At a Senate Commerce Committee hearing this week, U.S. Senator Kelly Ayotte (R-NH) questioned the Administrator of the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA) about the accuracy of its 2011 Gulf of Maine cod fishery stock assessment. The results of the 2011 assessment have raised questions that NOAA may sharply reduce the catch limit for Gulf of Maine cod, which would disproportionately affect New Hampshire's small-boat fishing fleet. New Hampshire fishermen have also expressed serious concerns that NOAA is basing conservation efforts on conflicting and potentially inaccurate assessments.
Senator Ayotte and other members of the New England delegation have urged NOAA to issue an interim measure that would set the 2012 catch limit at a level that would allow New England's fishing industry to survive. While Administrator Jane Lubchenco said NOAA is moving forward on interim action, Senator Ayotte on Wednesday urged NOAA to prepare for potentially devastating reductions in 2013, after the interim measure would expire. Ayotte also expressed concerns that NOAA has, in the past, measured fish stocks and catch history in New Hampshire based on insufficient records and incomplete or nonexistent data.
"How can you ask the fishermen in my state to trust the stock assessment, when you see such disparities?" Ayotte asked Lubchenco. "And what are you going to do about 2013 to make sure you don't put them all out of business?"
Lubchenco responded, "You're absolutely right to focus on 2013; that's going to be a major challenge. We will continue to do everything possible we can, including cooperative research to try to understand why there was a difference between those two years, and...to identify ways to lessen the economic consequences of this."