So much for cod management

Emergency cod closures in the Gulf of Maine cloud the future for New England groundfish harvesters. Jerry Fraser photo.For those of you across the fruited plain, here’s how it went down in New England’s cod fishery.

Beginning 20 years ago or so, NMFS cut the number of days boats could fish. Then it cut them again. Then it bought back some vessels. Along the way it discovered its stock assessments were flawed. It bought back more vessels and cut more days. 

So much for effort controls. 

In 2009 Jane Lubchenco, a college professor from the West Coast, took over the reins at NOAA and led the effort to convert New England to catch shares management. Kool-Aid drinkers with a taste for this regime believe that catch shares “rationalize” fisheries, scaling production capacity to match a desired harvest level.

As of today, the desired harvest level for cod is zero. “Thanks for playing,” fishermen have been told.

So much for output controls.

“We couldn’t be any worse off, either the resources or the people, if we had no management at all for the past 20 years,” Maggie Raymond, owner of two groundfish boats and a longtime industry activist, told Maine’s Portland Press Herald this week.

Which brings to mind Thomas (Diddy) Martin. Diddy was a first-rate welder and mechanic who worked on a lot of the fishing boats around southern York County, Maine, in the 1970s and ’80s, including mine. Diddy could make anything run but his specialty was putting scrap metal to indestructible use by fishermen who otherwise could be counted on to break anything. “This has got worms,” he’d say about whatever he was rigging. “But we’ll rube” — as in Rube Goldberg — “something together.”

When we were done work we would go to a bar and argue. Diddy believed that fishery management was a waste of time. I was a champion of fishery management, which at the time had no impact on me as an inshore fisherman. I didn’t even fill out the logs.

“Diddy,” I’d say earnestly, “we’ve got to manage these fish.”

“No way!” he’d declare. “All you’ve got to do is catch them. If you can’t make any money catching dabs you’ll catch something else or go out of business.

“I’m tellin’ ya,” which he always said when he was telling us something, “The last thing you want is for the government to get involved.”

I miss you old friend. And you were right all along.

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