Here we go again.
Yesterday NOAA announced that it will completely close areas of the Gulf of Maine to cod fishing for at least the next six months. It just so happens that those areas are frequented by the day-boat fleet out of Gloucester, Mass., a port that was already struggling and will again take the brunt of the regulatory shift.
The New England cod fishery continues to stand as the case study for keeping the Magnuson Act status quo or tweaking it to give managers more leeway to balance the protection of struggling fleets and struggling stocks. However, given the lack of transparency in the current process of cod management, it seems unlikely that even with broader options the managers would be inclined to give Gloucester’s small-boat fleet any slack.
According to a statement released by the Northeast Seafood Coalition, NOAA already is not maintaining baseline measures to protect the community: “Putting the lack of transparency surrounding the recent Gulf of Maine cod assessment aside, the measures being offered by the agency do not strike a balance between conservation and community interests as required under law.”
For years, New England fishery managers have said their hands are simply tied by the confines of the law. They must take more and more drastic measures to protect the species as long as its numbers are stalled out. And yet, cooperative research continues to contend that NOAA’s assessments are flawed and that its approach to cod management goes overboard.
The fact remains that no matter how strict the controls are, the NOAA data shows limited recovery. So it would seem that fishing is not the problem.
If we can’t point to fishing as the cause, then why are we continually restricting fishing as if those measures can solve the problem?
The only reasonable next step is to work with fishermen and scientists to better determine the actual health of the stock and uncover the source of its decline. Many fishermen blame the protections managers put on dogfish that coincided with a precipitous cod decline. The two species compete for resources, and dogfish have been shown to be far more prolific and resourceful than are cod fish.
And yet, as far as management goes, the answer is always the same: cut back on the fishermen who are already hardly fishing cod.
And now it appears we will have to ban fishing altogether and put more working fishermen out of business to prove to ourselves that fishing is not the problem.
The question is who will take the blame when the fishermen are gone?