The New England groundfishery is a disaster. Conservationists know it, the federal government knows it, processors, shipyards and supply houses know it. And nobody knows it like fishermen do.
The source of the disaster can be summed up in a word: Complexity.
Around every corner in the quest to manage the groundfishery lurks another tangled issue.
Fishery managers declare catch limits that are little better than arbitrary because our definitions of overfishing are at odds, a condition created by murky, imprecise language in the Magnuson-Stevens Fishery and Conservation Management Act, further complicated by the inability to agree on the size of the fishery, its relative vitality, the impact of warming and acidifying oceans, the number of fish versus the size of the fish, the role of economics and management mechanisms — you get the idea.
Dr. Brian Rothschild points out in a policy paper intended as a launching point for debate over the looming reauthorization of Magnuson-Stevens that a network of national institutes might make sense of this complexity. Rothschild, the president of the fledgling Center for Sustainable Fisheries and the former dean of the UMass Dartmouth School of Marine Science and Technology, recently discussed the reauthorization and the center's policy paper.
In answer to a question about whether the resources being put toward "best science available" are adequate and properly allocated, he said he believes the simple questions are being adequately addressed: what is happening with one species, for example. For proper management of the fishery, however, an entity akin to the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration's Cooperative Institute for Climate and Satellites in Colorado is needed: How do multiple species interact? How do the changing waters affect them? How does the economics of fishing affect them? The complex questions, he said, must be tackled by top experts in science, policy and law if Magnuson-Stevens hopes to live up to its promise.