The announcement from NOAA on Tuesday that they will begin to transition the Northeast Fisheries Science Center’s bottom trawl surveys from their research ship, the Henry B. Bigelow, to fishing industry vessels is a cause for celebration on the waterfront and represents a real opportunity to get the fishing industry in New England out of disaster mode. It is a bold decision but it is undoubtedly the correct one and, from an industry perspective, one that is long overdue.
Science Center director Dr. Bill Karp deserves enormous credit for setting this process in motion. It is a clear signal that NOAA wants to build trust and transparency, qualities that have not always been in evidence in its long and difficult relationship with the commercial fishing industry in New England.
The problems facing our fisheries are well documented. But amidst all the controversy, litigation and hard feelings surrounding fishery management, there is general agreement on one point: the need for better fishery science, to enable timelier, more accurate and more useful stock assessments. Maintaining healthy, sustainable fish stocks to support a robust commercial fishing industry are goals shared by all. Of course fishermen should be actively involved in the collection of survey data since the results determine how much fish they are permitted to catch.