On Wednesday, the Northeast Fisheries Science Center held a series of outreach meetings throughout New England to discuss the state of groundfish in the region and upcoming assessments of 20 stocks of the multispecies complex.
The information gathered during the assessments will be used to set annual catch limits. Recreational and (effectively) commercial codfishing have been closed in the Gulf of Maine because modeling data has not shown recovery of the stock despite a severe reduction in fishing effort. Preliminary survey data suggests that the quota could be lowered again.
One fisherman at the meeting in Portland, Maine, argued that the data can’t be accurate and that the surveyors and scientists working on the research project need the knowledge of local fishermen to get more accurate data from their trawl surveys.
“I think the survey’s too thin,” said Jim Odlin, trawl fleet owner and 2010 NF Highliner, during the meeting.
Odlin, along with other members of the industry at the meeting, said the cod population has recovered enough in the Gulf of Maine to see a higher quota and that fishing vessels are even avoiding certain areas in order to stay away from cod.
Odlin said his sector had voluntarily shut down operations at Platts Bank, or New Ledge, because there were simply too many cod. The risk of catching the choke species was too great to fish for other species there. The fleet spends a lot of time avoiding fish, he added.
But when the researchers fished for samples in that same area, they caught zero cod. Representatives from the science center explained that they look at a variety of fishing grounds while gathering data, not just hot spots, but industry folk said fish patterns are too unpredictable to base quotas on a single day.
Some days there are fish; some days there aren’t. Some tows bring in fish; some don’t.
Basing catch limits for a year or three on a single survey is problematic, especially when fishermen agree that researchers are towing in the wrong areas to begin with. Add that to the fact that the survey won’t include updated information on changes in natural mortality, reference points or new data streams, like cooperative research projects.
At the meeting, fishermen and science center reps agreed that there could be better communication between the two parties to help facilitate research and even discussed the possibility of conducting future surveys using working fishing vessels and crews.
The comments made at these meetings, which also took place in Gloucester, Woods Hole and New Bedford, Mass., were recorded, and the feedback from the community will be included in a final report.
Hopefully, something comes of this feedback, and we learn that what the fishermen see on the water and understand about their fisheries will count for something.