As a neophyte reporter I learned to ask myself, “What’s wrong with this picture?” The objective wasn’t to get a “scoop,” though of course scoops are energizing. The objective was an understanding of what was going on.

I went fishing for quite a few years, and as a journalist I have been covering commercial fishing for quite a few more. Yet when it comes to New England’s groundfish fishery, an industry I should know like the back of my hand, I continue to ask myself, “How did we get in this mess?”

One must begin with the guiding light of federal management today, which is that ideally, you will have fewer and fewer fishermen chasing more and more fish.

Even if you accept this dubious premise, no one has come up with an acceptable means of managing the forced march of fishermen out of the industry, other than disaster relief, which is more disaster than relief.

In addition, almost no one has much faith in management’s ability to account for groundfish, particularly cod. NOAA’s dire assessment of cod stocks does not stand up when compared with the observations of fishermen. Of course, there are facile explanations of why this is so. We’ve recently been assured that “it’s the last few cod schooling up, that’s why they’re catching them,” but this is a notion, not an observation, and not an especially sensible one.

Fishery management needs to be held accountable for its failures. Every year, in its Status of Stocks report, NOAA crows about how it continues to reduce overfishing and offers up a shrinking list of overfished species as testimony to a job well done. What it doesn’t go on about is its inability to consider the impacts of its policies on fishing communities, as required by law. By rights, NOAA should include in its report a list of licensees, crews and vessels that have exited fisheries since the previous volume.

In this way the public would begin to get the picture of what is wrong with fishery management in this country and derive new insights into what is going on in our coastal communities.

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