Anyone paying even casual attention to news about New England's fishing industry knows that the federal government's efforts to manage our nation's fisheries have not served small coastal fishing communities well. Last week, the National Oceanographic and Atmospheric Administration in Washington, D.C., convened experts from around the country, some of whom recommended that the Magnuson Stevens Act be revamped to create policies that promote both sustainable fish stocks and fishing communities.
To achieve that goal we need to update our models of science and management to account for an increasingly dynamic marine ecosystem. There is a better approach based on new science and adaptive management.
The current basis for allocating quota — how much each species fishermen can catch — rests on stock assessments for large bodies of water, like the Gulf of Maine. Yet new research by many scientists, including Ted Ames from Maine, reveals that there is no such thing as, say, a single population of cod in the Gulf of Maine. Instead, studies show that there are many sub-populations, each distinct to particular bays and reefs, with unique migration corridors. This could explain why groundfish can be present in certain parts of the Gulf and virtually extinct in others.
Setting catch limits based on large regional scale sampling overlooks localized depletion and has driven fishermen to do the rational thing: They fish aggressively where the fish are.
In so doing, they have unwittingly taken out the remaining productive sub-populations one by one, even though they were abiding by catch limits. It provides one explanation of why the National Marine Fisheries Service has just announced a 70-percent reduction in the allowable catch of groundfish. The federal system needs a feasible way to assess the health of these finer scale fish populations in order to produce fishing rules that provide for sustainable harvest levels for each species in what we now understand to be a stunningly complex and changing ocean.
One thing that is currently missing in our fisheries management system is a way to get good, local observations about conditions into the larger-scale federal scientific process in a timely and cost-effective way. This is where coastal fishermen enter the picture.
Read the full story at the Bangor Daily News>>
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