In the case of the Northeast groundfish multispecies complex, the answer is: between a rock and a hard place.
This is one of the few examples of failure in our fishery management system. The process as it stands now puts stocks of fish above communities of people.
Magnuson requires depleted fish stocks to be rebuilt within a 10-year window. Yet, in the case of Northeast cod stocks, NFMS’ data and severely restrictive fishing guidelines did not prevent a sudden drop in the biomass. (If indeed there is such a drop — how is one to trust one study over another when the findings are so drastically different and unpredictable?)
The 10-year time frame has nothing to do with fishery science and everything to do with a number that sounded nice and round to policymakers. We have enough evidence now that data can be well off the mark, and restricted fishing alone does not solve all fishery woes.
Reps. Frank Pallone Jr. (D-N.J.) and Jon Runyan (R-N.J.) this week proposed changes to the Magnuson-Stevens Act that allow for some flexibility around the 10-year mandate.
The question here is not whether we can bring depleted fisheries back to abundance (some will respond well to rebuilding, and some will not; we are not the arbiters of the natural order) but whether we can keep fishing communities thriving through the difficult periods of low stock assessments.
Let’s not fall into the trap of assuming a depleted stock is simply an overfished stock. Fishermen want healthy fish populations, too. But they also rely on healthy waterfront communities.