These days New England groundfish fishermen are on quite a roller coaster ride.
First, a week ago, we learned that the loudest voice behind the catastrophic (for the Northeast) catch shares system, NOAA chief Jane Lubchenco, will be stepping down from the agency in February. That most certainly was a rare zenith for the fleet.
Then acting Commerce Secretary Rebecca Blank ordered federal regulators to return more than half a million dollars in unjust fines collected under the much-maligned NOAA Office of Law Enforcement.
But now Senate Republicans are threatening to keep fishery disaster relief money out of the Hurricane Sandy relief package. The groundfish fishery was declared a disaster this fall. The relief money for the fishery would be $150 million, which was slashed from a $60.4 billion package.
And lastly, today fishermen start down the long, hard road that as near as anyone can tell will deal the fishery its last blow. Between catch shares and climate change, fishermen who have spent decades cutting quotas and fishing effort with the promise that one day it would all be worth it now face quotas so disastrously low, they would have no way to make a living and no hopes that their prospects will look up anytime soon.
Analysis of the stocks is ongoing, amid disputes over the validity of trawl survey methods. And there’s no telling what the results will be and what effect they will have on quotas in the near future.
Today the New England Fishery Management Council voted 15-2 to delay until January the deep cuts to catch limits.
Fishermen are hoping for a Hail Mary pass on the stock analysis. Otherwise, it will truly be the end of the world as they know it.