A bipartisan, bicameral group of 19 New England lawmakers today wrote to Secretary of Commerce John Bryson urging his department's help in preventing the collapse of the region's historic cod fishing industry. Specifically, the members of Congress requested that the Secretary use his authority to set 2012 catch levels for Gulf of Maine cod at "a level that would allow the industry to survive," should the New England Fishery Management Council (NEFMC) request interim measures during the Council's meeting tomorrow in Portsmouth, NH.
In the letter, Senators Olympia J. Snowe (R-Maine), John F. Kerry (D-Mass.), Scott P. Brown (R-Mass.), and Kelly Ayotte (R-N.H.), as well as Representative John Tierney (D-Mass.) and others also praised the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA) for working in a collaborative manner with critical stakeholders to reach a solution that both boosts New England's fishing industry and rebuild the cod stock to sustainable levels.
"I hope that with clear support from Congress, the Council and NOAA will adopt a plan for Gulf of Maine cod that ensures our fishermen stay fishing," said Senator Brown. "No one understands the condition of that stock better than the fishermen who are out there every day. When they say that they believe the NOAA cod assessment is based on flawed data, I believe NOAA ought to listen to them and make sure they get the science right. I will continue working with all stakeholders to fix the assessment process and improve accountability."
"The groundfish industry has been living within its means according to the best available science until, through no fault of its own, the best available science changed," said Senator Snowe, Ranking Member of the Senate Subcommittee on Oceans, Atmosphere, Fisheries, and Coast Guard. "I urge the Commerce Department to explore all possible options to find latitude within the existing law, allow an extension of the rebuilding period, and to be responsive to the New England Fishery Management Council should they request an interim action tomorrow. The Magnuson-Stevens Act expressly authorizes the Secretary to set catch levels that will provide for the continued existence of our historic and diverse fleet, and I hope that there will be support from the Secretary for catch levels that can support the commercial as well as the recreational fleet."
"We know that you can't plunk down a reduction in catch limits without data and information that people can trust and without an economic plan to make sure people aren't getting hurt," said Senator Kerry. "We've got to take steps now to ensure the health and long term stability of our fishery, and I'm gearing up to make sure that any decision goes hand in hand with economic help. We do it for farmers, you have to do the same for fishermen."
"Restricting the Gulf of Maine cod catch limit would disproportionately impact New Hampshire's fishermen -- reducing our state's quota by 90%," said Senator Ayotte, a member of the Senate Commerce Committee. "This would bar New Hampshire's traditionally small-boat fleet from inshore fishing, effectively forcing our fishermen out of business. New Hampshire's fishing industry has already been hard hit by flawed catch share policies, I am deeply concerned that the industry will not survive if our quota is so drastically reduced."
"As Massachusetts fishermen continue to struggle with a seriously flawed fishery management system, the stakes couldn't be higher," Congressman Tierney said. "It is imperative that the Council and NOAA use the emergency provision provided to them in federal law to establish an interim Gulf of Maine Cod catch level and prevent a potentially disastrous economic loss for our fishermen. While NOAA has signaled that it agrees the Council can take this step, I urge the Council and NOAA to ensure the interim catch levels are high enough to keep our fisheries afloat. Anything less will be devastating to our communities."
BACKGROUND: Atlantic cod are managed and assessed in two separate stocks the Gulf of Maine stock and the Georges Bank stock. Under Section 304 of the Magnuson-Stevens Fishery Conservation and Management Act, a ten-year rebuilding timeline was placed on over fished stocks in the Northeast. Senator Snowe and Representative Barney Frank (D-Mass.) initiated a National Research Council study to provide a scientific analysis of the appropriateness of that rebuilding timeline. A 2008 assessment showed that the recovery of the Gulf of Maine cod population was on target to meet the law's mandated requirements until the release of the most recent assessment. The most recent cod assessment revealed that the young fish scientists originally believed they saw in the 2008 assessment, and which fishermen would be catching now, may have been overestimated or did not recruit to the fishery as expected.