Opinion: The end of "overfishing"?

The New England Fishery Management Council at its upcoming January meeting is scheduled to consider drastic cuts in groundfish quota for the 2013 fishing year. The cuts will break the economic back of the groundfish industry and have a serious effect on the scallop industry because the scallop fleet catches groundfish stocks incidentally. As the scallop fleet is already scheduled to operate under reduced days at sea next year, reductions affecting scallop bycatch could further reduce scallop fishing.

The necessity of imposing the cuts is not clear. The council’s scientific committee has had difficulties reaching consensus on the management of key stocks. The Council is faced with a dilemma. If the stocks are down and the cuts are necessary, how do we mitigate the impact of the cuts on the people who work in the fishing industry and fishing communities, and then how do we plan for the future? At the same time, if the stocks are not down and the cuts are not necessary, how do we promote stability within the fishing industry and fishing communities, and then how do we plan for the future?

To understand the council’s short- and long-range plans on how to deal with its dilemma is crucial, particularly since the condition of the groundfish stocks may not be as bad as it seems.

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