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Michael Souza

Congress Attempts Cod Intervention

By February 7, 2012

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    19 members try to save the industry
    Last week 19 members of Congress wrote to Secretary of Commerce John Bryson asking that his office help prevent what NOAA might ultimately attempt - shutting down the Gulf of Maine Cod Fishery.
    Specifically, Congress requested that the Secretary 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. A decision by NEFMC is expected to be announced during the second week of February.
    The letter reads as follows:
    Dear Secretary Bryson:
    New England's historic Gulf of Maine cod fishery has been subject to an increasingly complex set of management restrictions intended to reduce fishing effort and rebuild the stock to sustainable levels since 1994. In 2008, when the New England Fishery Management Council met for its September meeting to review the Groundfish Assessment Review Meeting (GARM III) results, the best available science showed that those sacrifices had finally borne fruit: Gulf of Maine cod were declared no longer overfished. Three years later, an updated assessment painted a dramatically different picture and could not be more ill timed. Proposed catch levels derived from the 2011 assessment would devastate the commercial fleet with nascent groundfish sectors constrained by the ultimate "choke stock."
    Under Sections 305(c) and 304(e)(6) of the Magnuson-Stevens Act, Congress provided the Secretary of Commerce the authority to implement interim measures at the request of the Fishery Management Councils even if such measures would not prevent overfishing during this interim period. This authority requires only that the Secretary reduce overfishing. As you know, the New England Fishery Management Council (NEFMC) is meeting to review the cod assessment and possible management actions this week in Portsmouth, New Hampshire. Should the Council request interim measures, we strongly urge you to grant this request and set the 2012 Gulf of Maine cod Annual Catch Limit at a level that would allow the industry to survive.
    In addition, we encourage NOAA Fisheries to prioritize research in the coming year that will improve the groundfish assessment process, including the:
    ˇContinued review and analysis of the assumptions and models used in the Stock Assessment Workshop/Stock Assessment Review Committee 53 process, and the consideration of analysis provided by Drs. Butterworth and Rademeyer;
    Incorporation of Marine Recreational Information Program data; Development of a catch-per-unit-effort index or similar utilization of fishery- dependent data; and Implementation of side-by-side trawl survey tows using a commercial vessel; Examination of the effect of current stock structure on stock assessment data inputs, modeling, and analyses.
    NOAA leadership is to be commended for the unprecedented approach they took to engage the fishery's stakeholders while the assessment process was still ongoing. NOAA Fisheries staff, industry members, and the environmental community have remained open-minded and continue to seek mutually agreeable solutions to an exceptionally difficult problem. All involved have sought to improve the science upon which catch levels are based and have engaged in this dialogue in good faith. Nothing short of this level of cooperation will be required to resolve this issue for both the near and long term.
    We stand ready to assist you in achieving a sustainable future for New England's fishing industry, as well as for the Gulf of Maine cod stock. Thank you for your cooperation on this matter.


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