Written by Jen Finn
Mapping our way
I got an email from my dad this week. It's not unusual. In fact, I get several notes a day from him. He's retired to become a mass distributor of funny or newsy Internet links.
But this one was a little different. It was a story with a very colorful map of what the author of the article claimed was the state of North Atlantic fisheries in 1900. The next map jumped the reader to a very paltry showing of the same stocks in 2000. It was all based on and touting the "catastrophic" findings of a 2003 study.
Instantly, my blood was boiling. How could anyone (especially my own father) be touting these "studies" as fishery science? Without stock assessments from 1900 (which we most assuredly did not perform), there is no way to compare the health of stocks back then to the health of stocks now.
Some would say that we can only assume fish stocks were more robust then because look how big the landings were! But to that I say, fishermen have always responded to shifts in fish populations. If you went out searching for scup and found monkfish, then you landed monkfish until the scup came back. (For more on creative fisheries, check out Denise Trunk's coverage of Georgia jellyball fishermen on page 17.) Fishery management was executed at sea and on the markets.
Regardless of any of that 2003 study's specious data, no one can argue that we haven't turned this boat around. NOAA's now-retired top fisheries scientist Steve Murawski said 2010 was the first year since we've kept records that no U.S. stocks were being overfished. There is always room for improvement, but I am so proud of this industry for the strides it has made in the last 20 years.
That said, I hope the regulatory bodies overseeing fishing will come along with the scientists and fishermen who have reached out to bridge the gap and create synergy where there once was antipathy.
NOAA's enforcement scandal is a black mark on the agency. Because swift action is no longer possible, I hope some sort of fallout will result from the abhorrent and abusive behavior of some agents working for NOAA's policing arm. An apology is not enough. Promises to do better are not enough. Ruining people's livelihoods and business reputations calls for the dismissal of those responsible.
I hope a recent study of the New England Fishery Management Council will result in positive changes for the council, its stakeholders and fishery management across the country. Maine columnists Anne Hayden and Philip Conkling highlight the council's review process in From the Town Landing on page 9.
The pendulum is swinging. Somewhere in these wild arcs is a happy medium.
— Jessica Hathaway
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