Rotating closed areas better for stocks

One of the highest profile defenses of the current system appeared in the New York Times, (“Keep the Fishing Ban in New England” Jan. 30) by Dr. Callum Roberts, a tropical ecosystem expert at the University of York. Dr. Roberts claimed that maintaining the current areas is essential to continuing the recovery of species like scallops and haddock. But recent developments in marine science and fisheries management demonstrate that greater access to these areas is possible without negatively affecting conservation.

When the closed areas were designed, fisheries managers used “effort controls,” specifying where, when and how fishermen could fish. As part of that system, areas of Georges Bank were closed to make the fleet less efficient, not because they were environmentally important. Today, managers determine catch directly with allocations.

Outside of their original purpose, the closings have provided insights into new management strategies and fishing techniques. We saw that scallops are able to mature and grow to larger sizes. We learned that this provided for a healthier resource with larger harvests and more spawning.

To capitalize on these benefits, scallopers partnered with NOAA and the NEFMC to create a system of “Rotational Area Management.” This restricts where and when scallop vessels can fish, directing vessels to areas where fully grown scallops are located and keeping them away from areas with undersized scallops. In 2004, the fishery increased the “ring size” on fishing gear to 4 inches, so that only larger scallops are caught, while smaller scallops and fish bycatch are excluded. This current system is the result of extensive collaboration between the government, scallop fishermen and independent fisheries scientists. Cooperative research conducted by NMFS, the Fisheries Survival Fund, Coonamessett Farm, the Virginia Institute of Marine Science at the College of William and Mary, and the School for Marine Science and Technology at the University of Massachusetts Dartmouth, remains a model of collaborative, conservation-minded fisheries management.

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