The big news is that NOAA fisheries enforcement chief Dale Jones has been replaced. Alan Risenhoover, director of NMFS’ Office of Sustainable Fisheries, is the interim enforcement director.
The uproar from fishermen and allies in Congress about overly aggressive fisheries enforcement tactics first led to an investigation by the Commerce Department inspector general, who issued a highly critical report on enforcement practices. Allegations made during a subsequent Congressional hearing that enforcement documents were shredded during the investigation are being investigated.
Since then, NMFS has begun the process of changing enforcement practices and attempting to fix what has become a dysfunctional relationship between its enforcement arm and Northeast fishermen. Removing Jones from his post is another step in the right direction.
NMFS also sent out a press release Thursday announcing the new measures intended to end overfishing and continue rebuilding of Northeast groundfish stocks that will take hold come May 1. To NMFS’ credit it acknowledges groundfishermen’s apprehension about sectors (groups of fishermen who band together and receive a portion of the total available groundfish catch based on member vessels’ combined fishing history) in the press release.
Furthermore, NMFS director Eric Schwab sent the New England Fishery Management Council a letter last week pledging to work closely with the council and adjust catch limits and allowable fishing practices as needed, based upon stock assessment data, gear research and other information.
It was also encouraging to learn that NOAA is discussing with the National Academy of Sciences the possibility of an analysis of the rebuilding times for overfished stocks. The industry has long questioned why lagging fish stocks must be rebuilt within 10 years rather than over a longer period of time.
If NMFS is truly making a committed effort to easing the groundfish fleet’s transition to catch share management, then perhaps there is hope yet that the agency understands it must protect the health of fishing communities as well as of fish stocks.