How cooperative research could ease tensions

There’s a catch phrase that’s adorned the tailgates of pick-up trucks up and down the New England coast for years:

National Marine Fisheries Service: Destroying Fishermen and Their Communities Since 1976.

Joel Hovanesian claims to be the creator of the once-pervasive bumper sticker. He and long-time fishing compatriot Brian Loftes have other ideas for new bumper stickers, each of them more derogatory than the last.

The two say government fishery science is “garbage in, garbage out” and simply doesn’t reflect the abundance of fish they see out on the water.

“We Don’t Trust NOAA”

Some of Loftes’ and Hovanesian’s complaints focus on specific methods used by government researchers to assess the health of fish populations. Fishery scientists, on the other hand, say there are good reasons for using those methods, and that differences between fishermen’s experiences and scientists’ data are to be expected. After all, fishermen go where the fish are; scientists spread their effort around in hopes of getting the big picture.

But much of Loftes’ and Hovanesian’s disdain for fishery science stems from a deep mistrust of government and what they see as a conflict of interest – the fact that the scientists producing stock assessments are part of the government agency that sets fishing regulations, the same agency that’s been found guilty of abusing the power to enforce those rules.

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