New England Fisheries Managers Threaten to Suspend Observer Coverage and Gut Habitat Protections
Proposal Would Open Protected Nursery Habitat to Harmful Fishing
Press Release Date: June 16, 2015
NEWPORT, RI – This week, the New England Fishery Management Council is meeting to take final action on its decade-long review of habitat conservation, as well as request a suspension of a critical observer monitoring program. Fisheries monitoring is crucial for accurately estimating how many fish are caught, including what’s thrown back overboard. Currently, only about 22 percent of all fishing trips in this fishery carry on-board observers, making it difficult to obtain precise and timely catch estimates needed to guide fishery management decision-making.
Additionally, as part of its final habitat recommendations, the Council is proposing today to substantially reduce the amount of protected seafloor habitat and grant the Atlantic scallop fishery access to vulnerable habitat areas in Georges Bank that have been closed for more than 20 years. In addition to allowing bottom trawling and dredging, the two most destructive fishing practices in the region, the Council’s proposal fails to protect areas that have been identified as important nursery grounds for Atlantic cod. Atlantic cod has been heavily overfished in recent years, leading to populations crashing and reduced catches. Populations of cod in the Gulf of Maine and Georges Bank are now at 3 and 8 percent of their target abundances, respectively.
Oceana fisheries campaign manager Gib Brogan released the following statement:
“The New England groundfish fishery is in crisis today.The Council’s proposals show a callous disregard for conservation and a fundamentally irresponsible management style that the fisheries of this region cannot afford.
Over the past two years, the groundfish fishery has received more than $30 million dollars in federal disaster relief money, aimed at helping the struggling fishery recover from the brink of collapse. Instead of recognizing the disaster and helping fishermen move towards a more sustainable future, the Council’s habitat proposal would instead weaken the chances of recovery for this historic fishery.
Five years ago, the New England groundfish fishery transitioned to a new management program that divided the fishery into “catch sectors,” and in return, the industry agreed to pay for its own monitoring. Yet until this year, the federal government funded the at-sea monitoring of the fishery, despite that bargain. The groundfish fishery is now being asked to fund the program itself, but due to cost concerns, the Council is expected to ask the government on Thursday to take emergency action and suspend the monitoring program for the rest of the year. Suspending the program will make things much worse.
Observers on fishing vessels are crucial in getting accurate data on how many fish are being taken out of the ocean, which helps to make sure fishing stays within limits so populations can rebuild in the future. Suspending necessary observer coverage shows a remarkable lack of foresight and sends the message that the groundfish fishery is preparing to file for bankruptcy.
We encourage National Marine Fisheries Service to be the strong stewards of the oceans that the law requires and reject these proposals. The future of New England’s fisheries cannot tolerate more mismanagement.”
In the coming months, the Council will submit their proposed action to NMFS for final approval, with any proposed habitat changes expected to take effect early 2016. Changes to observer coverage could take effect immediately on NMFS’ approval.