New England Council punts cod emergency decisions to NOAA
By Emily Yehle, E&E reporter
The New England Fishery Management Council failed yesterday to adopt emergency measures to protect a diminishing population of cod, instead passing a vague measure that asks the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration to take action.
The move means fishermen will have to wait to find out what restrictions they face for the rest of the 2014 season. Whatever action NOAA takes, it is bound to be controversial in a fishery that saw its catch shares drastically decrease in 2013 and was declared a "fishery disaster" in 2012.
The council debated for hours yesterday how to react to new data that indicate cod numbers are plummeting. NOAA's unusual midseason assessment found that the amount of spawning cod is 3 to 4 percent of the target to ensure maximum sustainable yield (Greenwire, Aug. 5).
A specific measure to prohibit commercial and recreational fishing in certain areas failed 8-9, prompting the council to take up the more generic motion requesting that NOAA take emergency action "to reduce mortality on Gulf of Maine cod." It passed 14-3.
"I know it doesn't feel good to defer. It doesn't feel good to hand over control absolutely to the agency, but that's where we are," said council member Tom Dempsey before the vote. "We absolutely need urgent action for this stock."
John Bullard, the Northeast Regional Office administrator for NOAA's National Marine Fisheries Service, said the agency will use the council's discussion as a guide for action.
"What we don't have is a lot of time," Bullard said in an interview today. "With that, we'll do what we can to design a proposed emergency plan."
That plan could look similar to the measure the council rejected, which would have set "rolling closures" for fishing based on where cod aggregate. The size and timing of such closures is a hotly debated topic, but decreasing catch shares midseason appears even less palatable to fishermen who still hold cod quotas.
Yesterday, a stream of fishermen vented their frustrations to the council, by turns condemning NOAA's data, the council's past management and the prospect of yet more restrictions.
"I've done everything right that you guys have asked me to do, and this is where we're at. I'm going to lose my business, I could lose my house and I have four small children because of bad science," said one fisherman. "This is a disgrace. You guys are treating us like shit."
Bill Wagner, a charter boat captain from New Hampshire, railed against closing areas from all fishing to protect one fish species.
"Take your laptops, put them down, get out of the glass cubicles and come out on the boats with us and see what we do," he said. "We have the ability to catch fish other than cod. We're not disputing that cod are in jeopardy or that we don't see them out there."
Read more articles from Greenwire here: http://www.eenews.net/gw