Senator John Kerry today called for an immediate new stock assessment of cod in the Gulf of Maine and preparations for simultaneous economic relief in the event of a verified cod crisis.
In a letter to the U.S. Department of Commerce, the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA), and the National Marine Fisheries Service (NMFS), Kerry called on NMFS "to immediately conduct a new assessment" with "complete information that has been developed with the consent of all stakeholders."
"The most recent Gulf of Maine cod assessment threatens to further exacerbate a number of issues our fishermen already face, with potentially disastrous consequences," Kerry wrote after a recent report showed a stock level of only 11,400 metric tons, 22,600 metric tons less than a previous assessment. "Our only option is to rapidly develop a response that is fair and sound and that our fishermen can trust."
Kerry outlined immediate steps needed to develop a balanced and strong federal response to aid New England fishermen, including:
requesting NMFS conduct a new assessment that includes additional sources of information and data and ensures that the data used to set catch limits is as robust and accurate as possible and has buy-in from the people whose livelihoods are most impacted by the results;
asking NOAA to undertake an end to end review of the stock assessment process that includes the analysis and recommendations of outside parties, with the help and participation of industry leaders and the Massachusetts Marine Fishery Institute (MFI);
asking NOAA to work with Senator Kerry to develop an economic assistance package for our fishermen and fishing communities if there is a significant change in the existing catch limits on Gulf of Maine cod; AND
urging NOAA to take action to maintain the sustainability of the fishery and the Gulf of Maine cod stocks while the new assessments are being done.
The full text of Senator Kerry's letter is below:
December 14, 2011
The Honorable John Bryson The Honorable Jane Lubchenco
U.S. Department of Commerce National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration
1401 Constitution Ave NW 1401 Constitution Ave NW, Room 5128
Washington, D.C. 20230 Washington, D. C. 20230
The Honorable Eric Schwaab
Assistant Administrator for Fisheries
National Marine Fisheries Service
1315 East West Highway
Silver Spring, MD 20910
Dear Secretary Bryson, Administrator Lubchenco and Assistant Administrator Schwaab:
I am writing to ask for your special attention and close collaboration with me in developing the federal response to the recent National Marine Fisheries Service Gulf of Maine cod assessment which, as I know you understand, could have a dramatic impact on fishermen in Massachusetts and around New England. Judging by the swiftness with which you organized last week's stakeholders meeting, I know I do not need to underscore how urgent and sensitive this situation is for Massachusetts fishermen. We've had many frank conversations on these issues the last couple years, and on this one in particular there's no complicated way of putting it: we simply need to get this right, right from the start.
As you acknowledge, the most recent Gulf of Maine (GOM) cod assessment threatens to further exacerbate a number of issues our fishermen already face, with potentially disastrous consequences. The 2008 Gulf of Maine Cod Assessment showed a stock level of 34,000 metric tons of cod which allowed for fishing limits of 12,000 metric tons of cod. The new report shows a stock level of only 11,400 metric tons of GOM cod. We are told that this could require a fishing limit as low as 1,000 metric tons of cod and we are extremely concerned that this action would effectively shut down the fishery. We appreciate the fast response to the new assessment from NOAA and NMFS; we thought the meeting in New Hampshire last Friday was a good example of how reaching out to stakeholders beyond federal agencies can result in positive dialogue. However, further action needs to be taken immediately to address this potentially disastrous situation.
First, as you know, the issues surrounding the Massachusetts fishing industry are personal to me. I've worked on these issues for 26 years in the Senate, and tried especially hard to bridge the divide on contentious issues, whether it was fishing science, rewriting Magnuson Stevens on the Commerce Committee, or securing disaster assistance under previous Democratic and Republican administrations. That is why I have been particularly dismayed in recent years to see these issues become more and more difficult and divisive. Even before the recent cod assessment, too many of our fishermen -- particularly small boat fishermen - and local businesses were finding it increasingly difficult just to stay in business. As a result, the tensions between federal regulators and the fishing community have reached a boiling point. The emerging cod situation elevates the urgency of collaboration beyond any measure. If there is going to be a well-managed outcome to this situation, it hinges on a level of trust and partnership that has been so elusive in recent years. Our only option is to rapidly develop a response that is fair and sound and that our fishermen can trust -- and I'd emphasize the word "trust."
Only with more complete information that has been developed with the consent of all stakeholders will we be able to resolve the mistrust between fishermen and federal regulators over the science that forms the basis of fishery management decisions. It is absolutely logical why so many of our fishermen and scientists continue to have concerns with the results of the most recent cod assessment. They wonder how the results could change so dramatically from one study to the next -- particularly when these studies have such an overwhelming impact on their ability to go to work every day and make a living for their families. I believe the questions that have been raised by members of the fishing community demonstrate the need for the National Marine Fisheries Service (NMFS) to immediately conduct a new assessment that will allow for broadened Terms of Reference for the Science and Statistical Committee to be able to review additional sources of information and data, including tagging studies, catch per unit effort data and new systems of data collection for the recreational fishery. I strongly believe this new assessment should be done in the closest collaboration with both local scientific experts and our fishermen. The severity of the potential consequences demand that every possible step is taken to ensure that the data used to set catch limits is as robust and accurate as possible, with buy-in from the people whose livelihoods are most impacted by the results. This new assessment is essential for getting fishermen to trust and support in the outcome and should be completed before draconian management measures are taken.
As you know, I have long urged NMFS to improve the quantity and quality of its stock assessments and to take steps to collaborate with local stakeholders. This GOM cod situation is further proof that the entire research and data process needs to be completely overhauled. Therefore, in conjunction with the new assessment for GOM cod, I ask that you undertake an end to end review of the stock assessment process that includes the analysis and recommendations of outside parties. It is my hope that with the help and participation of industry leaders and the Massachusetts Marine Fishery Institute, a nationally and internationally recognized educational center of excellence and leader on fisheries management issues, and the sustainability of our oceans, NOAA can ensure that we are using the best available data and science in making these decisions that can have such an enormous impact on the economic wellbeing of fishermen and our coastal communities.
Finally, while the new assessment and review are being done, I urge you to take action to maintain the sustainability of the fishery and the GOM cod stock. As we work to ensure the sustainability of the fishery, we must also take steps to assist our fishermen who may have to deal with the economic effects of any future significant reduction in catch limits. We must work together to begin developing an economic assistance package to assist our fishermen and fishing communities if there is a significant change in the existing catch limits on Gulf of Maine cod. I would emphasize that any decisions to reduce catch limits to the levels being contemplated if the science turns out to be accurate, need to be made simultaneously with an economic assistance plan embraced by the Administration even if the burden of funding it rightly falls on the Congress. This too needs to be a highly collaborative effort. No one has a greater interest in the sustainability of the cod stocks than Massachusetts fishermen -- but Massachusetts fishermen also need to have confidence that the Administration cares equally about the sustainability of their incomes and livelihoods.
As you know, the Department of Commerce has a long history of providing assistance to fishermen who have been affected when catches for key fisheries are dramatically reduced both in New England and across the United States. For example, In June 1999, the Department of Commerce provided $5 million in disaster relief to compensate fishermen who suffered economic harm during a series of closures of inshore fishing grounds, designed to protect dwindling Gulf of Maine cod stocks. In March 1994, the Department of Commerce provided $30 million in emergency funding to provide assistance to the Northeast fishing industry and to communities affected by the collapse of the Northeast commercial fisheries. In August 1995, the Department of Commerce provided $25 million in disaster assistance to expand and extend a commercial vessel and permit buyout program to help commercial fishermen that sustained losses from the collapse of the groundfish fishery in the Northeast.
Again, I appreciate your early efforts to keep Massachusetts fishermen informed on this developing cod issue. The potential severity of this situation demands we work together to ensure the sustainability of the resource and the financial stability of the fishing industry. It is up to all of us to make smart decisions in the present to support fishing and guarantee it has a strong future.
Thank you in advance for your consideration of our request.
John F. Kerry
United States Senator