judge to reconsider his ruling. He said no, without adding further comment. Double ouch.
Next, NMFS asked the New England Fishery Management Council to approve the draft report the agency wanted to send to the judge, which explained why it can't consider the mixed stock exception. NMFS says Congress explicitly stipulated in the 2006 Magnuson-Stevens re-authorization that rebuilding stocks to optimum population levels trumps any other consideration.
The council didn't agree with that interpretation. It voted last Tuesday to ask NMFS to reconsider its position and make it consistent with congressional intent that optimum yield should be from the fishery as a whole, and that one stock should not dictate severe constraints on the fishery as a whole while that stock is being rebuilt. Ouch yet again.
Even the mainstream press was scolding NMFS. The Gloucester (Mass.) Daily Times delivered a scathing editorial http://www.gloucestertimes.com/opinion/x645319322/Forum-spotlights-flaw-regarding-NMFS-accountability?keyword=topstory , calling NMFS "a rogue agency accountable to no one but its own agenda. It must be reined in." Another round of Excedrin for the NMFS table, please.
Harrington stepped in yet again http://www.gloucestertimes.com/fishing/x645319684/Judge-frees-up-fishing-days-at-sea yesterday. Granting the requests of Massachusetts and New Hampshire fisheries departments, he reinstated the days-at-sea leasing program NMFS halted when Harrington suspended the Framework 42 rules. And he suspended the two-for-one counting of days at sea.
NMFS may have the last word yet on regulating New England's groundfish stocks. But chances are on Valentine's Day, NMFS was, like Charlie Brown, staring forlornly into a mailbox devoid of any cards showering the agency with love.
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