Frank Mirarchi runs his small groundfish dragger, the F/V Barbara L. Peters, out of Scituate, Mass. He is out of quota until the next season begins on May 1, and the free time has allowed him to follow congressional hearings for the reauthorization of the Magnuson-Stevens Act, the law overseeing U.S. fisheries.
“I watched with horror the crescendo of voices calling this the ‘empty ocean act,’” he said at a workshop on the reauthorization held on Monday at Seafood Expo North America in Boston. “We’re not going to have empty oceans. We’re going to have empty ports.”
The act’s inflexibility has been tough for fishermen in places like New England. Mirarchi (he’s in the photo above in the green plaid shirt) has been a commercial fisherman for 50 years. He said although the industry will receive $33 million in disaster funding, it may not be enough to save small ports like Scituate. The town has only six draggers left.
“The reality is rusty old boats and burned out people. It’s terrible,” he said.
The session was part of a series of public workshops put on by the Center for Sustainable Fisheries (CSF) and National Fisherman. CSF is led by former Congressman Barney Frank (D-Mass.), Scott Lang, former mayor of New Bedford — the nation’s No. 1 port in terms of landings value — and Brian Rothschild, former dean of the School of Marine Science and Technology at the University of Massachusetts, Dartmouth.
Frank, Lang and Rothschild saw the Magnuson reauthorization as an opportunity to fix arbitrary requirements and the act’s failure to balance the needs of fishing communities with sustaining healthy fisheries.
“The fishing industry understands the need for regulations,” said Frank. “They don’t want fishing to disappear — they want to keep this up.”
But some of the act’s arbitrary requirements, like the 10-year time line for rebuilding depleted stocks, are making it difficult for fishermen to stay on the water. Frank said when he asked the former head of NOAA Fisheries Jane Lubchenco if the 10-year timeline was scientifically justified, she told him it wasn’t, but when he asked if she would consider changing the law, she said no.
“It did not seem to me to make a great deal of sense to have something that arbitrary,” he said. “Frankly, that’s when I lost confidence in her.”
Rothschild said CSF believes the authorization should be based on certain fundamental principles, including maintaining the scientific process, a recognition of flexibility, decision-making from the bottom up and a national discussion that accommodates and builds upon regional differences.
“We have centralized solutions for decentralized problems and they don’t work,” said Rothschild.
Mirarchi said it would help if the law could be changed immediately to prevent catch limits from fluctuating wildly from one year to the next.
“You can run a business with that kind of volatility, and it is basically breaking down the economic structure of our ports,” he said.
The next Magnuson workshop will take place on Tuesday, April 8, in Baton Rouge, La.