WASHINGTON – Today, the National Marine Fisheries Service approved a measure to cut monitoring levels in the New England groundfish fishery, which includes the iconic and historically overexploited Atlantic cod. Starting on May 1, observer coverage levels will drop by almost half, to only 14 percent of fishing trips. Atlantic cod has been heavily overfished in recent years, leading to its numbers crashing and reduced catch rates. Cod populations in the Gulf of Maine and Georges Bank are now between 4-6 and 1 percent of their original abundances, respectively.
In an effort to bring back cod and help recover struggling fish populations, five years ago, the fishery transitioned to a new management program that divided itself into “catch sectors.” In return for permission to catch portions of the overall quota every year, the fishing industry agreed to pay for its own monitoring costs. Yet until last year, the federal government funded the at-sea monitoring of the fishery, despite that bargain. The groundfish fishery is now expected to fund the program itself, but due to cost concerns from the industry, the New England Fishery Management Council approved an action last year to cut monitoring levels, which led to the rule approved today.
Following the announcement, Oceana fisheries campaign manager Gib Brogan released the following statement:
“New England fishermen have been struggling for decades due to poor management and overfishing. It is unbelievable that the federal government thinks the solution to this problem is gutting oversight measures that ensure fishermen do not catch too many fish to allow the populations to actually rebuild.This decision is akin to pouring gasoline onto a burning house.
For years, NMFS has continued to set dangerously low monitoring levels, which are contributing to the collapse of this historic fishery. Observers are crucial for obtaining accurate estimates on how many fish are being taken out of the ocean and helping to make sure fishing stays within scientifically based limits. Evidence shows that when observers are onboard, fishing behavior changes. Considering the critical state of many stocks in this fishery, like Atlantic cod, which is one of the most overexploited and depleted in the country, it’s imperative that every fish is counted and accounted for.
Today’s decision weakens the already too grim chances of recovery for New England fishermen. By approving this measure, NMFS has shown careless disregard in its role as steward of this fishery. It is crucial that we put more eyes on the ocean—not less”
Oceana is the largest international advocacy organization focused solely on ocean conservation. We run science-based campaigns and seek to win policy victories that can restore ocean biodiversity and ensure that the oceans are abundant and can feed hundreds of millions of people. Oceana victories have already helped to create policies that could increase fish populations in its countries by as much as 40 percent and that have protected more than 1 million square miles of ocean. We have campaign offices in the countries that control close to 40 percent of the world’s wild fish catch, including in North, South and Central America, Asia, and Europe. To learn more, please visit www.oceana.org.