Senator John Kerry (D-Mass.) today called for better science and strengthened stock assessments to protect Massachusetts' fishing industry.
Following a Commerce Committee hearing this afternoon featuring testimony from National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration Administrator Dr. Jane Lubchenco, Kerry released a statement urging federal regulators to work with Massachusetts' local fishermen and research institutions on a host of critical issues including the upcoming interim catch limit for Gulf of Maine cod and proposed cuts to the Prescott Marine Mammal Stranding Grant program in the wake of unprecedented dolphin strandings on Cape Cod.
"The struggle we're having right now over the cod assessment underscores the need for better scientific resources our fishermen can trust," Sen. Kerry said. "The difference between the last two assessments was night and day. We saw a 2008 assessment that showed a very healthy stock, management decisions were made accordingly, and the most recent assessment shows such a drastic decline that we're looking at dramatically lower catch limits. How do you explain that? The uncertainty is a direct result of the infrequency of assessments and it underscores the urgency of finally getting appropriate investments in increased research and data collection."
The full text of Senator Kerry's statement for the record is below:
As you know, NOAA's work has tremendous importance to the Massachusetts economy. From our fishing communities to our tourism industry to our ocean research institutions, our connection to the ocean is an integral part of our economy and our cultural history.
I was also encouraged to see the increase in funding for stock assessments and fish surveys. As you well know, these form the basis of our fisheries management and it is critical that we get enough resources so that the science is where we need it to be before we make these management decisions.
Over the years, I have frequently called for increased quantity and improved quality of stock assessments and for NOAA and NMFS to take tangible steps to collaborate with our local institutions. The current Gulf of Maine (GOM) cod assessment issue is a clear demonstration of the need for more scientific resources. We saw a 2008 assessment that showed a healthy stock, management decisions were made accordingly, and then the most recent assessment shows such a drastic decline that we're looking at dramatically lower catch limits this year. That level of uncertainty is a direct result of the infrequency of assessments and I will keep fighting to get appropriate funding for increased research and data collection.
The interim rule offers an opportunity to work together with our fishermen to get the science right, once and for all. Given the time constraints, partnering with local research institutions and our fishermen offers the best opportunity to develop a comprehensive new assessment that will be accepted in the fishing communities. The outreach from NOAA and NMFS during the GOM cod crisis has been an important first step but I want to see that level of engagement wherever possible in fisheries management, from enforcement to science.
I know that the current budget climate means that tough choices need to be made. I know that you have made NOAA's satellite programs a priority and I'm glad to see the increased funding for many crucial programs. As we look to more fully understand the impacts of climate change and shifting weather patterns, these satellites are a key piece of the puzzle.
I also want to take this opportunity to highlight some programs that are important to Massachusetts that didn't fare as well in the President's budget. First is the Prescott Marine Mammal Stranding Grant program, which offers grants to members of national marine mammal stranding networks. The Prescott program has received attention in Massachusetts over the past months as Cape Cod has been inundated with stranded dolphins, at last count a total of 179. Our local network managed to successfully return 53 of these animals to the ocean. Elimination of the Prescott program means the elimination of the sole source of federal funding for these dedicated volunteer organizations.
The Coastal and Estuarine Land Conservation Program is another Massachusetts priority that is slated to be eliminated in the President's budget. CELCP provides grants to eligible state agencies and local governments to acquire coastal property or conservation easements from willing sellers. Grants have been highly competitive and Massachusetts has been lucky to receive just over $4 million from the program and hopes to increase that total if the Nasketucket Bay project receives FY12 funding.
Dr. Lubchenco, I look forward to continuing to work with you on these issues that hold so much importance for Massachusetts.