This morning the U.S. Department of Commerce declared an economic disaster in the New England groundfish fishery for the upcoming 2013 fishing season. Rep. Ed Markey (D --Mass.), who had called for such a declaration early last month, applauded the move. The National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA) has said that complying with plans to rebuild key cod, haddock, and flounder fisheries could result in reductions in harvest of more than 70 percent next year.
"This economic disaster is New England's underwater equivalent of a drought, where the drops in stocks of fish are causing serious economic harm to fishing businesses, their families, and their communities. These people need help," said Markey, the top Democrat on the Natural Resources Committee, which has jurisdiction over fisheries issues, and the Dean of the Massachusetts Congressional delegation. "I appreciate that Dr. Blank and Dr. Lubchenco have moved swiftly to address the extreme hardship faced by New England fishermen and coastal communities. Now it is up to Congress to show the leadership necessary to provide economic relief in the short term as we continue working with the industry, scientists, and resource managers to rebuild our fish stocks."
After decades of mismanagement, New England groundfish stocks had shown signs of recovery in recent years. However, recent stock assessments revealed a lower abundance of fish, even with the stricter conservation measures in place. Preliminary studies indicate that species range shifts, disruption of spawning cycles, and changes in food webs related to warming waters associated with global climate change are playing a key role in altering New England's ocean.
"Stronger conservation measures instituted over the last few years have not been enough. We need a comprehensive approach that looks not just at fishing pressure, but also steps up our scientific efforts to understand the significant changes taking place in New England's ocean due to global warming," Markey added. "I look forward to working with NOAA and the Commerce Department to ensure that disaster assistance funds appropriated by Congress help fishing families, while taking the steps necessary to make the New England groundfish fishery sustainable once and for all."